MSU Billings goes online with accounting option

MSU Billings accounting professors Mike Campbell and Debra Johnson will teach this fall in a new accounting program that offers all classes online. It is the newest of about 30 online degree and certificate programs at the Billings campus.

Students asked for it, so Montana State University Billings is delivering it online.

Starting this fall, MSU Billings will add its newest online program, a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accounting option.

Even though the new program hasn’t been widely advertised yet, students are signing up.

“We’re very impressed with the response,” said Debra Johnson, an associate professor of accounting and business law who will be teaching some of the online classes.

Johnson, who is a CPA and an attorney, was named the top accounting educator in the state by the Montana Society of Certified Accountants in June.

The College of Business already offers a general business degree online, with about 160 students enrolled.

That’s one of about 30 online degree and certificate programs MSU Billings has.

The Billings program is the only online accounting degree offered in the Montana University System.

Because all core business and general education classes are online as well as several accounting classes, the college only had to put another six or seven more classes online to make the entire option available over the Internet, said Michael Campbell, accounting professor.

The online accounting program benefits a range of students, including those who don’t live in Billings and Billings residents with busy schedules.

“Montana is a large state and some students are place-bound,” Johnson said.

Other students who live in Billings may work 30 to 40 hours a week and have families, making getting to classes with set schedules difficult.

Even though they may be miles away from their professors, online students still frequently interact with those who teach the courses.

“We have a lot of tools to be in contact with students,” Campbell said.

They include e-mails, threaded asynchronous discussions, real-time online chats and extensive comments on students’ written assignments.

Among the things Campbell does is to have an online chat at the beginning of the semester so students can get to know others.

Online students also can drop by to talk with him in person.

Campbell keeps track of questions online students ask by email, He then sends out his answers to all students in the class. To make certain he’s covering topics students might be having trouble with, he keeps the questions and answers to send out to students taking the class the next semester.

While most online classes are taught by faculty in Billings, a few are taught by people living out of town. All instructors either have a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and extensive professional accounting experience.

With about 140 students, the accounting option is among the top three most popular programs within the College of Business.

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Since Campbell came to MSU Billings in 1978, the school has graduated about 900 accounting students, most of whom went on to become certified public accountants.

Nearly all stay in Montana and many in Billings. Even during the recent recession, most graduates have landed jobs or went on to graduate school.

MSU Billings, which offered its first online classes in the fall of 1998, quickly became the leader in online education in the state.

MSU Billings accounts for 28 percent of the total credit-hour online courses taken by students in the Montana University System, which includes the state’s three community colleges, said Michael Barber, chief information officer for the campus.

In 2010, MSU Billings students took 29,997 credit hours in online classes. The next highest campus was the University of Montana in Missoula with 26,137 hours.

The number of online classes has steadily grown. In 2007, MSU Billings offered 183 online classes; in 2008, 236; 2009, 251; and 2010, 275.

Some students only take online classes, while others take both regular classes and online courses in the same semester.

Online classes fill up before regular classes because so many MSU Billings students work two and three jobs, making scheduling a big issue, Barber said

Online classes have an added $40 per-credit fee to pay for software that supports the classes.

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Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.