Higher ed classes as close as local library
Peabody resident Draxa Langley hasn’t stopped learning in the years since she graduated high school, she instead ramped it up over the past year with Universal Class.
Marion County residents have free access to the online higher education program, as long as they have a state library card and an access code, both available at local libraries.
Langley’s first subject was Celtic mythology, which she chose because of prior knowledge of the topic.
“It was pleasantly shocking,” she said. “I thought I knew quite a bit, and I didn’t.”
Not all learning materials relate to typical college subjects. There are niche topics like pet grooming, self-care, and homeschooling.
“I wouldn’t have thought they’d have a knitting class, that’s not available at most colleges,” Langley said.
While Universal Class is a good resource, most visitors to Hillsboro library don’t know about it, and only three or four patrons have used it in the past two years, Hillsboro library director Jeanie Bartel said.
“You don’t have to go to Kansas City to use the library there, it’s here,” she said. “Your little, tiny town library has this.”
Beyond being free, the program stands apart because of the quality of courses, which are taught by college professors and other experts in their respective fields.
“I think that’s what most people are surprised about at first,” Bartel said. “This isn’t just a Wikipedia-kind of thing out there. There are actual people who know what they’re talking about, and it’s accredited.”
The courses range from five to 30-hour courses.
Finishing one course is not equivalent to one college class, though. Every 10 hours assigned to a course equals one Continuing Education Unit, a measurement approved by the U.S. Department of Education, and it takes 10 CEU to equal one college credit.
While the material was sometimes confusing, it was helpful to have teachers respond to any questions within 24 hours, Langley said.
“I could do it on my own, and do it at my pace,” she said. “If I had to slow down, or needed to ask questions, I could take that time.”
To gain more of a public presence, it might be best to look for exposure and advertising through programming like PBS since it’s available to anyone with TV, Bartel said.
With the advancement of technology, it’s important for libraries to evolve past being book lenders, Peabody librarian Rodger Charles said.
“We need to be able to make that impact on our community,” he said. “We need to be more than a place where books are kept.”
Directly after taking Celtic mythology, Langley decided to learn about grant writing.
“The grant-writing class interested me because Peabody is in the NCKLS, and most of those libraries don’t have a personal grant writer,” she said. “They pay somebody to write grants to help libraries in the system.”
The decision payed immediate dividends, as Langley finished the course in September, and had her first grant for Peabody library done by October.
“Businesses today are looking for specific skill sets,” Charles said. “You have a college degree? Great, can you use Microsoft Word, can you build a spreadsheet?”
The program makes people work for the subjects they choose, too. If a user scores below 75 percent on a section test, then it needs to be retaken, and a score of 80 or better is required on the final to get certification.
Subjects don’t have to be finished in one go, but there are precautions to prevent people from stopping and starting repeatedly.
If a course is dropped, a user will be unable to take it again for six months.
The style works for Charles because he can take a course without a classroom setting, or having to block out his schedule for several months.
“In classes, I get frustrated and then start asking the kind of questions that frustrate the teacher,” he said. “I’m a seminar kind of guy. Give it to me in two eight-hour sections.”
Last modified Feb. 6, 2019