Learning for the long haul
By Kristin Walters
It took 29 years behind the wheel of a truck before former tanker hauler Richard Patterson realized his true
Patterson spent his last 18 months as a trucker earning an associate’s degree in interdisciplinary studies
through an online program at Kaplan University. Then he went to the police academy in his hometown,
Columbus, Ga., and in November 2006 became what he’d always wanted to be — an officer of the law.
“I’m loving it,” Patterson says. “This is something I wish I’d done 30 years ago.”
Like most truckers — 53 percent, according to the 2006 Truckers News Reader Survey — Patterson
bypassed college and went straight to work after high school. After spending six years in the Army, he had a
family to support and no time for the associate’s degree required to enter the police academy, so he became
a trucker, like his father.
“When I got out of the Army in ’78, my dad said the best thing to do right now is go into driving,” he says.
“And I just stayed with it.”
But two years ago, the 51-year-old Patterson says he had enough of life on the road and trucker
“Everywhere you went it was like, ‘you’re worthless,’ and I knew I was
better than that,” he says.
He researched distance learning programs online and decided on
Kaplan because of its competitive pricing and convenience. (Tuition for
undergraduate/graduate programs at Kaplan begins at $305 per credit
hour, including instructional materials.)
“Kaplan had everything sent to my house a week prior, so I had time to
get home and pick it up,” Patterson says.
Though he had little computer experience, he bought a laptop and
wireless Internet service and jumped in with both feet.
“There were many nights I’d have to call my son and find out how to fix
it,” he says. “It was a learning experience.”
Once he got the hang of it, he studied in the truck every day to complete his weekly assignments and tests.
“If I pulled into a customer, and they said [loading time] was three to four hours, I’d sit in the truck doing my
schoolwork,” he says. “When they changed over to the 10-hour rule for sleeping, I’d spend a couple of that
doing my schoolwork.”
Distance learning is an education method tailor-made for the driving lifestyle, whether you want to change
careers entirely like Patterson, move into management, improve your business skills or simply have the
satisfaction of earning a degree.
“To keep working and pay your bills and also go to school, that’s the only way to do it,” Patterson says. “You
can work your job, and whenever you get a free minute, you can study your lessons for that week.”
A serious commitment
But learning in the truck takes time and dedication — even more dedication than a traditional education,
according to The Sloan Consortium’s 2005 online education study. Sixty-four percent of the educators at the
1,000 colleges and universities surveyed said students need more discipline to succeed in an online course