Resource for the Region

Tourism photo of Salem

Online Continuing Education Programs: Invaluable in Today's Economy

By Margo W. R. Steiner

In light of the current economic situation in which the country and--closer to home--the Commonwealth of Massachusetts find themselves, work force development and job training have never been more important than they are at present. Employment insecurities, retrenchments and job losses are motivating many in the work force to examine their options, and find new ways to add value to their skill sets and resumes.

Career counselors and life coaches often advise those who are laid off, those who face a potential job loss or those who seek to make themselves more valuable in their current positions to re-tool, become certified in new areas and look beyond their present fields of endeavor. Salem State's division of Continuing Education has long been one of the major players in work force development for the region north of Boston, and has stepped up its efforts to assist those in transition by adding a variety of new online courses. "We're moving steadily forward in our efforts to provide learners with options to take courses online," says Arlene Greenstein, dean of Continuing Education. "Because they allow both those who are employed and those in transition the flexibility of taking courses from an off-site location and on a more manageable schedule, they are proving very attractive."

Two current online initiatives are a certificate program in sustainable tourism development and a bachelor's degree program in fire science.

An offshoot of the Geography Department's concentration in travel and tourism, which itself is one of just four such programs in the United States certified by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the certificate program in sustainable tourism development will launch in September 2009. Despite the present economy, travel and tourism remains a multi-million-dollar worldwide industry and the college anticipates interest in the program from a number of different audiences, including:

  • Those currently employed, but seeking a new career path
  • Those re-entering the work force
  • Those currently employed in the travel industry and seeking to become more knowledgeable in the field
  • Business owners, retailers and others with an interest in developing local markets for tourism
  • Those interested in exploring the fundamentals of using tourism for economic development on a sustainable basis
  • Those hoping to gain a more in-depth knowledge of  travel
  • Those wishing to work in the tourism industry, but unsure where to begin

"Those enrolling in and completing the six-course, 18-credit program can certainly expect to have more credibility in the marketplace," says geography professor and tourism concentration coordinator Dr. Lorri Krebs. Adds colleague Dr. Stephen Young, "By adding the sustainability and economic development elements to our original online pilot program, we're actually providing participants a more global view of tourism--again, making them that much more marketable."

The good news for those who satisfactorily complete the certificate program and decide they want more is that all of their credits may be transferred into the full undergraduate degree program at the college.

Although a degree in fire science administration has been offered at the college for some time, the online aspect is relatively new. The first graduates of the wholly online program are expected to graduate in 2010. It's also the only online fire science program offered by a public college or university in Massachusetts. For those currently serving their municipalities as firefighters and seeking opportunities for career advancement, participation in the program is invaluable.

As a result of a strong articulation agreement with North Shore Community College, where degree seekers can begin their studies by earning the associate's degree, Salem State makes it possible to complete the bachelor's degree program through a relatively seamless transfer process.

"The value of online courses for firefighters," reiterates Dean Arlene Greenstein, "is really inestimable. Because of their unique and irregular schedules, it's nearly impossible to complete a degree program that requires regular on-site class attendance." Being able to complete the requirements online also allows firefighters from much more distant locales to participate. Those currently in the program, for instance, represent a broad demographic that extends as far north as Haverhill, near the New Hampshire border, and as far south as Chelsea, on the outskirts of Boston.

"Our goal as a state college," says Dr. Greenstein, "is to serve the firefighters of the commonwealth by providing them the means for barrier-free career advancement."

For Salem State, the expansion of online course offerings through Continuing Education is simply an additional way of fulfilling its mandate to be a resource for the employees and employers of the region.

Pictured above: The Hawthorne Hotel, an important tourism partner in Salem, Massachusetts