SMC’s first online degree
By Lisa Mincey Ware
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2018 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
In March 2018, classes began for students enrolled in SMC’s online Associate in Criminal Justice Degree program. The new program is the first completely online offering in the College’s history.
SMC created the program for working adults who are already employed, or who would like to be employed, in criminal justice or law enforcement fields and who need or want a degree to start or advance their careers. The 29 students currently enrolled range in age from 25 to 55 and most come from South Carolina, says Angelia Turner, Director of the program. Online students take the same courses as those enrolled in SMC’s classroom-based criminal justice degree program, but all course materials, discussion, and assignments Angela Turner are managed in a virtual environment. Students can access course resources at a time that’s convenient for them.
Jennifer Johnson of Enoree, South Carolina, enrolled in the online Associate in Criminal Justice Degree program to pursue her dream of working as a crime victim’s advocate. Between her work as a caregiver for disabled adults and her family responsibilities, there’s not much time left in her day to take classes. Online courses not only give her flexibility to learn on her own time, but she prefers online classes to a traditional classroom. “It’s hard to learn with a teacher saying, ‘Okay, students, turn to the next page,’ when you’re barely through the page you’re on,” she says. “The best part of taking online classes is that I’ve got the internet and an online tutor, as well as tech support, right at my fingertips if I need some extra help, and if I’m on a tight schedule.”
Turner says that, like all degree programs, some students are more motivated than others and that it can be a challenge to make the online environment as engaging as a live classroom. “We want to create an atmosphere where students feel absolutely connected to the program, to one another as students, to their instructor,” she says. “This is not cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all. We’re constantly working with faculty to create an environment that’s both academically rigorous but also fun and engaging.”
Johnson, who expects to finish the program in 2020, has found camaraderie among the other students, even though she’s never met them. “Coming from the medical field, I’m the rookie of my classmates, but I really don’t mind. It gives me a chance to learn from them while I’m growing with them,” she said. “My professors are just an email or phone call away, as are most of my classmates.”
Turner’s plans for the fledgling program include broadening recruitment efforts among the armed forces, many
whom seek careers in law enforcement after leaving service. She also wants to strengthen the program to ensure it serves the needs of communities in South Carolina. In July, she hosted leaders from 14 local and state law enforcement agencies on SMC’s campus to discuss forming an advisory council for the online program.
“The advisory council has opened the dialogue so that we will gain additional tools to move the online program forward and make it more accessible to adult learners across South Carolina and the southeastern region,” Turner says.