She’s a college homeschooler

Killdeer mom using online courses to chase dream

With a Christmas movie playing on the television, a puppy and a toddler bouncing around, Janell Fitzgerald was at home in class.


Her home is her class.

The 30-year-old stay-at-home mom is taking online classes at Dickinson State University to pursue a degree in Business Administration.

The online program will allow Fitzgerald to realize a dream she started in 2004 – earn her college degree.

“The online program has been great for me,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s very flexible and that’s important for me because I am a stay-at-home mom with a 1-year-old.”

Dickinson State was recently recognized for its online program by, a leader in higher education information, resources and rankings. The school was recognized five times by ACO, which generated its rankings by analyzing cost and quality metrics of thousands of U.S. colleges with online degree programs.

Among other things, Dickinson State was ranked No. 1 in Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees and in Best Online Colleges in North Dakota.

Fitzgerald is one of 216 students enrolled online at Dickinson State, of which 166 are located in North Dakota. The other students are from 23 states, Canada and Nassau (Bahamas).

She enrolled at Dickinson State this past semester. Fitzgerald decided that this was the year she realized her goal.

“I thought about online right away, especially with a 1-year-old. It would be easier than the traditional setting,” she said.

She looked at other schools, but liked what she saw at Dickinson State.

Fitzgerald is taking four business courses and is on pace to graduate in December 2017.

“So far, all four teachers do a good job of providing information to help you learn,” Fitzgerald. “The teachers are good about getting you feedback.”

She went the traditional route at the University of Montana after she graduated from high school in 2004. But things didn’t go well at that time. She switched majors, went part time, took a break to work full time.

She got married, moved to Killdeer in 2012 with her husband, Ryan. They had a child, Aiden.

And she was happy, except for a little void.

“I just decided it was time to finish it,” Fitzgerald said.

But it had to be the online route.

“I couldn’t do it in a traditional setting, not with Aiden. He has so much energy. He’s go-go-go all the time,” she said.

Two month ago, Aiden developed a cold. He had an ear ache and was miserable, Fitzgerald said.

“There was no way I would’ve been able to go to class,” she said.

It’s a matter of timing. She hits the books when Aiden goes down for his nap in the morning and in the afternoon.

Sometimes, though, he wakes up and he wants attention.

“He’ll put his toys on my books,” Fitzgerald said with a grin. “Then I know its time to stop.”

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