Gabe Holmes, 30, started working at the S Ranch between Pryor and St. Xavier as a cowboy.
He worked his way up to running the feedlot and now is doing the books, which is a full-time job and then some at the big operation.
When that job got him interested in the business end of ranching, he decided to go to college to get a business degree.
Gabe became one of hundreds of students heading to school from their home computers.
The availability of online classes at Montana State University Billings was a major reason he decided to tackle a college degree.
It wasn’t easy.
Except for a couple of auto mechanics classes he took at a community college while he was in high school in California, he hadn’t taken any college classes.
And he had been out of school since graduating from high school 13 years before.
The first classes were challenging as he learned how to study for a college class. He’d always enjoyed reading, but found studying was a different kind of reading.
With his job and a family, Montana State University Billings online classes made it possible for him to work on a degree.
“If it weren’t for online classes, I wouldn’t have gone to school,” he said.
At first he only took online classes. Later he began taking a few regular classes along with his online courses.
Last fall semester, six of his 19 credits were in online classes and the rest in a classroom.
By the time he graduates in May, about half his classes will have been online.
Online classes were difficult at first, because they require more self-discipline to do the work.
When Holmes started taking regular classes, he found them easier because he learns better hearing the material. It’s also easier to clarify a vague concept when he can ask a question directly to the professor immediately.
The first few semesters, he worked full time. Although he returned to 50-hour weeks during the summers, he cut his school year work schedule down to 20-hours a week so he could concentrate on completing his degree.
He expects to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in business with an accounting option.
He and his wife, Anna, have four children, Alan, 8; Gideon, 6; Tabitha, 4; and Isaac, 2.