by Adam Klawonn
roundup reporter intern
Albina Danley perused pictures of ornate pottery and ceramics, and couldn't wait for class to get started.
The 55-year-old Payson resident is a student at Eastern Arizona College, a two-year junior college that has opened the door to higher education in Payson.
In addition to EAC's two-year-degree programs, the college has teamed up with Northern Arizona University to offer four-year-degree programs via satellite courses.
The school uses two-way television technology to allow students in classrooms across the state to see, hear and interact with their instructor and students based at other sites.
One day, as satellite classroom technology advances, students who have access to home satellite dishes may have the opportunity to attend classes in their own living rooms.
Cynthia McCafferty, NAU coordinator for Gila, Greenlee and Graham counties, said most NAU distance-learning students are older and searching for ways to polish their skills and advance professionally.
"These people have families, jobs and their own responsibilities," she said. "They are looking for an opportunity that is not normally available to them."
Most of the university's 5,000 distance-learning students fall into one of two age groups: 22 to 29, or 40 to 49, and about a quarter of NAU's students are now taking classes via satellite.
McCafferty said the number of distance-learning students continues to grow each semester, a statistic she attributes to the program's convenience.
"We have learning centers all over the state, so we're right there in your hometown," she said. "The costs are lower, because you don't have to travel far, there's no dorm fee, etc."
In addition to keeping costs low, NAU plans to forge ahead with what officials call a multiple delivery service, which includes more satellite courses with increased transmitters, as well as additional real-time classes on the Internet.
With those resources in place, the university could offer a wider range of degree programs. Now, most of the classes NAU offers through its distance-learning program are education courses for aspiring teachers. But, McCafferty said, with more equipment in place, distance learners could earn bachelor's and master's degrees in business, English and other fields.
Danley, whose husband plans to take archeology courses this semester, said the opportunity is a convenient one.
McCafferty said the accessibility and low tuition can save higher-education hopefuls a trip.
"Where are you going to go to school if you can't commute there?" she said. "Sometimes, you can't afford to move there, so there is a great opportunity here."