Student Story

Audrey Briggs

Fayetteville, AR
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies

Audrey Briggs

"My degree is a three-part degree—sociology, rural families and communities, and history,” she said. “What I've learned so far is helping me communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. If you don't have the same demographic, you can sometimes be ignorant of a situation."

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Local Student Enjoys Benefits of Online Learning

Online learning doesn’t have to mean distance learning. Local residents can experience the same flexibility and convenience as someone living in a different state or country. Audrey Briggs is living proof that anyone can work toward an online degree, even if there is no distance involved.

Briggs, 60, has worked at the University of Arkansas School of Law since 2010. Originally from Newport, Rhode Island, Briggs moved to Fayetteville so that her then-husband could attend the university’s law school. She is enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program and hopes to graduate in 2026.

“I'm the office manager of the external learning environment for our law students,” Briggs said. “It's a legal clinic where we help our clients with everything from criminal situations to unpaid wages to immigration filings to human trafficking. It's a very exciting, humbling job, and you constantly walk away going, ‘Wow, and I thought I had a bad day.’ It kind of keeps you humble.”

Her years working at the law school have given Briggs a true love for the Razorbacks. When her three children approached college age, Briggs knew she wanted them to attend the U of A. Partial tuition for her children—one of the benefits of working full-time for the university—took some of the financial burden from her shoulders and freed Briggs to pursue her own higher education experience.

 “I wanted my kids to go to school because no one in my family got the opportunity,” Briggs said. “I had four siblings who probably would be brilliant in an academic profession, but they didn't have the opportunity. I want to do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids, and I really want to do it for my parents. We bounced around quite a bit when I was young. My dad was in the Navy, and he was out on sea trials for six months at a time, leaving my mom to raise five kids. It has always been important to me to finish my education. It doesn't matter where you are in life. You can be 60 years old and still earn a degree.”

The B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies allows Briggs to tailor her subjects to fit her own unique needs, where aspects of various fields combine to craft a program specific to her real-life work and experience. This online bachelor's degree program blends core requirements with related minors, certificates and microcertificates that correspond to Briggs’ personalized educational goals.

“My degree is a three-part degree—sociology, rural families and communities, and history,” she said. “What I've learned so far is helping me communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. If you don't have the same demographic, you can sometimes be ignorant of a situation. Some of our clients are deathly afraid to answer the phone—they don't understand we're there to help them. Sometimes they think it's someone that's going to deport them, arrest them or something like that. Once they get to our clinic and understand what’s happening, it gives them so much peace and comfort to know that ‘This is a safe place.’

“The clients that walk through our door don't always understand that we can help them. Our clients don’t always have access to computers, social media or grasp what is offered at our clinic. What I have learned about rural communities, the demographics and the minimal resources that trickle down to people living at that level helps me understand the perspective of our clients. I can look across the table and say, ‘You need this help, here are some resources, and you can go to this location to get this support.’ I can anticipate in advance what they need because I've had experience with my online courses.”

Since Briggs works on campus, it might seem more convenient to attend classes in person—walk down a sidewalk to the building, attend class, then return to work. However, for Briggs, learning online is by far the more reasonable option. Studying online allows her to perform her job duties, serving the faculty, students, and clients in the most timely and efficient manner possible.

“Attending on campus classes means two hours in the classroom then run back to my office,” she said. “I’d have a lot of missed calls, important phone calls that needed immediate attention. Online lets me continue doing my job to the fullest. I've always been very committed to the university, to the students and the faculty, and I didn't want to change that. I want to have both, and studying online allows me to have both.”

As a non-traditional student, Briggs faces many challenges not common to students who enter college soon after high school. Technology has advanced significantly since Briggs attended college in the 1980s and 1990s, she said. With no laptops, cell phones, or internet searches, class notes were taken by hand, research sources were limited to local libraries, you got a lot of handouts and notebooks, and class attendance was restricted to in-person sessions at a required date and time in a brick-and-mortar building.

“Being an older student, I don't retain as much,” Briggs admitted. “I certainly am not tech-savvy. I've had a few moments where I'm scratching my head, going, ‘I don't understand that.’ Online learning was completely foreign to me. When I started on this degree, it took me a while to figure out how to study. I have to be structured and disciplined with my time management. If I’m at home and my family is around, usually doing something silly in the background, I want to watch because it's an opportunity to make a new memory. I end up rereading sections I just went through. It's really important that students make their study environment just that—a study environment.”

Being an online student also lets Briggs schedule her courses around the peaks and valleys of her seasonal work schedule.

“I take a lot of my courses in the summertime,” she said. “My work is not as demanding during those months because the law students are on summer break.”

Briggs had one concern prior to starting her online degree; how would an online degree differ from an in-person degree? Would a diploma from an online program hold the same weight as one from an in-person degree? The answer is, yes, they are the same, in every conceivable way.

“I wanted my degree, my walk across the stage, to have just as much impact as anybody else's,” Briggs said. “I talked to one of the advisors in Global Campus and they said, ‘We get that misconception across the board, but I can assure you, it has the same value. It has the same weight.’ I thought to myself, ‘This could really help me do my job and still let me pursue my dream of having a degree from the University of Arkansas.’ Does it get any better than that?”

Briggs received the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2023-2024 academic year. The scholarship began with small gifts from many people who passionately believe in the transformative power of education. It was created in 2018 to financially assist students who are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate online degree programs.

“Without crying, this scholarship was a huge gift,” Briggs said. “Everyone who goes to college knows the cost. You cut back as much as you can, and you scrape. Although I get a wonderful discount being an employee, there are books, materials, online connective services and student fees that eventually start adding up. The more courses you take, the more costly it is. I'm like your typical person. I live paycheck to paycheck. When I got this scholarship, I had to print it out because I didn't believe it actually said, ‘You've been awarded.’ I'm grateful and humble because that scholarship allows me to take more courses in the summertime than I would otherwise have been able to afford.”

Prior to receiving the scholarship, Briggs’ job at the university paid for her daily living expenses. To cover higher education costs for herself she worked part-time jobs at night and on weekends. The Manning Scholarship freed her from these additional jobs, giving Briggs more time for her studies and her family.