Career Services for the Distance Learner

By: Sharon Greenslade

The purpose of this study was to explore what career planning and placement services are currently offered at four online, degree-granting institutions in the United States. This study examined what distance education administrators perceive as ideal career planning and placement services for their online degree-seeking students. Finally, this study examined the obstacles in moving from what is offered to what is ideal. The goal of this study was to collect data that would allow institutions of higher education with online degree programs to better serve their students in career planning and placement services.

The literature in the field of distance education primarily examines the in-course experience of students, but research has also been conducted on how to create a successful distance education program. In addition to studies regarding the growth of online learning and how its students' demographics differ from traditional students, the research mainly focuses on faculty attitudes towards teaching online and student issues within the course. Within these studies, however, there is little discussion of overall student support services, particularly those services related to career planning and placement.
Student services for this population are not considered to be an issue in the field of distance education (Berge & Mrozowski, 2001). The limited data collected on support services focuses on the perceived necessities, such as online availability of admissions, registration, and financial aid. Important services that a student might utilize on campus, such as career planning and placement services, are not considered.

The purpose of this study was to examine the perceived need for career planning and placement services by distance education program administrators and to explore what services are currently offered at four online degree-granting institutions in the United States. The researcher assumed that distance learners are perceived to be grounded in an occupation or career path, and that they are involved in distance education for professional development. While this may be true for some distance learners, it has been noted that many enroll in courses in an attempt to make a significant career change and/or advancement (Connick, 1999; Schwitzer, Ancis, & Brown, 2001). Some distance learners may know the directions they wish to pursue, while others may simply just desire a change. Distance learners may not consider career-related services to be a necessity in comparison to registration or financial aid, but students often do not realize that the benefits of services until they actually utilize them.

Distance Education Today

Distance learning and education are new terms for many student affairs administrators. The terms distance education and distance learning tend to be used interchangeably. In the most basic terms, distance learning is defined as the process by which any student-instructor relationship occurs over a physical distance. More specifically, the term distance education refers to 'the provision of academic courses and entire degree programs when instructor and students are geographically separated'

Distance education can occur through a variety of vehicles. In the beginning, distance education included correspondence courses, conference calls, and videoconferences. Today, distance education programs are primarily online programs conducted via email correspondences, chat rooms, and Internet use. The growth of distance education has spawned various types of programs, such as online universities and virtual campuses. 'An online university is likely to be an offshoot of a traditional university, offering all its courses and programs via the Internet and World Wide Web. A virtual campus has no campus and no faculty of its own. Instead, a virtual university makes available programs and courses offered by other colleges and universities using technology'

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