Nearly a year ago I completed a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. Having worked in business accounting for twenty-plus years, I was comfortable with my career; that is, until the housing market crashed. Like many working adults, the unstable economy gave me reason to reposition myself in an ever-changing job market. Yet for most adults with longstanding careers, changing careers or adding new skills meant going to college. For those who have full time jobs, family responsibilities, or both, attending college may seem impossible. However, distant learning has provided many adult learners with an accepted, quality education in a virtual classroom.
I chose paralegal studies for its diversity, thinking the legal profession would enhance my accounting career. Searching for a college with a paralegal studies program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), was a challenge. In 2007, Arkansas had one ABA approved college; however, commuting two and half hours was not an option. Instead I opted for distant learning. In the beginning I was concerned, if not leery, about distant learning. I worried about the quality of the education, and whether it would be accepted by legal professionals; or accepted by my peers.
The quality of education, whether it be at a traditional college or through distant learning, is always a concern. And although paralegal studies do not require ABA approval in the state of Arkansas, I still worried. After days of calling various colleges and universities, I discovered an accredited distant learning college where the professors who taught in the paralegal studies program were legal professionals; licensed, practicing attorneys. The text books, some being eBooks and others being the traditional text book, were well-known legal text books. The curriculum for each class was extensive. It included comprehensive legal research and legal writing assignments, discussion board questions, timed quizzes, and real-time virtual classes. The virtual classes are memorable. The professors incorporate their real-world experiences as attorneys with the text books and assignments. As I progressed through the semesters, I noticed with each graded writing assignment, the red marks were fewer and fewer.
Discipline and Dedication
Distant learning is far from being a passive method of receiving an education. Similar to the traditional college, distant learning involves the same student discipline and dedication. While the distant learner has some interaction with other students on discussion boards and during virtual classes, for the most part, the class work is completed without class interaction. Respectfully speaking, distant learning may not be for everyone, specifically those who need direct interaction with other students, study groups or from their professors. In addition, time management skills are imperative to receiving excellent GPA scores. In most cases, a two class semester requires at least fifteen to twenty hours of homework and study time per week. Beyond the number of study hours needed for each semester, all degree seeking students must be dedicated to the required number of years it takes to get a degree. Most distant learning colleges offer year-round classes. This is especially helpful in staying dedicated and disciplined throughout the program.
As I neared the completion of my degree program, the worries of receiving a quality education through distant learning faded. All things new or misunderstood, like the virtual classroom, take time for some individuals to accept as a new way of receiving an education. But for adults looking to reposition themselves in an unstable economy, it is exciting to know that with distant learning there are options to receiving a quality education.
Suzy Mathews lives in Northwest Arkansas. She is a freelance writer as well as a project manager, and a paralegal for a consulting firm. Suzy graduated Summa cum Laude at Kaplan University with a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies.