CORVALLIS, Ore. - A huge audience for Michelle Obama's keynote address isn't the only record-breaker expected for Oregon State University's graduation ceremony Sunday - for the seventh straight year, OSU will confer a record number of degrees to its online students studying around the world.
A total of 402 distance students who completed their coursework online through OSU Ecampus will receive their diplomas, an increase from last year's previous high of 386. This year's group represents 39 states and five countries, including South Korea, China and Taiwan.
The rise in the number of graduates is evidence that students worldwide increasingly view online learning as a viable way to earn an education, officials said.
"We measure our success based on the achievements of our students, and this year's graduating class is a testament to their incredible dedication and the quality of our programs," said Ecampus executive director Lisa L. Templeton. "Ecampus is proud to play an integral role in providing learners with access to an OSU education no matter where they live."
Ecampus has steadily expanded the quality and breadth of its program offerings. More than 11,400 students enrolled in Ecampus courses during the 2011-12 school year, up from 7,400 just three years ago.
Ecampus students earn the same OSU diploma as the one awarded to on-campus students, and they say their growing interest in learning online is due as much to the quality of the education they receive as it is to the convenience factor.
"Oregon State has a great reputation and is one of the most progressive universities when it comes to teaching scientific courses online," said Jeff McPherson, a natural resources graduate from Golden, Colo. "I also enjoyed the many discussions I had with students throughout the world. The diversity of students and their different backgrounds created a unique learning environment that is not found in a traditional classroom."
Organizers expect a record crowd of about 34,000 to attend commencement exercises on campus. Nearly 150 Ecampus graduates will travel to Corvallis for the ceremony and bring with them more than 1,000 guests.
For many of Ecampus' nontraditional students, it's the culmination of a process that required years of dedication and overcoming hardships.
"I worked for a transportation engineering firm for 12 years and was planning to retire, but then I was laid off," said Florida resident Debora Williams, who will graduate from OSU with honors in environmental science. "I saw this as a turning point in my life. Now I'm 50, and receiving my degree through Ecampus has given me a newfound confidence in myself."
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Lisa L. Templeton, 541-737-1279