There were only two concerns Jane Bell Miller had before starting her educational journey online. One, if she could manage the technology involved. Two, how she would pass a math class after 60 years of not studying the subject.

Jane isn’t like your typical online student. At 77 years young, the Fishers, Indiana, resident began the journey to complete her bachelor’s degree through Ball State Online.

Rather than attending college after graduating from high school in 1958 — a decision she’s always regretted —Jane began working as a secretary at the University of Virginia. However, throughout the course of her 40-year secretarial career, Jane picked up enough credits at community college to earn her associate degree in 1997.

“I had held back for years before looking into finishing my degree,” she says. “I’m so glad I decided, ‘It’s now or never.’”

Jane looked into Indiana University and Ball State, “only those two, both because of their good reputations,” she said. With a leg disability that makes standing and walking difficult, Jane was happy to discover both universities had online programs. She chose Ball State “because it offered half-off tuition for those over 60. This made the cost doable for me.”

Jane is among some 26 students over the age of 65 who have enrolled in one of Ball State’s online courses in the past five years, according to the Online and Strategic Learning office.

Ball State Online academic advisor Laura Waldron, ’98, MPA ’00, helped Jane determine which of her prior courses would transfer into the bachelor of general studies program.

“I credit Ball State’s staff with making my online learning experience so successful,” said Jane.

The freedom to succeed

Her first semester was in Fall 2017, “and I’ve been enrolled ever since,” she said, including one class during Summer 2018.

Jane Bell Miller

Jane is among some 26 students over the age of 65 who have enrolled in one of Ball State’s online courses in the past five years, according to the Online and Strategic Learning office.

Jane has never felt disconnected from her instructors or classmates, even though her classes are completely online. In fact, being an online student has given her the freedom to open up in assignments and discussion boards in a way that might otherwise be intimidating in a classroom setting.

It’s evident Jane thrived in the online setting, maintaining a 4.0 GPA every semester at Ball State.

“It is so satisfying to see that my brain can handle the material just as well as a 20-year-old [student],” she said.

As for that math class, Jane proved once again that there wasn’t a challenge she couldn’t tackle. Her success in studying statistics and probabilities was reason for celebration.

A fueling factor

Jane is set to graduate this May with a bachelor’s in general studies and a minor in sociology. Because of her difficulty walking, she won’t be on campus to receive her degree, but will celebrate her achievement with friends and family.

Completing her education means more to Jane than just a diploma. “Finally finishing my degree is the realization of a long-held dream and is a point of deep personal satisfaction,” she says.

It’s also a way to keep her mind active and sharp at her age.

“A factor fueling my focus on education is that my mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s, so I am willing to do anything in my power to try to avoid the same fate. Luckily for me, I thoroughly enjoy the process of learning.”

After graduation, she plans to resume piano lessons and work to improve her bridge game as ways to continue exercising her brain.

Asked how she might advise other seniors thinking about resuming their educations, Jane said, “Taking that first step is the hardest. From then on, it’s just a matter of following through on the next step, and the next.”

“Academic success is not about the age of the body or how long since you were last in school. It has everything to do with determination and a willingness to do whatever it takes.”