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Internet college makes home in Jefferson County

January 09, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Shepherd College is no longer the only institution of higher learning in Jefferson County.

Since September, Charles Town has been the home to the American Public University System, which offers graduate, undergraduate and certificate programs through the Internet.

Because the courses are offered online, American Public University System's 11,000 students are scattered around the world in 30 countries, said Mike Hillyard, the school's provost and executive vice-president.

The school is based in the former Knott Nursing Home on West Congress Street. Construction crews worked for about a year gutting the building and renovating it for the school, Hillyard said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

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Hillyard, who gave a briefing about the school at the Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday morning, said American Public University System did not move to West Virginia to compete with existing colleges and universities in the region.

The public is "well served" by those schools, Hillyard said.

Instead, American Public University System specializes in courses that are sought out by professionals in fields like law enforcement, firefighting and other emergency services, Hillyard said. The areas of study include hazardous waste management, weapons of mass destruction preparedness, computer science and business administration, according to the school's Web site, www.apus.edu.

All of the school's courses are offered using state-of-the-art online distance learning with no residency requirements, the Web site said.

The school's facility on West Congress Street contains computer servers and the company has 40 employees, who include department heads and technical support workers, Hillyard said.

Hillyard told the commissioners that the school's work force at the Charles Town location is expected to increase to 90 workers.

American Public University System, which was established in 1993, moved from Manassas, Va., Hillyard said.

School officials decided to move their operations to Charles Town for several reasons, including accreditation purposes, Hillyard said.

American Public University System officials wanted to be accredited by the North Central Association because the organization reflects the educational philosophies of the school, Hillyard said.

The school moved to West Virginia because it will enable it to be accredited by the association, Hillyard said. The school will apply for accreditation by the organization, he said.

Since moving to Charles Town, the school has worked to become involved in the community, such as partnering with Wright Denny Intermediate School, which is also on West Congress Street, Hillyard said.

The school has partnered with Wright Denny to offer technical help to the school and is involved in a fund-raising effort to buy computers for the school, Hillyard said.

"We're trying to see what is out there in the community," Hillyard told the commissioners.

The commissioners praised Hillyard for the school's move to Charles Town.

"We're very much impressed with your operation," said County Commissioner Greg Corliss.

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