Jamal Sharrieff stands smiling in front of a building.
Jamal Sharrieff is Executive Chef for Dine West at the University of West Georgia where he is also working toward a double major in Business and Finance. 

Jamal Sharrieff, 53
University of West Georgia
Double Major, Business and Finance

As Executive Chef for Dine West at the University of West Georgia, Jamal Sharrieff has a front row seat for the journey that is the traditional college experience. From catering new student orientations, graduations, and even alumni events, Jamal has witnessed first-hand the value of a college degree and the hard work and determination it takes to earn one. What the students at these events don't know is that they and Jamal have more in common than they may think, as he himself is a rising Junior at UWG. After coming to the University of West Georgia from New Jersey in 2016, he wasted no time at all transferring roughly 30 credit hours of previous college credit to UWG, and is currently taking a combination of online and evening courses on his way to earning a bachelor’s degree. Read more about Jamal and what inspired him to finish what he started years ago. 

Besides being a college student, what do you spend your time doing? 
I like riding horses, my motorcycle, going to the movies and reading. I am currently the Campus Chef for Dine West and I have been cooking for over 25 years.

How many eCore courses have you taken?
I have taken 4 eCore courses so far. I normally take a combination of eCore, UWG Online, and on-campus classes. 

When is your expected graduation date?
Spring 2021. That will depend on my course load and how things go along the way, but that is the goal!

Why is completing your college degree important to you? 
Because I want to impress upon my children and today’s students the importance of a degree and that you’re never too old to complete your education.

What goals would you like to accomplish after earning your degree?
When I graduate I would like to work in the Finance Department and then Student Advisement in the Richard’s College of Business. Working with my advisor on campus and seeing the way she interacts with and cares about the success of her students— I would like to be able to help students achieve their goals in the same way someday.

Jamal stands beside a palm tree made of pineapples at a catering event on campus at UWG.
Why did you choose to take online classes?
Working full-time as the Campus Chef requires my days. Special events can also require early mornings and late nights. The convenience of online classes helps me achieve my goals while continuing my work, no matter the schedule.

How would you describe the instructors you’ve had in your eCore classes?
Very knowledgeable, understanding and ready to assist students when questions arise. eCore classes are fast-paced, so you can’t get behind. However, the online nature allows you to take notes at your own pace. If I’m watching a video, I can pause it and rewind it if I miss something vs. interrupting an instructor during class. 

How and when do you make time for your schoolwork?
Mostly in the evening, I do both participations online and classroom participation. I also come into work early some days (as early as 3:30/4:00 am) so that I can use that quiet time in the office to study. I just set my alarm and tell myself, “you are going to get up and do this.” There are days when I do get really tired, but I just do it anyway!

Who inspires you and why?
Students! Watching them graduate and seeing the look of accomplishment on their faces after completing their degrees.

What would you say to someone who is considering returning to school online? 
Like Nike— Just Do it!
If you are taking an online college course, chances are you will have to take a proctored exam at some point. A proctored exam means that the online student must arrange to take the exam under the supervision of a designated “proctor”. Online programs often use proctored exams as a way to ensure the academic integrity of the student’s performance in the class. 

In eCore classes, for example, students are required to take at least one proctored exam per course. This is dependent upon the instructor, and can include the course midterm and/or the final exam. The proctored exam is a crucial part of the student’s success, and therefore there are a few things students should consider before making an appointment. 

  1. Register Early
    Although the designated testing window for your class may be later in the semester, registration for the exam typically opens in the second week of class. We highly recommend that students make a testing appointment sooner rather than later. Why, you ask? Similar to buying tickets to a concert or sporting event, you want to reserve your spot before all the “good seats are gone.” Testing centers have limited space which can fill up closer to test time, and virtual proctors typically charge extra fees for last minute appointments. Plus, registering early will give you peace of mind and one less thing to worry about when you are in the midst of midterms.
  2. Face-to-Face vs. Virtual Proctoring
    Although face-to-face and virtual proctoring options are available for most USG eCampus courses, we highly recommend selecting a face-to-face option whenever possible. This alleviates the possibility of issues that commonly occur when attempting to test from home— incompatible computer systems, poor internet connections, or lack of bandwidth. At a physical testing center, there is an actual person there to help troubleshoot any issues that may arise. They can pick up the phone and contact the eTesting office for assistance on your behalf if needed. We are proud of the relationships we have built with our institutional testing centers, and they are invested in the success of our students as much as we are!
  3. Proctoring Costs
    While some institutions offer free testing for their students, most testing centers do charge a fee for their services. The fee for a proctored exam can range from $15 - $50. Depending on where and how you test, fees may be collected at registration or at the testing center on exam day. Be mindful of the different costs listed for each proctoring option when scheduling an appointment.
  4. Location of Testing Centers
    At this point, you may be thinking, “I really want to take my exam in person, but I live two hours away from my school, and I work full-time.” The flexibility of online learning has removed the geographical limitations of enrolling in college, which means students may or may not be physically located near their school. The good news is, eCore students are not limited to testing only at their home institution, but can choose from over 35 University System of Georgia testing centers and many Technical College System locations across the state! Many of our partner testing centers even offer evening and weekend hours, which is useful for students who are working while attending school. 

