As Katie Wesolek puts one of her twin baby boys to bed, the other is waking up. “I get up at least 10 times a night,” said the Valley resident and mother of three. So it was critical that Wesolek could attend college class lectures in her living room while still wearing pajamas.
Wesolek recently finished her bachelor’s degree in business from Western International University, a Phoenix-based private school that began offering lectures this year for all its classes live and online.
Western International is one of many universities remodeling traditional college education in hopes that working adults and parents will enroll.
“We live in a highly mobile, very busy society with women returning to the workplace, single parents, husband and wife both working and taking care of the kids,” said Mike Seiden, WIU president. “The university has to respond to the special needs of today’s working population.”
Rio Salado College, a Maricopa County community college, offers new sections of classes starting every week.
The state’s three public universities are expanding their slate of online programs, and Northern Arizona University has opened campuses in Mesa and Yuma — far from its Flagstaff base — to attract working adults.
At Western International, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, the changes make a classroom out of any place with a computer and Internet connection.
Wesolek used that opportunity to earn her degree while also taking care of her newborns and 10-year-old son.
She said she attempted to take night classes at Arizona State University West. But Wesolek couldn’t commit to two-hour lectures away from home every week for four months.
“It’s just too much,” Wesolek said, “too much time to find a baby sitter, and it’s too much time away from your kids and family.”
A former co-worker recommended Western International. It proved a perfect fit, she said.
Wesolek watched live lectures on her computer and was able to ask questions, and hear other students’ thoughts, using a headset.
Western International offers classes at 10 a.m., noon and late at night to accommodate adults and parents with different schedules, Seiden said. Classes meet once a week and finish in just nine weeks.
Most critics of higher education online complain that it prevents students from interacting with their instructors.
Deborah DeSimone, Western International’s chief academic officer, said her university has solved that problem.
“We were finding that our recordings were becoming outdated before too much time went by,” DeSimone said. “It was not a simple matter to get a teacher to come into a studio to do the recording in the first place. And students didn’t seem to like them, they weren’t listening to them.”
DeSimone said 85 percent of Western International’s students finish classes now that lectures are live.
Wesolek said she has a strong relationship with her marketing and e-commerce instructor, who encouraged her to begin her own business after graduation.
In November, Wesolek launched a Web site to sell beaded jewelry she designs, allowing her to also begin her career from home.
To remain economically competitive, Arizona residents need to earn 29,000 college degrees in the coming decades above what they are now on pace to earn, according to the research firm Postsecondary Education Opportunity.
“There’s just a whole raft of statistics, and the more you dig into them, the more upsetting it becomes,” said Fred DuVal, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
DuVal argues that all the state’s universities, public and private, and community colleges have to contribute.
For Western International, helping adults graduate is good business.
“We’re just making the students more comfortable and enabling them to finish their degrees,” DeSimone said.