DALTON, Ga. - Pamela Scott Armstrong was just starting up her business when she decided to get her master's degree in education technology.
"I couldn't say to a client, `it's 3:45, excuse me, I have to be down at Georgia State University for a class," Armstrong said. "The traditional way didn't work for me."
Now the Atlanta woman is about to complete her degree, delivered entirely over the Internet from George Washington University in Washington D.C. And she's exactly the type of student the University System of Georgia is hoping to reach.
More and more enrollees today in Georgia public college system are older, non-traditional students who work and have families. For them, distance-learning programs, like those over the Internet, are often vital.
Earlier this month, at a meeting in Dalton, the Board of Regents approved making Clayton College and State University the third school in the system to offer degrees entirely through distance learning technology.
Regents also were told the University System's Georgia Learning Alliance is now providing a "virtual university" site for on-line courses and academic programs at www.usg.edu/alliance.
The regents are in the middle of a year-long study looking at the future uses of distance learning, including the Internet, at the system's 34 colleges and universities. They hope to develop a plan outlining what degrees can be delivered through distance learning technology.
The system's schools currently offer 567 courses through distance learning - using cable, satellite, videotape, Internet and interactive television.
The system plans to use such technology, for instance, to offer Georgia Institute of Technology engineering programs in South Georgia.
The use of the system's "virtual library," GALILEO, has gone from about 2 million information searches in 1996 to about 6 million this year.
However, the number of system degrees available completely using interactive video or the Internet is still small. System officials realize, while Georgia is ahead of many other states, there will be strong competition in the future for students who need to learn on their own schedule, not a school's.
"A majority of us are your traditional students now. We are not 21 years old anymore," said Margaret Grimsely, who took Internet and interactive courses on her way to earning a master's degree in health and physical education in August from Georgia College and State University.
Grimsely, a mother of two who is a health and physical education instructor in Macon, told members of the Board of Regents that many students today need something other than traditional on-campus classes taught by local instructors.
"It was an advantage to me not to have to sit in the classroom," she said.
Armstrong is a mother of two who works with a corporate communications and education company and is a partner in a career development firm in Atlanta. She said with today's technology, it's "stupid" for universities to require students to attend classes on campus if there is an alternative.
However, board vice-chairman Kenneth Cannestra of Atlanta said a weakness in Internet courses could be that instructors can't be sure a student is doing their assignments. They could, he suggested, have someone else doing the work for them.
"That's a question that comes up all the time," Armstrong said. "If they are adults who are doing it (getting a degree) for their own growth, it's not an issue."