Distance Learning

Harry R. Carter discusses distance learning and the opportunities that are available to earn a college degree through on-line education.


I have long believed that there is a close tie between knowledge and success. This basic principle, which has guided my life, was driven home by my parents in the early part of my life. College was a prized commodity in the eyes of my parents. I was imbued with a thirst for knowledge and have...


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Thankfully, it is now a great deal easier for you to gain access to the world of collegial knowledge. Many options are available for those who wish to broaden their knowledge base. In addition to the increase in the number of residential fire science programs, there has been a proliferation of open-learning and on-line educational programs over the past two decades.

My experience in this world is up close and personal. In 1975, I was among the first 12 people to receive a bachelor’s degree from our New Jersey open-learning institution, Thomas A. Edison State College. The administrators reviewed the transcripts from all of the schools that I had attended after graduating from high school. After a strict assessment and thorough interview process, I was granted my bachelor of arts in the social sciences. Oddly enough, at the time we received our degrees, Edison’s institutional concept was so new that they had not yet been accredited. There was a great deal of resistance from traditional schools, which felt that one learned best while sitting on one’s butt within a classroom environment. The issue of accreditation has long since been resolved.

Thomas A. Edison State College has taken a much larger view of the educational process. The school was founded on the principle that knowledge is all around us in the world. How we acquire that knowledge is up to us. It must be remembered that Edison himself gained a tremendous amount of knowledge on his own. Few would doubt that Edison was one of the true geniuses of modern times. Edison achieved his success by reading books and paying attention to life as he lived it.

Interestingly, Thomas A. Edison State College has offered a fire science option under its human services degree area for some time. A similar open learning institution has long been in operation in New York State. The Regents External Degree Program of The University of the State of New York lets mid-career adults earn a degree based upon experience, and previous education. Many other institutions have joined the adult educational effort over the past several years. The key to these educational offerings is convenience. You the student can pursue your degree from the relative comfort of your own home or office.

Lest you think that these approaches to earning your degree are easy, let me offer you a warning. You will still be acquiring textbooks, doing research on line, reading regular assignments, answering classwork related questions and crafting regular research papers. Perhaps the only thing you will not be doing is spending untold hours commuting to, and sitting in, the classroom.

One of the earliest distance-learning efforts undertaken within the fire service came from the Open Learning program at the National Fire Academy (NFA). This program is now called the Degrees at a Distance Program, and offers the ability to pursue a bachelor’s degree without the requirement to attend on-campus courses. Primary among the assets of this program is the fact that the NFA has allowed for the development of a common body of knowledge regarding fire, life safety, and emergency services programs. You can find out about this educational program by logging onto the NFA website (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fire-service/nfa/nfa.shtm) and clicking on the Degrees at a Distance link.

A number of newer programs have come on- line that also offer fire science courses on the Internet. I recently spoke at length with Ed Kaplan of the NFA on the topic of curriculum, subject matter quality, and the future of distance learning. I want you to know that Ed is one of the strongest proponents of quality, distance learning in the fire service today. During my discussion with Ed, the topic of distance learning came up. He is the coordinator for the Degrees at a Distance program. I asked Ed if he knew of a list of those institutions that provided on-line learning for fire service students. He referred me to the website www.firedawg.com. What I found was an interesting list that had been created by a member of the U.S. Air Force, Technical Sergeant Dean C. Riewald.

Being a U.S. Air Force Vietnam-veteran firefighter myself, I reviewed his site with a great deal of interest. His resume includes time spent as a fire protection specialist, and time spent at the Community College of the Air Force, located at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. I would urge you to avail yourself of the hard work that this man has done for us all. There are some interesting opportunities that you can explore.