But living more than 400 miles from Kansas University's School of Nursing proved problematic -- until she bought a computer.
Now the miles are erased with the click of a mouse as Thomas brings KU's virtual classroom into her home in McDonald in northwest Kansas.
"I don't feel isolated at all," said Thomas, who is taking online courses for both her bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing. "There would be no possibility to get these degrees without these online courses."
The KU program, in concert with Wichita State, Fort Hays State, and Pittsburg State universities' programs, provides online courses to about 100 students statewide.
Karen Miller, dean of the nursing school, said the courses will help Kansas address a predicted nursing shortage and expand educational opportunities in rural parts of the state that are under-served in the health care fields.
"We have to be able to give people the education they need while they are in the workforce," Miller said.
And, she said, the Kansas model of funding and collaboration with other schools is far ahead of most states.
She described it as a "slow-growth" strategy dependent mostly on federal and private grants instead of increases in state funding.
"So many states are throwing money at their programs," Miller said, and not getting good results.
Not surprisingly, that was the kind of news Kansas' budget writers wanted to hear, and they have praised the KU program.
"It does the state proud," said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Although instructor and student may never meet during a course, both say the courses are actually more interactive than the standard classroom approach.
JoEllen Greischar-Billiard, a KU nursing instructor, said she is in constant communication with her online students through e-mail and discussion boards.
All the online students participate, while in traditional classes not all students will speak up during discussions, she said.
Helen Connors, associate dean for academic affairs at the nursing school and the driving force behind the program, said students are proud of their online work.
A group from Garden City came to the KU campus for graduation. Although the students had never been there before, they recognized all the buildings from the school's virtual orientation.
Thomas, who wants to be a family nurse practitioner, said she also looks forward to the day when she drives to Lawrence to "walk down the Hill" for graduation.
-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 832-7221.