Summer classes are in full swing now, and the exam registration forms are open in all classes. Follow our advice, and get that one thing checked off the list early in the semester. You can find more information about proctored exams, including a directory of affiliate institution testing centers, on the testing page of the eCore Website. If you need assistance making your proctored exam appointment, please contact the USG eCampus eTesting office at etesting@westga.edu or 678-839-4900. 

Have you made your appointment yet? Got any proctored exam tips for first time online students? Share your wisdom in the comments below.

2018, Vol. 2

Since Spring 2013, implementation of eCore Open Education Resources (OERs), resulted in an estimated cost saving of 10M dollars. OERs improve access to course materials and reduce barriers for students; no book purchase and just-in-time availability (University System of Georgia eCore Factbook, 2017). 

OERs influence learning by increasing opportunity and can dramatically impact lives of millions of people around the world, through high quality, locally relevant educational materials (Bliss, Robinson, Hilton, & Wiley, 2013; Cape Town Open Education Declaration, 2007). Bliss et al. (2013) provided the following quotes from college faculty; "I am able to refer to material knowing that all students will have access to the same material." and "The materials were free to my students, which reduced a barrier to their chances for academic success." 

Hilton (2016) reviewed 16 OER studies that involved over 46,000 students and concluded that OERs do not appear to negatively influence student learning. As a result, he questioned the rationale for traditional textbook costs. 

Open Education Resources (OERs) are an important feature of eCore courses that help reduce students’ out of pocket cost per course. OER textbooks are carefully selected by a team of content experts from various resources such as OpenStax, Saylor Academy, and University Press of North Georgia textbooks. In some courses, several OERs are used to satisfy course learning objectives. eCore also supplements OERs with course content developed by University System of Georgia faculty subject matter experts. Scholarly articles and external websites serve as valuable OERs as well. OERs are reviewed and revised periodically to ensure quality (University System of Georgia eCore Factbook, 2017). 

Karen LingrellAssociate Director for Collaborative Programs

klingrel@westga.edu, 678-839-5278 

Dr. Randy Blackmon, Director of Enrollment and Strategic Projects
rblackmo@westga.edu 678-839-4898 

Bliss, T. J., Robinson, T., Hilton, J., & Wiley, D. (2013). An OER COUP: College teacher and student perceptions of open educational resources. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2013(1). 

Declaration, C. T. O. E. (2007). Cape Town Open Education Declaration: Unlocking the promise of open educational resources. Retrieved from: http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/read-the-declaration 

Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573-590. 

University System of Georgia eCore. (2017). Factbook-2017. Retrieved from: https://ecore.usg.edu/about/factbook/factbook-2017/

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the award window for the Federal Pell Grant would be extended to include the summer semester. This is in contrast to the previous policy, which restricted eligibility to the Fall and Spring semesters, when college students have traditionally taken the bulk of their classes. 

This is great news for adult learners who do not typically follow the “traditional” schedule but, instead, prefer to take courses in shorter accelerated terms with minimum breaks in-between. This accelerated schedule allows students to take more classes within the same amount of time, shortening their path to graduation. As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said herself, “this decision is about empowering students and giving them the flexibility and support needed to achieve their goals. Expanding access to the Pell program, so that students who need additional resources can graduate more quickly and with less debt, is the right thing to do." 

Whether you are a current college student receiving the Pell Grant, or someone considering returning to school— you may have questions about this new funding opportunity and how you can utilize it to achieve your goals. 

