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Online Project Management Programs Allow Working Adults to Succeed Print
In today’s work force many individuals have become project managers by default, only to find themselves lacking the specific knowledge necessary to excel in their positions. It takes more than on-the-job training to adequately prepare most project managers, especially those who will be responsible for complex programs involving numerous stakeholders, limited budgets and condensed timelines.

Faced with a tight job market, a stalled career or a limited resume, business professionals are choosing to return to school to earn advanced project management degrees.

For working adults, the biggest barrier to earning an advanced degree is the press of personal and professional responsibilities. Since quitting jobs and neglecting families is not a viable alternative, online degree programs are often the only realistic option.

However, choosing the proper online degree program is as important as choosing the proper traditional campus program. It’s important to thoroughly research the school’s history and accreditation before enrolling.

One good source for this information is the Project Management Institute (PMI) website (www.pmi.org .), which lists programs offered by its Registered Educational Providers.  Other online resources include:
GetEducated.com (http://geteducated.com );
U.S. News & World Report (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/eduhome.htm );
and the Distance Learning Clearinghouse (http://www.uwex.edu/disted/home.html ).

Those conducting a library search may wish to consult these books:

Peterson’s Guide to Distance Learning Programs; Campus-Free Degrees:

Thorson’s Guide to Accredited College Degrees through Distance Learning; and

Bear’s Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning. 

When researching online programs, it’s a good idea to inquire if a degree can truly be obtained 100% at a distance. Some programs are actually distance/campus hybrids that require students to spend a weekend or a semester physically on campus.

Another consideration is whether online courses are offered in a synchronous (all students logged on at the same time) or asynchronous (students log on when they wish to read posts or submit assignments) format. If choosing a synchronous program, students will need to rearrange their schedules as required.

For some prospective students, the perceived legitimacy of a project management degree earned online is a concern.  While online education is becoming more accepted, this may be a realistic consideration, depending on the particular employer involved. To avoid potential problems, apply to an online program that is affiliated with a University and which issues the same transcript to its distance students as it does to its campus students.

If passing PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam is a goal, it’s a good idea to choose a program whose courses are mapped to PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).  Some programs also offer a PMP exam preparation course and basic certificates for those who are not interested in earning a degree.  A good project management school should update their course offerings to keep current with changes in the project management profession.

Some degree programs actively encourage students to apply their knowledge to real-life situations. As part of his capstone course at the University of Wisconsin –Platteville, Mitch Iverson decided to focus on improving the internal project management processes at his company, AVISTA, Inc. “ I wanted to improve AVISTA’s project management capabilities,” Iverson explains. “ By taking graduate project management courses, I can  assure our clients that our projects are under control and well-managed. I really learned a lot from UWP’s online courses and it certainly helped prepare me for the PMP exam.”

While many students seek to use their project management degrees to advance in the corporate world, others use the new information as a springboard to establishing their own business.

One such entrepreneur is Kay Wais, who recently completed her online graduate studies with the University of Wisconsin –Platteville.

Wais is the owner of Successful Projects, a busy project management contracting and training business.  In 2002, she formed the LaCrosse, Wisconsin PMI chapter. “I can sincerely say that I have improved many processes at my work due to what I have learned in the project management program,” she notes.  “When I took Quality Management, I brought some Six Sigma processes into my projects.

When I took Marketing Management, I expanded the research techniques on which we base our marketing projects. I make it a part of the value I offer my customers and co-workers on the job.”

Increasingly, astute employers are recognizing the benefit of offering tuition reimbursement to employees who choose to update their skills to remain competitive.  “The initial investment that employers make in their employee’s education is repaid exponentially in increased productivity and improved retention rates,” notes Dawn Drake, Executive Director, UW-Platteville Distance Learning Center.  “As budgets tighten, online education is seen as an economical alternative to off-site training programs that require travel and hotel costs.” 

Project management as a profession is destined to evolve in the next decade and continuing education is paramount for those who wish to keep their skills current. “Earning a project management degree is becoming increasingly necessary for professionals who wish to advance in the complex and interrelated global economy of the 21st Century,” advises D.W. (Bill) Haskins, University of Wisconsin-Platteville program coordinator, Master of Science in Project Management.  “It takes a mixture of both work experience and professional project management development to remain competitive.  The standard terminology and common knowledge base garnered through graduate programs is invaluable.”

by Darla Banfi, Marketing Coordinator, and Ellen McFall, Staff Writer, Distance Education, University of Wisconsin-Platteville,
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