Continuing Your Education Online

7 May 2009 By Matt Gomez

Recessions typically are a boon to higher education as displaced workers seek to update their skills and marketability in virtually any industry. A growing number of professionals, on land and at sea, are going “back to school” to help strengthen their credentials. Luckily for crew, many of these institutions now offer courses via the Internet.

Some of the leading online universities include Kaplan University, Capella University, Walden University and the University of Phoenix.

Betty Vandenbosch, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Business and Management at Kaplan University, which operates its largest online student support center in Ft. Lauderdale, says captains and crew may find a lot to like if they explore the educational opportunities offered online.

“The experience is not as different (or intimidating) as students might think,” she says. “We have classrooms just like an on-ground campus, only Kaplan University’s classrooms are on the Web. Students go to their classrooms for everything they need, including the week’s coursework, online discussions and a viewable record of all lectures and discussion – unlike a traditional classroom, where students miss out if they are not present at a given class.”

Several higher education institutions even have course offerings designed to attract mariners. Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada) offers an online program in maritime studies that allows, and even encourages, professionals to “learn as they earn” while performing their jobs at sea. The University of West Florida in Pensacola offers a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree in maritime studies and one in oceanography, with much of the curriculum available online.

Vandenbosch is intrigued by the idea of coursework with cross-over appeal to superyacht captains and crew, whether the classes are intended to aid people in the industry or help them to excel outside of it. “Kaplan University does not have any maritime-specific programs, but it regularly evaluates its program offerings and looks for opportunities to launch new programs that fit the nation’s employment needs,” she says. “We strive to offer programs in growing fields so that we can prepare and provide trained professionals to fill the jobs that are in high demand. So if we learn that the demand [for maritime programs] is there, I’m sure we would consider it.”

Michael French, COO of International Yacht Training (IYT) in Fort Lauderdale and a former superyacht captain, believes yacht crew can benefit even from non-maritime higher education programs, such as business management and leadership courses. “Captains don’t necessarily make the best managers,” he says. “They are very entrepreneurial and spirited, but not necessarily well suited to the business world.”

In addition to providing a valuable complement to professional training, French says online education, such as the pursuit of an MBA (Master’s in Business Administration), also could help yachties transition out of the industry when they are ready to move ashore.

“Very few yachties have an exit strategy,” he says. “They don’t plan for what they want to do if and when they have to leave this industry.”

Matt Gomez is a marketing communications consultant at Kaplan University in Fort Lauderdale.

Are you taking online classes? If so, what are you studying? Let us know below.

Looking for a yachting course online? Next week's installment will give you tips on choosing web-based courses to help advance your yachting career.