Here are three things you should know about the Pell Grant:
  1. Pell Grant eligibility is determined through the FAFSA form.  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the official application to apply for all Federal Student Aid. Many adult learners do not complete the FAFSA for different reasons. They may think they are “too old” to qualify for financial aid, or they may be reluctant to take on the debt that comes with student loans. However, by not completing the FAFSA, you may be leaving free money on the table. When you complete the FAFSA, your eligibility for all types of aid is determined— including the Federal Pell Grant which, unlike loans, does not have to be repaid. That’s right, it’s free money!
  2. There is no age limit for Pell Grant eligibility. There are some common misconceptions out there about financial aid. One is that you must be a traditional college student to qualify for aid, or that there is an age limit to receive aid. This is false! Whether you are fresh out of high school or in your 40’s working on a degree you started years ago, most people qualify for some sort of financial aid. Eligibility for the Pell Grant is determined strictly by your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your age has absolutely nothing to do with it, so don’t let that deter you!
  3. You must be enrolled full-time to be eligible, but... The phrase “full-time” student may scare some adult students. However, it doesn’t always mean what you think it means. The U.S. government defines “full-time” enrollment as six hours for the summer semester. So, even though you may work a full-time job and take classes on the side, you are still eligible to receive Pell funding if you are enrolled in at least two three-hour courses for the summer.
Now that Pell Grant is back for the Summer, eligible students can receive up to 50% more than their original award amount. The bottom line is this: If you are eligible for Pell, or think you might be eligible for Pell, do not let this opportunity pass you by! Summer is a great time to get ahead in your classes, and by taking classes online, you can still travel and enjoy the sunny season as you normally would. Check out the eCore summer schedule and the eMajor summer schedule to see what online classes you might want to take with your summer Pell money. 

For specific questions about your financial aid eligibility, please contact the Financial Aid Office at your eCore home institutioneMajor home institution, or the institution to which you are considering applying. 

2018, Vol. 1

Georgia’s dual enrollment non-need based grant has resulted in increased dual credit participation. According to University System of Georgia (USG) enrollment reports, the increase in dual enrollments over the last two years was over 50 percent, representing a 3,500 student gain across the system. These students are earning college credits face-to-face and online. Dual credit eCore students achieved ABC rates at over 90 percent!  
2,100 Courses Taken, 90% Earned College Credit

Research indicates that students participating in dual credit programs show an increase in college persistence, grade point average, and college graduation (An, 2015; Hoffman, Vargas & Santos, 2009: Hughes 2010). Most USG dual enrolled students attend courses face-to-face at around 88 percent for FY17. There are several reasons why a high school student may require an online option to attend a USG institution.

The state of Georgia has over 100 counties that are designated rural, less than 35,000 population, by the Georgia Department of Community Health. Many of our rural county high school students may not be able to attend on-campus courses at a USG institution due to distance challenges. In addition, many high school students who are within reach of a USG campus may not have transportation or are busy with high school clubs, band, sports, or part-time jobs. For these students, who cannot attend on-campus courses, there are online college course options.

Dual enrolled students taking eCore courses have consistently achieved just over a 90 percent ABC rate. Research indicates that eCore dual credit students from rural Georgia counties tend to earn ABC rates at or better than those students from more populated counties (Blackmon, 2017).

For more information about online dual enrollment and increasing your institution's geographic reach, please contact the USG eCampus Partnerships and Enrollment team. 

Karen Lingrell, Associate Director for Collaborative Programs
klingrel@westga.edu 678-839-5278 

Randy Blackmon, Senior Enrollment Manager
rblackmo@westga.edu 678-839-4898

An, B. P. (2015). The role of academic motivation and engagement on the relationship between dual enrollment and academic performance. Journal of Higher Education, 86(1), 98-126.

Blackmon, R. B. (2017). 
The effects of online dual enrollment in the state of Georgia (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Georgia, Athens GA. 

Hoffman, N., Vargas, J., & Santos, J. (2009). New directions for dual enrollment: Creating stronger pathways from high school through college. New Directions For Community Colleges, 2009(145), 43-58. doi:10.1002/cc.354

Hughes, K. L. (2010). Dual enrollment: Postsecondary/secondary partnerships to prepare students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 39(6), 12-13.

Online Learning allows students the flexibility of continuing their educational journey from anywhere in the world. Online classes are an excellent option for students who are studying abroad for the semester, military members and families who are stationed overseas, or even those who want to take classes while traveling for pleasure.

While online classes can usually be accessed from anywhere with a reliable internet connection, there are some things to consider before registering for class if you intend to complete the course while located outside of the U.S. 

