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Thousands Expected To Attend In-Person Graduation Ceremony For Online Degrees

But it's just a fraction of the 155,000 students currently attending online classes through the University of Phoenix Online

Although they completed their coursework via the Internet, more than 3,700 students from across the world are expected to travel to Phoenix, Ariz., to attend graduation ceremonies of the University of Phoenix Online Friday and Saturday.

The record number of students attending this year's graduation ceremonies at the America West Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, earned undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from the online school over the last 12 months.

This year, approximately 155,000 students are attending online classes offered by the University of Phoenix Online, says its CEO Brian Mueller. Among the most popular degree programs at the school are business, management, IT, health care, and education, he says.

The average age of the students is 33, with eight to ten years of working experience. The online curriculum makes it possible for busy working people to attend classes that they wouldn't otherwise be able to attend in-person at a traditional school, says Mueller. About half of the students have their tuition reimbursed by employers, while the other half receives tuition help such as student loans from government programs.

Among those getting their diplomas in Phoenix this week are a father and daughter duo. The dad, Louie Heaton, is a 24-year veteran of Lockheed Martin Corp. who earned his masters degree in organizational management from University of Phoenix Online in December 2004. He earned a bachelor of science in business management from the institution in 2002.

Heaton, a deputy program manager for Lockheed Martin's aeronautics business for the U.S. military, frequently travels outside the U.S. for his job. Heaton, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, was able to attend his online classes and complete assignments even while he was staying in hotel rooms in the Middle East and other regions of the world. Lockheed Martin provided tuition reimbursement for Heaton's classes, which he said were also attended any at given time by classmates located in such far-off places as Bosnia and Korea.

Heaton's daughter, Christine Michelle Kilgore, lives in Isleham, England, and works as a child study committee coordinator at a high school attended by children of U.S. Dept. of Defense employees. Kilgore, 26, earned her bachelor of science degree in business management from University of Phoenix Online last September and is currently taking the school's classes for an MBA, which she expects to complete in 2006.

While Kilgore says the web-based curriculum helps her better balance work, classes, and family, one of the things she likes most about attending classes online is that "I can ask questions that I wouldn't be bold enough to ask in person."

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