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December 11, 2002

Distance education student will step foot
on campus for first time at commencement

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. Studying criminology at Indiana State University was a logical next step for Lisa Bontrager, owner of a private detective agency. Yet for the past 15 months, the Elkhart resident has yet to set foot on the campus that will soon bestow her with a master's degree.

That will all change on Dec. 14 when Bontrager visits ISU and meets one of her most respected professors during winter commencement.

"I love the faculty at ISU. They're the best, and I'm in awe of Dr. [David] Skelton. He's very intelligent," the 43-year-old Bontrager said. "I heard he was going on sabbatical after commencement, so it was very important for me to be there and to meet him in person."

It is Indiana State University's reputation in criminology that attracted Bontrager to start work on her degree through distance education.

"I have a lot of friends and family in law enforcement, and they all agree that if you want to get a degree in criminology, Indiana State is the place to go" said Bontrager, a licensed private detective and owner/operator of The Lighthouse Agency in Elkhart (since 2000).

The fact that she could earn her degree from home while caring for her sick mother, teaching full time and operating her own detective agency was icing on the cake.

"I would not be doing what I'm doing today if not for ISU's program, and that says a lot," said Bontrager, who earned honors as the top adjunct professor (2001) at Michiana College in South Bend, where she teaches sociology, psychology, criminal and family law and ethics. She also serves as the Paralegal Club faculty adviser and serves on the school's Paralegal Program Advisory Committee.

Although she had several higher education options available to her in northern Indiana, none of the institutions offered Bontrager the program she was seeking. Besides, it was the true "value" of an ISU education -- in every sense of the word -- that attracted her to Indiana State.

"The cost of going out of state was tremendous," said Bontrager, the youngest of 13 grandchildren and the first to graduate with a bachelor's degree (from Grace College) and now a master's degree. "ISU's program was of the highest quality and very cost effective."

ISU's program is also extremely cost effective to those outside of Indiana. Unlike many other programs, ISU does not charge out-of-state tuition to out-of-state students in its distance programs.

"Not only does our department have a very good national reputation -- ours is one of the oldest independent programs in the country -- but by charging in-state tuition to all students studying at a distance, our program is very competitive financially," said Skelton, professor of criminology and director of the Institute of Criminology at ISU.

In fact, the popularity of this program is clear to see. This year, the criminology department was only able to accept 20 new distance students from a waiting list of 160.

"It's in huge demand," said Skelton, who's been at ISU since 1975. "The program is so popular, we can't accommodate everyone who'd like to participate. We literally have students all over the world. In most cases, they're highly mobile (military, law enforcement), so they can take courses wherever they are."

Bontrager is one of those who, Skelton says, fits the profile of a typical distance student in that she's extremely dedicated and self-motivated. But, she also exhibits qualities that many criminology students possess.

"Most people in our program are working professionals who can't go to school any other way," Skelton said, "and they are very well disciplined. They also are not motivated by financial reward and typically have a strong sense of service to others."

Bontrager agrees 100 percent.

"It's not about the money. It's about being the best you can be and enjoying what you do," she said. "If you enjoy what you do, the paycheck doesn't make that much of a difference."

Other Facts


  • There have been 170 DegreeLink graduates since 1998 and 88 have applied for graduate school (As of Aug. 2002).
  • Total enrollment (graduate and undergraduate) for 2001-2002 is 3,071 students enrolled in distance courses. Slightly less than 50 percent of those students are enrolled in distance courses only. This year, ISU is already noticing an increase, with more than 50 percent recorded as distance-only students.

Criminology and Distance Education:

  • There are currently 100 graduate students and 87 undergraduates enrolled who are pursuing degrees in Criminology exclusively via distance learning.
  • Students represent many other states (Alaska, California, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Wisconsin and Hawaii) in addition to Canada and the Virgin Islands.
  • Most of the graduate students in the program are actively employed as criminal justice professionals, such as police officers, probation officers, correctional administrators, administrative enforcement officers and investigators. Many are faculty members at community colleges.
  • The criminology department is developing a counter-terrorism course for our distance students (undergraduate and graduate version). The program should be up and running by summer or fall 2003.


David Skelton, professor of criminology,
(812) 237-2196 or

Maria Doti Greninger, associate director, Public Affairs
(812) 237-4357 or

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or