Online courses have made it possible for Cara Sampson to work toward earning her bachelor’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice and sociology and a minor certificate in trauma studies at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Newlywed Cara Sampson moved her 10-year-old daughter from Georgia to Sullivan, Mo., last August, bought a foreclosed home that needed major work and continued to work on her undergraduate degree. To say she was a little strapped for time would be an understatement.

However, the flexibility of online classes offered at the University of Missouri–St. Louis helped Sampson stay on track to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice and sociology and a minor certificate in trauma studies.

The Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UMSL offers all of their undergraduate courses online, which makes it possible to earn a bachelor’s degree completely online.

“When I first looked at schools, the idea that UMSL’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice program was ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report is what hooked me,” she said. “But because of my life and schedule when I first moved here, if not for the opportunity to take four online classes last semester, I wouldn’t have been able to go full time.”

The department has been offering online courses for a number of years, said Finn-Aage Esbensen, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Youth Crime and Violence and department chair.

“We realized several years ago that we needed to offer online courses to serve our students, stay competitive and boost enrollment,” Esbensen said.

Since 2009, the department has more than tripled both their course offerings and enrollment in online courses.

“We started developing courses,” he said. “We began offering undergraduate courses and steadily increasing the offerings each semester.

“Our faculty really enjoy online as a different mode of delivery, but work hard to ensure the online experience is the same or similar to the classroom experience and not watered down in anyway.”

It’s working. Online courses continue to be popular and new ones are added each semester.

“All of our online classes fill up, usually before our on-campus classes, so there is a demand,” Esbensen said.

Sampson, who hopes to complete her undergraduate degree in May 2015, said she plans to continue alternating with both online and on-campus courses.

“I like the flexibility online gives me, and with my schedule I need that,” she said. “But I also like the opportunity to become part of the campus and interact with others, and that’s what on-campus classes provide.”

Once she earns her degree, Sampson plans to enroll in UMSL’s master’s degree program in psychology. She’d like to work in a prison or correctional faculty as a counselor.

The UMSL Experience

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton