The Graduate College

Winter 2009


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Making It as a Distance Student
Terri Hayes

The Distance Learning Way

Did you know that 73 percent of graduate students at Northern Arizona University are earning their degree somewhere in Arizona other than Flagstaff? It’s true! NAU Distance Learning, the Graduate College, and the various academic programs collaborate to ensure that 4, 187 students can pursue their education in their local communities and online. Of the graduate students pursuing a degree at one of NAU’s 38 statewide campuses or online:

  • 74% are female
  • 70% are 30 and older
  • 85% are employed full-time
  • 81% pay for their own tuition

How are these students supported by the Distance Learning Community?

Anchor Faculty Working Closely With Part-Time Faculty
NAU has developed a model that supports graduate students who are balancing work, school, families, and more. Many programs are anchored by full-time faculty members located outside of Flagstaff. Over thirty full-time faculty members, teaching and advising in communities throughout Arizona, provide a connection for students to the curriculum, research opportunities, and current advancements in the field. In addition to recruiting and coaching students through their graduate studies, these full-time faculty are mentoring practitioners in their given field to teach part-time at NAU. Part-time faculty infuse academic programs with state-of-the art practices and are critical to the success of NAU programs. 

Distance Class

Programs around the state are scheduled to serve a group of students simultaneously. This group, affectionately known as a cohort, will take the same classes each term and progress toward graduation as a unit. This format creates a community of learners in the same field, extensive team work opportunities, mutual support for busy students juggling education and career, and often serves the need of the community by producing multiple graduates in a high-demand field. NAU Distance Learning is known for cohorts in education but more recently has established cohorts around the state in business, health services, law enforcement, and counseling.

Short-format Classes
The majority of Distance Learning classes offered in-person are provided in an eight-week format. This allows students to take two classes per 16-week term, one after another, while only working on one at a time. This format has proven to work well for students who are juggling a job, school, and more.

Personal service
Other services provided through the cooperative efforts of Distance Learning, the Graduate College, and Flagstaff academic and service departments include:

  • The Cline Library, which provides easy access to materials and services online. 
  • Academic advisors, who are available in local communities around the state and online
  • A variety of programs, many of which offer courses in-person and online, providing students with flexible alternatives
  • A Student Service Center, available from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. to assist students with registration and access to campus resources
  • Current technology, including high-speed computer labs around the state free of charge to students; electronic portfolio development in many majors; personal assistance with technology support; and a 24/7 technical helpline during the academic year (at 1-888-520-7215).

Tips for Current Graduate Students

If you are currently studying at one of our campuses, here are some tips to help you make the most of your graduate career.

Distance Class 2

Connect with a full-time faculty member in your program. Whether the faculty are in your local community or in Flagstaff, they are committed to your success and can connect you to areas of your field that are of the most interest to you. Call your academic department and ask to speak with a faculty advisor. Ask him/her specific questions about your circumstances; share what you hope to achieve after graduation (career advancement, a Ph.D program, etc.). Faculty can help you access research experience, opportunities to publish work, and a multitude of other relevant activities.

Reach out to part-time instructors in your field of interest. These individuals are interested in sharing their "real-world" experience with you. Contact them by making an appointment, coming to class early, or sending them an e-mail. Work with them to base your writing assignments on current advancements in the field. Capitalize on how their experience can enhance what you gain from individual classes and the program as a whole.

Be Proactive. If you’d like to improve your writing skills, be proactive about asking faculty for advice and feedback. Soliciting the feedback/information you are looking for will ensure that you get the most out of your graduate program.

Utilize your cohort network. Form study groups, learn from the professional experience of your fellow students, and look for opportunities to collaborate outside of the classroom.

Sign up for online classes early. Online classes are in high demand and fill up quickly. Talk to your advisor about what classes you’ll need early, allowing you to enroll in both in-person and online classes at your first opportunity. This will ensure you the flexibility you’re looking for in your degree.

Distance Class 3
Consider your other priorities. Graduate coursework requires sufficient study outside of the classroom. Before you enroll, assess what your commitments at work will be during the course of a term. If you are expecting to be involved in a big project or something that will require more time than normal, consider what a realistic class load would be on top of that. Taking that extra class during the summer or winter terms may be preferable to overloading during a spring or fall term.

Read your NAU e-mail.
Important deadlines, announcements, and opportunities are sent to this account.

Access the many resources available on the NAU Distance Learning website. Here you’ll find links to online writing labs, citation guides, study skills resources, technical help, an orientation for new students, and more.

The Graduate College website offers information about workshops and other resources available to current students. If you can’t attend in person, ask if you can join by phone or videoconference.

Cline Library staff members are available to assist with research help – just ask!

Complete your course evaluations. Your confidential feedback is essential to help instructors consistently excel in the classroom.  Focus on feedback that is specific to what works and what doesn’t. The more concrete the feedback, the more meaningful it is.

If you’re having trouble, ask for help. If you begin having trouble keeping up with coursework or if your grades start to slip, reach out to an advisor or faculty member to discuss what the right course of action should be. Juggling work and school can be a difficult balance and often requires input from others.

Call us! The Student Service Center can help you navigate any number of processes. We’re here to help students succeed wherever they live, work, and study. Reach us at 1-800-426-8315.

Terri Hayes, Associate Director for Distance Learning


Fall 2008 Official Headcount
Fall 2007 Distance Learning Student Satisfaction Survey