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April 19, 2005

Online MBA Program Enables 82-Year-old to Pursue Degree

James Roch picture

EAU CLAIRE — Lifelong learning is more than a cliché for Chippewa Falls resident James Roch.

At age 82, Roch is pursuing a master's degree in business administration through the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium MBA program, offered jointly by the business schools at UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Parkside.

Confined to a wheelchair and suffering from severe hearing loss, Roch takes his classes via his home computer and the Internet. He doesn't need to come to campus or sit in a classroom.

"I decided to get into this to make better use of my time," said Roch, whose interests range from reading and classical music to classic cars and languages. "I wasn't a very good student the first time around and I thought here's a chance to be a good student."

"In this case online education is reaching someone who probably couldn't do this on campus," said Robert Erffmeyer, professor of management and marketing at UW-Eau Claire and director of the MBA program. "Bottom line, James is doing very well. He's near the top of the class he's in this semester and did very well in his first MBA course as well as the prerequisite courses he needed."

After completing two undergraduate foundation requirements, Roch completed the first MBA core course last fall with a 97.3 average. He downplays his success. "I'm home all day and all night, and I have nothing else to do," he said. "If I'm doing well, I think it's because I have the time. The people who deserve real credit are the ones who are juggling jobs and families and who knows what else along with their coursework."

Even though he doesn't like paying for tuition and books, Roch says he's impressed with the quality of the program and the other students. "Students today are altogether different than they were in my college experience. They have great knowledge and are very serious about their coursework," said Roch, who spent most of his career in California working in the aerospace industry. He moved back to his hometown, Chippewa Falls, about four years ago and lists Lake Wissota and Irvine Park among his favorite places.

He selected the UW online MBA program because UW-Eau Claire was close by and he was familiar with its ranking in U.S. News & World Report magazine as one of the best regional schools in the Midwest.

Roch credits his caregivers and a daughter in Pittsburgh for helping him with keyboarding and other problems related to his courses. "Like all young people, my caregivers are very good with computers plus I have a smart daughter who helps me in some cases," he said.

Despite his health problems, Roch hopes he can complete the degree and dreams of taking part in the graduation ceremony. "I have seven years to complete it. I will be tickled pink if I can get through it," he said. "I love the excitement of competing again and would be really bored if I quit."

Roch completed a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1951 at UW-Madison, after four years of service in World War II, including two as an officer in the paratroops. "One reason I want this degree is that I'm ashamed that I didn't work very hard or learn very much the first time around," he said. "Like many others, I was on the GI Bill and just wanted to get through. There's also a little vanity involved. I want those initials after my name."

Erffmeyer, who teaches the course Roch is currently taking, said the online MBA program is about 5 years old. It consists of a 16-credit required core of study and 14 credits of electives. Grades are based on class participation, projects, written case studies and reports, quizzes and examinations. The first graduate completed the 30-credit program in May 2004.

"Our MBA program enables students with multiple commitments to make reasonably paced progress toward their degree," Erffmeyer said. "Most students are between 20 and 30, and live in Wisconsin or Minnesota, but we also have students from outside the area and outside the U.S."

Erffmeyer's current class includes students from California, Ontario, Serbia and the Pacific island of Tinian.

"Online education is active learning. If you haven't prepared or are having a bad day, you can't hide out in the back of the classroom. Everybody has to engage in the class," he said.

- UW-Eau Claire News Bureau