In 1983, when Linfield College wanted to offer classes on the South Coast, finding students was easy. The problem was faculty.
Crystal Shoji, a Linfield alumna whose parents had worked at Linfield, was home with a new baby at the time. She got the job of setting up a new kind of program for rural Oregonians. Local instructors would teach classes in remote areas, under close control from the main campus in McMinnville.
It was the start of Linfield's adult degree program at Southwestern Oregon Community College - an early installment in what would become multiple opportunities for South Coast residents to pursue bachelor's degrees without leaving home.
Assembling a staff
When Shoji set to work, Linfield already had a remote location in Eugene. Now it wanted to serve South Coast students. SWOCC was happy to become Linfield's partner.
"SWOCC deserves a lot of credit for working with Linfield on this program," Shoji said. She also praises Linfield.
"It was a unique thing they did, to bring us in that close and have the confidence and the willingness."
But to get classes started at SWOCC, Shoji had to find local instructors with spare time and doctoral degrees.
"The delivery of the classes was a pressure on me, because I had to find people who were qualified to teach," Shoji said. "Linfield was very strict about the requirements."
She learned that PhDs don't grow on trees.
"Most of the people who have doctorates are already doing something," Shoji said. "They're not just sitting around waiting to teach a class."
By buttonholing retirees and asking people to recommend acquaintances, Shoji assembled a staff to teach the waiting list of students.
"They offered two degrees, one in general studies and one in business management," she said.
Prominent early graduates included Coos Bay Police Chief Chuck Knight, and Chuck Brummel, president of Security Bank.
"About the time I was leaving, in 1985, there was talk of some distance learning classes coming, where everyone would sit in the classroom and you would be able to see the instructors from Linfield and interact with them."
Online and in person
Fast forward to 2011, when opportunities for online education abound. Shoji has enjoyed a varied career in the Bay Area, currently serving as Coos Bay's mayor. Though Linfield no longer teaches classes on the SWOCC campus, its online degree-completion program still meets the needs of many on the South Coast.
"We're looking for placebound students who have mortgages and kids and jobs and can't pick up stakes and go somewhere to get a degree," said Virginia McCallum, adviser for the Linfield Adult Degree Program. To advise those students, McCallum puts in some serious windshield time.
"My territory extends from Douglas County south to California and almost to Klamath Falls," she said.
Most of Linfield's bachelor's degree and certificate programs are conducted entirely online, except the arts and humanities and business information systems programs. Those require weekend visits to McMinnville.
One offering popular among local students is Linfield's online program for registered nurses working toward bachelor's degrees. The nurses can keep working full-time while they complete their degrees.
As an adviser, McCallum tries to match students with the best programs for them. She said she and Bonnie Olson, SWOCC's adviser for Eastern Oregon University programs, regularly refer people to each other.
Although degree-completion students aren't eligible for some of the financial aid available to first-time students, McCallum helps them find military and veterans' benefits and employer education incentives. For example, Bay Area Hospital will pay $1,200 a year toward its employees' education.
McCallum couldn't estimate how many students are in the program, but she said it typically graduates two to 10 students a year. About 275 students worldwide graduate from Linfield's adult degree program each year.
Those students earn the benefits of four-year college degrees without the disruption of relocating.
"Mostly they are working quietly, but at much higher levels than they would have been," McCallum said.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.