Montana State University

MSU online program helps students finish a bachelor’s degree

November 10, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Shanna Stanley of Conrad finished her bachelor's in August through MSU's online liberal studies bachelor's degree completion program. Stanley has a 4-year-old daughter and works full time as a certified nursing assistant. She is pictured with her parents and daughter during her MSU graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Shanna Stanley.

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A Montana State University online program that helps students complete their bachelor's degree online saw its first-ever graduates this past year. 

The liberal studies bachelor's degree completion program, developed for students who have completed at least two years of college and would like to earn a bachelor’s degree online, saw its first five graduates this past year. Since its inception, more than 90 students have enrolled in the fully online program. Two more students are expected to graduate this December.

The program was born in 2012 as part of an MSU initiative to reach out to new students and serve Montana's educational needs. MSU asked the campus community for ideas for distance learning programs that would reach new audiences in Montana and beyond.

The bachelor's degree completion program—along with an online master's degree in land resources and environmental sciences and other online programs — was developed from ideas submitted through the campus call. Many of the students who have enrolled say that completing their bachelor’s degree is a life goal and the key motivator for applying to the program.

The liberal studies program has been extremely popular with students within Montana and across the country who started college and earned at least 60 credits, but, for a variety of reasons, didn't finish their degree. The program is also open to students who have an associate's degree and want to earn a bachelor's.

The program has provided a new opportunity for students based in rural areas to complete their degree without relocating to Bozeman.

"I am a single mother and I work and wanted to go to school full time," said Shanna Stanley of Conrad, who finished her bachelor's degree through the program in August. Stanley is the mother of a 4-year-old daughter and works full time as a certified nursing assistant.

"I couldn’t go to Bozeman for school, so the online program seemed to fit best for my hectic life," she said. Earlier this summer, MSU nominated Stanley, a straight-A student, for a non-traditional student award given by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.

MSU's degree completion program is interdisciplinary. Students complete credits in four main subject areas: arts, humanities, natural science and social science. Online classes cover a range of subjects, including earth sciences, Spanish, sociology, history, photography, nutrition and political science.

David Vanhorn lives in Queen Creek, Ariz., southeast of Phoenix, and works for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He completed his bachelor's degree from MSU in August.

"I enjoyed the flexibility of the program and the fact that it allowed me to take a wide variety of classes," he said. Vanhorn added that he particularly enjoyed his classes in Japanese popular culture and Islamic Arabic culture, as well as the capstone senior project class. He recommended students in the program "get out of your comfort zone" and tackle new subjects.

"It was the classes that I wasn't so sure about taking that ended up being the best ones," he said.

Vanhorn also said he appreciated the program's flexible schedule: "I could do the classes at any time during the day just as long as I met the due dates."

Tami Eitle, associate dean of the MSU College of Letters and Science who also serves as director of the liberal studies program, said flexibility is key to the program's design, noting that most students currently enrolled in the program are balancing family and work responsibilities while pursuing their education.

"All of our students started college at some earlier point in their lives but then life, work, or family forced them to leave without a degree," she said. "Our online program is allowing these students to return to college and they will earn a degree from MSU whether they are in rural Montana, Arizona or Mexico. Completing a college degree may bring better job opportunities, higher earnings and more self-confidence, but for many of our students it is also a dream fulfilled."

Information about the bachelor's degree completion program in liberal studies is at

The application deadline to apply to enter the program for spring 2015 is Dec. 1. Spring classes start Jan. 14, 2015.

View all of MSU's online degree and certificate programs at

Contact: Sarah Hendrikx, MSU Extended University, (406) 994-7441,