Norwich University graduates nearly 500 online students

NORTHFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) More Vermont students are participating in online courses. And as the country's first online university-- established in 1997-- Norwich University is at the industry's helm.

Friday was a special day at Norwich University as nearly 500 students walked to get their diploma. And the students our Christina Guessferd spoke with said they couldn't have done it without the school's online program.

"It's kind of crazy that I finally finished my master's degree. It's been a long journey. Usually, it's 18 months, but I did it over three years," Danielle Somma said.

As a National Guardsman with a full-time career, Somma says her time is valuable. The Mainer says that's why she chose to complete her degree in civil engineering online.

"It's kind of nice to be able to do it on my own time and to be able to do it in the comfort of my own home," Somma said. "The day and age that we're in right now is everything's online. People work remotely, too, for their jobs. So, I think it's definitely gonna be something you're going to see more of."

It's a trend gaining more traction in Vermont. Norwich University officials say about 40 percent of the school's 4,000 students study exclusively online. That's more than double the 19 percent at colleges statewide, according to the Vermont Higher Education Council. Online enrollment is trending upward, increasing by 7 percent over the last five years.

"People are finding in today's busy society that they have to learn in a different way. Technology is also changing it. The digital revolution is making online learning easier and faster," said Mark Sullivan, the chief marketing officer for Norwich University Online.

That convenience and flexibility is what compelled Vermont State Tpr. Julie Scribner to pursue her bachelor's degree through the program in 2015, then her master's this year.

"The fact that I had children and sometimes I had a really busy career with investigations, and I could never have done this without the opportunities with an online program at Norwich," Schribner said. "I'm done. It's good to be done finally."

Many of the students and school officials say it's a long road for a lot of them but nothing compares to the feeling of walking out into the real world with a diploma in hand.

President Richard Schneider gave his final speech to graduates at Friday's ceremony. It marks his retirement from Norwich University. Graduates gave him a standing ovation.