CRESTVIEW — For some North Okaloosa County residents, attending school is as simple as sitting in their home office or cracking open a laptop.

According to the most recent report by the Babson Survey Research Group, in 2014, 5.8 million U.S. students were enrolled in at least one online higher education course.

That’s approximately one in every four students.

Among them are Crestview resident Cori Davis and her entire family, from her 7-year-old son to her husband, Michael, who teaches in-person and online American history courses at Northwest Florida State College. 

TAKING VIRTUAL CLASSES

“I was happy to see that my classes were available online,” Cori said. “I don’t have time to be going down to Niceville [the location of NWFSC’s main campus] all the time.”

Cori, who already has a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Knox College, is taking online emergency management courses.  

“I already have a J.D. (juris doctorate) and a bachelor’s degree, so I don’t need the actual degree, but I can use the credits to gain more experience,” she said.

Cori said the advantages of online courses extend far beyond their flexibility. 

“A lot of times people who find it difficult to speak up in class find it much easier in online courses, and I think there are certainly some people who benefited from the on-campus classes — that online classes simply do not work for them.”

Last year, Cori removed her son from the second half of first grade after his teachers complained of behavioral problems; she placed him in Florida Virtual Public Schools for a half-year with her as his learning coach. 

“He had some behavioral problems which required us to take him out of school for a semester,” Cori said. “It wasn’t like he was violent or disturbed or anything, but he was disruptive and his grades were falling because he had difficulty paying attention in class.

“And I wanted to see for myself what the teachers were seeing and work with my doctor and pediatrician, and pushed him basically seamlessly to online education.”

Cori’s husband, Michael, who has a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago and a doctoral degree from the University of Cincinnati, said, “We were a little nervous about that and here he is doing this and it was new to us,” he said of his son’s experience with online education.

“But Florida has a really good program at Florida Virtual Schools. He really enjoyed it and it was a good transition for him as we were getting him on the kind of track that he needed to be on to be a success in a face-to-face class.”

WHO BENEFITS MOST

With respect to his students at Northwest Florida State College, Michael said there really was no discernable difference between the quality of the students taking his online American History I and II courses. 

“With our program, it is people who are working multiple jobs and this is what is working best for their needs,” he said. “I have always had very high quality students at Northwest Florida State College.”

On other campuses throughout the country, the perspective shifts.

According to BestCollege.com’s “The 2017 Online Education Trends Report,” institutions of higher education that provide online degrees and courses are not necessarily transparent or as seemingly positive about online education as the Davis family.

The survey states that just 11 percent of schools share post-graduation attitudes about workplace engagement and satisfaction with students, 27 percent share the post-graduation salary of their students and 53 percent share their placement employment rates.

‘I REFUSE TO USE STUDENT LOANS’

Sarah Hawkins is another Crestview resident taking online classes. The museum professional is completing the last online course needed for an Associate of Arts degree at Northwest Florida State College.

Hawkins said she takes online classes periodically so she can work and pursue her education at the same time.

"I'm blessed to have already started my career,” she said. “In the past and in the future, online courses have allowed me to work and have a flexible schedule. I refuse to use student loans, so having enough time to earn the funds needed for my education is important.

“I also believe the experience I gain will give me an edge over candidates who only have a degree. Working in a museum requires much more than what is taught in a classroom.”

The art history major and Museum Administration minor student will take classes at the University of West Florida in the future; she will pursue a Bachelor of Arts.

Hawkins says there are some things people should consider before signing up for digital classes.

"I love online courses, but only recommend them for those who are savvy with technology. If you're not comfortable with computers and other forms of technology, you're going to have a bad time.

Efficiency with computers could be a pro or a con. Your instructor's proficiency with computers could also be a pro or con.”

As for the upside?

"The biggest pro, however, is freedom,” she said. “If I'm in an online course, I can work at my leisure. I'm able to work and live life without blocking out more of my time in a set schedule.

“In the future, a large percentage of my courses will be online.”