Hayley Southworth, 23, jokes with her husband about coming to Billings for graduation when she finishes her master’s degree next fall at Montana State University Billings.
Plenty of students show up for their graduation, so what’s the joke?
Southworth, now in her second semester into a master’s program in public relations, lives in Ohio and has never been to Billings — at least not physically.
Several hours most days, she’s plugged into MSU Billings online as a virtual student.
Southworth found the MSU Billings program online when searching for possible places to study.
It was one of the few public-relations programs that had all required classes online.
Before enrolling, she made a few calls to check out the program and was impressed that MSU Billings staff members would talk at length with her even before she was a student.
She started with four online classes last fall and has been happy with the results. This spring, she is taking three classes and has started to work on her master’s thesis.
She received a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and public relations in Ohio and is student teaching as well as being a graduate student.
She likes the MSU Billings classes better than some of the online classes she took as an undergrad because the professors are more involved with discussions and online chats.
“I feel I’m in a real class,” she said during a telephone interview.
She also said she knows her fellow students better than in some face-to-face classes she has taken.
She’s gotten to know faculty and students well enough to realize everyone loves the outdoors in Montana.
The online program is demanding.
She checks her e-mails every day. Weekdays, she spends three to four hours working on class projects. On top of that, she has reading assignments.
She would like to eventually work for a nonprofit organization, perhaps a hospital, or teach at the university level.
Cody Langbehn, 39, is an online student who lives much closer to the MSU Billings campus than Southworth does.
A Billings resident, he works full time as director of affiliate operations overseeing the six hospitals outside of Billings that the Billings Clinic manages.
After graduating from high school in Lewistown, Langbehn got a bachelor’s degree in health care administration at Concordia College in Minnesota.
Since graduating, he’s worked in that field. He always planned going on to graduate school to advance his career.
He started the master’s degree program in health administration at MSU Billings in the fall of 2008 and will finish up this fall.
He started the program full-time but went part-time when his first child was born in March 2009.
“One of the great things about online is it gives you flexibility,” he said.
Being more of a classroom and visual learner, he was leery of online programs at first.
After nearly two years as a online student, he has few complaints.
“I’m learning close to what I did in a classroom but in a different way,” he said, adding that he does more reading and online writing for his classes now.
He also likes the control he has over his schedule and appreciates how applicable the classes are to his work.
Billings Clinic helps pay for part of his tuition.