  1. Availability of a Reliable Internet Connection
    To access most online classes, students must have a reliable internet connection. This may be a challenge in some areas of the world due to various issues such as local network instability, outages, firewalls, or restrictive local internet policies. Before registering for an online class, research the internet accessibility situation in the area in which you plan to travel. Although you may not have designated "class times" when you are required to be logged in, it is important to log in daily so that you do not fall behind in the course.
  2. Materials Needed for the Course
    Ordering and receiving items while overseas may be difficult and may also require additional shipping costs. You should research and attempt to obtain all materials required for the course prior to leaving the U.S. This includes textbooks (if they are not included digitally in the course as is the case in all eCore classes), lab kits for science courses, and any other support materials. Keep in mind that some lab kits may include materials that cannot be shipped internationally, so you may need to make arrangements to purchase these locally upon your arrival.
  3. Proctored Exam Requirements
    Online courses often include some sort of proctored exam component as a way of validating the identity of the student and the integrity of the course. While virtual proctoring services may be an option, you may also want to explore opportunities to take the exam in a face-to-face setting. Options may include a local college or university, a study abroad faculty member, or an on-base Educational Resource Officer. Alternatively, you may want to proactively contact the instructor and arrange for an exam extension so that you can take the exam once you return to the country.
A little research can save yourself a lot of headache in the long-run. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in another country with unexpected roadblocks that can cause you to be unsuccessful in the course. By planning ahead, you can set yourself up for success and enjoy your time abroad while you're at it!

Detailed information about taking eCore classes while overseas can be found on the eCore website
Stephanie Lampp, 36
Georgia Southwestern State University
Major: Criminal Justice

With 15 years of police experience under her belt, Stephanie had started to see opportunities for advancement come and go because of just one thing: her lack of a 4-year degree. Now, she’s starting the new year by tackling one of her biggest goals (and fears) and going back to school online through Georgia Southwestern State University. Read more about Stephanie, and the journey she’s taken to get to this place in her life. 

Tell us a little about yourself. Other than being a brand new college student, what do you spend your time doing?  I am a Lieutenant in the Police Department at Middle Georgia State University. I oversee day to day operations on our Dublin and Eastman Campuses. I am the Training Coordinator, Assessment Coordinator, & Clery Coordinator. I am married (10 years) to a Drug Agent and we have an 8-year-old daughter. Our schedules are often hectic and never the same. Our family loves camping. We go as often as we can and feel it is important to spend this time together making memories.  I love to read books during my downtime and my husband often jokes that he lost me to a Kindle = ). My husband also has a cook team (Pigs cooking Pork), and we spend a lot of time mixing cooking with our camping. 

In 2009 I almost died due to HELPP syndrome. My daughter was born 3 months early as a result and was 2lbs 9oz. In the following year, I lost my ability to walk. The steroids that were given to me to develop my daughter’s lungs caused my hip joints to deteriorate. From 2009-2015 I’ve had both my hips replaced and a portion of my lower back fixed. I say that to say this: It’s a miracle that I am still able to serve in any capacity in Law Enforcement. It’s the only job I know and it is important to get an education so that when I’m too old to work a beat— I’ll be able to work on the administration side to finish out my career. I try to remind myself every day that life is precious. 

What circumstances led you to return to school at this time in your life?  I have been in law enforcement for 15 years. In 2003, I chose this career because it was a skilled trade and didn’t require a college degree. Here I am 15 years later and policing in higher education has transitioned and now does require a degree for ranking positions. As a Lieutenant, I am as high as I can go at my institution without having a 4-year degree. Although I do have an Associate’s degree, doors are starting to close in my face because I don’t have that last 2 years of education.

Why did you choose this particular program? Returning to school had been on my mind for quite some time. One day, an email came through from the University System office about the eMajor program in Criminal Justice. It was completely online, could be paid for by my employer’s tuition assistance program, and there was even a chance to earn college credit for some of my training and experience. I jumped right on it! The admissions team at Georgia Southwestern helped push my application through so that I could meet the tuition assistance deadlines to start in January.

Why is completing your college degree important to you? I want to retire with the University System, and I want to be able to pursue opportunities for advancement within the system during that time. Most importantly going back to school is intimidating to me. I am overwhelmed with feelings of defeat and dread that I can’t succeed, and I feel like I need to prove myself wrong about that.

What is your experience with online classes, and why did you choose to complete the program online? Our law enforcement required training has moved to online training, so I am more comfortable with it now than I was when I first attended school 10+ years ago. My job and home life do not allow the time needed to go sit in a classroom. I am a wife and a mom; online classes are my only option to obtaining a 4-year degree. 

How and when do you plan to make time to spend on your school work? My plan is to spend the first two hours that I’m off every day and dedicate it to school work. I will let you know how it works!

What goals would you like to accomplish after earning your degree? The goal at the moment is just to prove to myself that I can do it. Beyond that, I want the next Captain’s position.

What would you say to someone who is considering taking their first online class or returning to school after being out for many years? It’s a scary thing to commit to but it’s not unachievable. If it were, people wouldn’t be succeeding at it every day. I constantly tell myself that, “they are going to provide you with what you need to know to be successful.”

Stephanie is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree through Georgia Southwestern State University completely online through USG eMajor. For more information on this program, or Credit for Prior Learning opportunities with eMajor, please visit emajor.usg.edu.