Jake Hart is pursuing a degree in theology from a school in Chicago without leaving La Grande.
Hart is getting to know his professors at Moody Bible Institute although he never sits in their classrooms or listens to their lectures.
He receives weekly assignments from his teachers over the Internet and occasionally visits with them by phone. The professors follow Hart's progress through the papers he submits and exams.
Hart, 24, is in his third year as a student of MBI Online. Enrolled in three courses this term, he plans to earn his bachelor's degree in two years.
Hart spends about 25 hours per week working on his college courses while on staff as youth director at La Grande's First Baptist Church.
"It most definitely is meeting my needs," Hart said of the Internet classes he is taking.
He likes the fact that he can immediately apply what he is learning to the work he does at the church. Hart runs a program on Thursday evenings for high schoolers, and speaks at The Door, First Baptist's contemporary worship service at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.
"You learn from the classes and right away you can apply it," said Hart, a 1998 graduate of La Grande High School who attended Eastern Oregon University for two terms before enrolling in MBI Online.
Hart said he originally thought about studying computer science at Eastern, but had a change of interest. He decided he wanted to take Bible classes to prepare for youth ministry.
Hart is enrolled in three courses: Christian Worship, a study of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and Introduction to Philosophy. Tuition for each course is $450.
Before he begins a course, Hart said he goes online to "meet" his professor. Each teacher has a Web page that provides personal information about them. Each online student also has a page.
"The teachers will read over your personal Web site to learn about you," he said.
The professors make reading and writing assignments each week. Typically the assignments must be completed by Sunday, Hart said.
Teachers also post a question on an online message board. Students interact with each other and with the professor in discussing the question throughout the week.
An online chat room also is available where students can get to know each other, but Hart said he doesn't spend much time there.
Hart said he has found Moody's online program "very user-friendly."
Students are given professors' office phone numbers and e-mail addresses. They are encouraged to contact their professor if, for example, they don't understand an assignment.
But Hart said it usually is not necessary for him to visit with his teachers.
The professors take their Internet responsibility seriously, he added.
"They're as interested in the online students as they are in their students in Chicago," Hart said.
MBI Online students have two-to-three months to complete a course. Exams consist of about 50 questions, and students are given about an hour to finish their work.
"The clock is ticking," Hart said. The exam site switches off when the time expires.
Hart said since there is no time spent in a classroom, online students must make up for it by reading a great deal. Books and supplementary reading materials are provided for each class.
Hart realizes that online schooling is not for everyone. It depends on a person's learning style.
"If you are a person who learns from reading, it (online classes) would be for you," Hart said. "But if you are a person who learns through interacting and listening to professors, then it's better to go to a campus."
Hart said online schooling works well for someone who has a full-time job, and cannot afford to go off to school somewhere. These people may work during the day and study online at night.
Hart, a lifetime La Grande resident except for two years he and his family spent in Michigan when he was in high school, said he comes by his interest in ministry naturally.
His grandfather, Melvin Hart, once was pastor of a church in Union. His father, Gary, is director of Camp Elkanah, a Conservative Baptist camp near Starkey.
Hart said eventually he'll find himself in a traditional classroom somewhere outside of La Grande. He plans to attend seminary after he completes his online degree.
Story by Dave Stave
Check out the MBI Web site: online.moody.edu, or call toll-free 1-800-955-1123.