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Published in CenterView on November 05, 2012

SHRP expands reach through online degree programs

By Matt Westerfield

Brooke Matherne had just enrolled in the Radiologic Technology Program at Delgado Community College in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina raged ashore in August 2005, displacing Matherne and her family.

Originally from Eupora, Matherne sought a program closer to home and was allowed to transfer to the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Radiologic Sciences Program, at the time a hospital-based certificate program.

After graduating, she joined UMMC as a mammography technologist, while the Radiologic Sciences Program moved into the School of Health Related Professions and began offering a Bachelor of Science degree.

Matherne loves her job, but she says part of her was itching to go back to school and complete her degree. That’s why she jumped at a new opportunity last year to have the best of both worlds and enrolled in the first class of the Radiologic Sciences Advanced Standing Track.

Matherne is one of a fast-growing group of working Mississippians, both in the metro area and across the state, who are furthering their education through several flexible, online programs known as 2+U, now offered at the school.

“It was just what I’d been waiting for,” said Matherne, who works at University Physicians-Grants Ferry near her home in Flowood. “The program was special to me because it offered me the opportunity to earn a degree that was specific to my profession, but also allowed me to continue my full-time employment.”

Dr. Steve Watson, director of the 2+U Program, said the program is designed “for credentialed practitioners who have earned an associate’s degree in a health care-related field at a Mississippi community or junior college.”

“The 2+U programs enable these individuals to complete their bachelor’s degree completely online.”

SHRP’s radiologic sciences is the only baccalaureate-level program like it in the state, said Mark Gray, director and interim department chair, but there are nine community college programs that offer an associate degree.

“When those students graduate, they’ll sit for their board exams and become registered, but a lot of them have a desire to go back and get a higher degree,” he said. “This is attractive to them because it’s an online program, five semesters, and it gives them a chance to complete their degree that way.

“So it’s a big opportunity for the state.”

Watson said the 2+U program works “by having the student receive his or her clinical training while at community college, then SHRP provides the extra online coursework to complete the number of credits.”

“The beauty is the students can stay in their communities and upgrade their skill set and degree without ever coming to Jackson.”

In addition to radiologic sciences, the 2+U Program also offers an advanced standing track for dental hygiene, plus a progression track in medical laboratory science for students who are certified medical/clinical lab technicians and want to earn the current Medical Laboratory Scientist credential.

The Health Informatics and Information Management Program and the Health Sciences Program also offer online degree opportunities.

Elizabeth Carr, assistant professor and program coordinator, said the Dental Hygiene Advanced Standing Program, which also launched last fall, includes graduates from all of the four associate degree-level programs in the state.

“Recruiting is going well and we are planning to make some curriculum changes next summer,” she said. “Our students are not only active in their dental hygiene careers, but are living very busy lives outside of work and school.”

Kristi Moore, director of the radiologic sciences advanced standing track, said they recognized the demand for the program.

“We knew that students wanted to advance their education and that we were the school that could provide that. It’s been well received. I talk to students just about every day who are interested in the program.”

The first class of 19 online students will graduate next spring, and the second class increased to 36 students and began this fall.

Moore said many of the students are graduates of the former certificate program, like Matherne, but they also have a range of graduates from Hinds Community College, Pearl River Community College, Jones County Junior College and more.

Dr. Jessica Bailey, interim dean of SHRP, said the faculty is very proud of the 2+U Program and the opportunities it provides for our state.

“Health-care professionals become students in our online courses while continuing to work in their communities and contributing to the economic impact of our state,” she said.

For Matherne, earning a degree was partly a personal goal, “but also I wanted to illustrate to my daughter the importance of higher education.

“I definitely think for others it’s a great opportunity, it’s easy to achieve while still being able to work, still being able to provide a living for your family.”