Part I: USC MPA from My APT

Posted on February 10, 2013

Introduction: New ELGL Column: “An MPA From My Apt.”

The New York Times published an article recently about the 10K B.A., a news concept inspired by a Bill Gates challenge. Governors in Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin are exploring what it would take to offer the equivalent of a four year college degree for less than half of the average student debt occurred in a typical University. A program able to offer four years of full time education with this low of a price tag would almost certainly rely on on-line classes, an idea that traditionalists frown upon. Despite opposition, over the last nine years, online class enrollment has increased a minimum of 9.7% each year. I joined those growing ranks in January.


I had the privilege of receiving one of the highest caliber high school educations in Oregon, having attended Catlin Gabel. I spent the next two years at Willamette University trying to find my place, even serving as president of my fraternity before transferring. I graduated from the University of Oregon less than two years later with a degree in sociology and a minor in political science.


My interest in people and politics has displayed itself in my year since graduation. I spent my first three months working as a Residential Counselor at the St. Mary’s Home for Boys, all of whom had a history of abuses, trouble with the law, and a range of emotional problems rivaling those of Lindsay Lohan. I left to take a job as the Policy Research and Field Associate for the Charlie Hales for Mayor Campaign after his primary staff turnover. I spent the next four months learning about Portland. I left in September after accepting an offer for a year of Americorps service working on Early Education in Reno, Nevada (the state with the lowest graduation rate in the nation). However, before I left, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in public service on the administration side and I wanted to start right away.


The University of Southern California accepted me into their MPA program and I opted for the distance learning option. I started my studies four week ago. Over the short time since, I have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be an online student. I met most of my classmates at the orientation weekend, but aside from seeing names on a discussion board I have only interacted with a few of them since…on Google Hangouts. Setting up group sessions comes with increased difficulty because we all have jobs, prior responsibilities, different time zones, and, in some cases, small children to coordinate around.


My professors hold class sessions once a week, at most, via webcam. I still have yet to see so much as a picture of one of them. The textbook has become the most useful resource as the 500 miles between my professors and I make them significantly less accessible. Networking with the majority of the renowned USC alumni base has become 10 times more difficult because no one in their right mind moves from LA to Reno.

The hotly debated topic of if I and my cohort will graduate as prepared as our
classmates in traditional programs has crossed my mind already. However, four weeks in, I’m convinced I can come out of this program more prepared if I maintain personal accountability in my three areas of focus – work, classes, and networking – because in order to do that I will face more challenges than traditional students.

The concept of unity of peopleRegardless, the relevance of this question increases each year with the number of online classes.

Accredited universities, like USC, will continue to tap into the growing demand of those looking for a Bachelor’s degree in a non-traditional setting. Increasing technology and experience in online education will make college more accessible, especially from the ability to offer a degree at a lower price. An online degree may also decrease many of the hidden barriers that lead to “ low-income students [finishing] college less often than affluent peers even when they outscore them on skills tests.

I will be writing a monthly (or so) column for the purpose of sharing my online experience in the hopes that from it, more (potential) students will receive informed advice.


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