Wearing a smile a mile wide, Tara Webb of West Virginia strides across the stage and accepts her diploma in front of hundreds of other Barton Community College graduates.
For many of her peers, it was the last time they set foot on Barton’s campus, or even within the Kansas border. For Tara, and her fellow-graduate and husband Bryan, however, it was the first time they found themselves on campus since they began taking classes a few years ago.
The young couple finished all their coursework through BARTonline, Barton’s online learning component that offers several career-training, transfer and associate degree programs.
Tara received her associate degree in general studies and intends to acquire a bachelor’s degree in business from a four-year college. Bryan also pursued an education through BARTonline in order to transfer to a four-year college and advance his career within a nationwide wireless provider.
“If it wasn’t for Barton, I would probably be at half the salary I am now,” Bryan said. “The quality is unsurpassed. I went to a physical school that had 17,000 students, and I felt like a number. With BARTonline, it was a whole different scenario. It had a personal touch despite the distance.”
Tara, who balanced online classes with raising their 4-year-old son Elliott, shared her husband’s sentiments. She said the flexible nature of online class schedules was a key component in making college possible.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know how online classes would work compared to traditional colleges. The flexible schedule is nice, but they really make you work for the grade,” she said. “All my professors and teachers I had were very nice and they worked with me if I had problems.”
The process was also very user-friendly, she added.
Bryan is a Kansas native, and saw Barton’s campus first-hand before leaving the state. That played an important role in their decision to take online courses through BARTonline, along with what Bryan called a dramatic difference in cost.
“I heard about a lot of online schools that don’t physically exist,” he said. “This was a school I saw with my own eyes.”
There was a handful of reasons the couple decided to make the trip halfway across the United States for graduation. Tara said she wanted to experience the physical act of receiving her diploma the proper way.
“We’ve also been thinking about going out to Kansas to show Elliott where Bryan grew up,” she said. “This was a cool reason to get out there and take a little vacation while celebrating at the same time.”
The Webbs said they didn’t really miss the traditional experience, as they made memories of their own.
“I actually took one test in the garage,” Tara recalled with a laugh. “My son was teething and wouldn’t calm down, so I escaped into the garage.”
Bryan also took advantage of the flexibility of location, but on a larger scale.
“I once started a test in the car in West Virginia and finished it in North Carolina,” he said.
This non-traditional approach to education is quickly becoming the norm across the country, and it’s reflected in Barton’s numbers as well. The largest increases in enrollments for the last few years have been through BARTonline at about a 17-percent increase each year.