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Release: Oct. 2, 2001

New BLSAI program helps students across Iowa earn degree

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- As director of materials management for Floyd Valley Hospital in Le Mars, Lynette Shuff doesn't have a lot of extra time on her hands. Still, she's committed to earning a bachelor's degree. So when she heard about the new Bachelor of Liberal Science Across Iowa program, she eagerly signed up.

BLSAI, a new program launched this fall and supported jointly by the three Regents universities, uses the Iowa Communication Network (ICN) to broadcast courses to sites across the state. Unlike more traditional correspondence and Web-based courses, on which students work in private, BLSAI courses allow students -- through a video and audio connection -- to contribute to class discussions, ask instructors questions and even make presentations in "real time."

In a sense, BLSAI allows students to enter a classroom the size of Iowa.

"It's just the touch of the button and you're communicating all across the state," says Shuff, who plans to earn her degree from the University of Iowa.

Wayne Prophet, assistant dean for Credit Programs at the University of Iowa, said BLAIS is designed primarily for students in the state's two-year colleges who want to earn a bachelor's degree from one of the Regent's universities without relocating to one of their campuses. He said the first semester is off to a good start. The goal was to enroll 20 students; 24 people signed up.

Two courses are being offered this fall. Aging in Comparative Perspective, the class Shuff is taking, is being taught by UI sociology professor Rebecca Matthews. The other course, Leadership and Human Relations, is being taught by a faculty member at the University of Northern Iowa.

Prophet said the plan is to offer two classes each fall and spring and one class during the summer session so students steadily acquire 45 of the 62 required semester hours for the BLS degree. He added that most students who enter the program already have an associate of arts degree.

"The idea is to give the BLS student a structured schedule that we're committed to offering, and if they stay on this track of two courses every fall and spring and one in summer and complete their additional work in a timely basis, they can earn their undergraduate degree in under five years," he added.

In comparison, he said, students who take more traditional guided correspondence courses have taken as long as 10 years to complete their degrees.

While prospective degree earners may commence their course work in any academic turn without formal admission, they are encouraged to formally apply for admission to one of the three Regents universities early in their course-taking. When they graduate, they'll get a diploma from the school to which they've been admitted and the chance to walk across the stage with other graduates during commencement ceremonies.

Prophet said the BLSAI program does more than simply broadcast classes to sites around Iowa. Students also have access to a battery of support services, from academic and career advising via videoconferencing to library and research assistance. With funding from the University of Iowa Center for Credit Programs, for instance, the UI Libraries have dedicated one staff person solely to distance education support. Students in the BLSAI and related programs can request books, periodicals and even articles which the staff person will copy and fax for a minimal charge.

Prophet credits community colleges with helping the Regents universities get word out about the BLSAI program, and with securing locations for students to take the courses via the ICN.

"The community colleges -- including advisors, support staff and administrators -- have been extremely helpful in getting prospective students," Prophet said. "This will provide for a seamless transition from the AA degree to a four-year degree."

Best of all, the program provides nontraditional students an opportunity to further their academic career while maintaining family, career and other obligations.

"By nontraditional we don't mean just older students, but those who are place-bound, who have time and other constraints that might otherwise prevent them from earning a degree," he said. "While we think the major audience for the BLS is the older student, there are many opportunities for younger students who have moved though the community colleges, finished their AA degrees and are looking for something more."

People like Lynette Shuff, who has earned 70 credit hours over 11 years while working and raising a family. Shuff jokes that her goal is to finish her degree before her son, a medical student at the UI, finishes his residency in about four years. She thinks the BLSAI program will help her achieve that goal.

"It'll just work for me," she said. "It fits my schedule."

More information about the BLSAI program is available on the Web at http://www.uiowa.edu/~ccp/pages/bls/bls.html, or by calling the UI Center for Credit Programs (319) 335-2575 or toll-free at (800) 272-6430.