University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Student Affairs Administration program is one of the top five online master’s in higher education programs in the country, according to bestcolleges.com.

Programs were ranked based on academic outcomes, affordability, and the breadth and depth of online learning opportunities.

UWL’s Student Affairs Administration Department offers master’s and doctoral degrees in SAA — a field that prepares students to work in student affairs positions at colleges and universities.

The program provides flexibility to students. Students can take the master’s program face-to-face or online — or a combination of the two, explains Jörg Vianden, associate professor of SAA and chair of the department.

That online flexibility was particularly important to SAA program student Kathy Thoen, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UWL in December 2016. A mother of three, Thoen started the SAA program in May.

“The fact that I can do it online works well with my life schedule,” she said. “I can do it when I’m available — after baseball games at 9 p.m. at night.”

Thoen has spent the last 20 years working in higher education. At UWL, she has worked for eight different UWL departments or programs in positions from academic department associate to a veterans certifying official. She wanted to continue for an SAA master’s degree because she enjoys interaction with college students. She wants to show them that college is attainable even in challenging situations. She completed her undergraduate degree at UWL while managing full-time work and raising her three boys. When she applied for the SAA program, she knew completing a master’s degree would likely be even more challenging.

“Coming into a graduate program later in life with so many things going on, you think, ‘Did I make the right decision?’” she said. “But from day one, the encouragement from faculty helped me see that it is possible, and that we are all here for a reason.”

The online SAA program participants like Thoen either work as full-time higher education professionals or in graduate assistant-type positions. Thoen works full time — splitting her time as an ADA for both the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department and the Ethnic and Racial Studies Department. She said having the support of these campus offices has also been important.

“Without their support, it would be hard to balance my job and home,” she said.

About half of the SAA program instructors work in student affairs positions at UWL and share their real-world university working experience.

Vianden worked in residence life at four different universities for 11 years before he started teaching in the SAA program. He enjoys sharing theories with students related to areas such as growth and human development — ideas that they will put into practice in their future careers.

Thoen likes that the program is helping her be a life-long learner while serving others.

“I find it rewarding to help students pursue their education using all of my experiences on campus,” she said.

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