AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Although still mostly populated by those who have difficult reaching their own community college campuses, such as rural residents or working parents, distance-learning programs have expanded their reach during the past several years, partnering with K-12 systems, employees and other community colleges.
Through those partnerships community colleges have started enrolling high-school students looking for early college credit and experience, students at other community colleges that do not offer a given specialized program, and workers seeking further training. The collaborations have helped fuel the continuing growth of online postsecondary education, which the Sloan Foundation estimates spiked 25 percent in 2004.
"Distance education is changing the landscape," said Ron Phipps, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. "I think it's, if not revolutionizing, 'evolutionizing' higher education. It puts everybody in a whole new arena."
The trend hit both two- and four-year institutions, said Cathy Hood, director of online initiatives at Polytechnic University, which has developed partnerships with trade and professional associations. "The idea that somebody can work full time and study part time is one of the advantages of online learning," she said. "It's also an opportunity to use technology that is very prominent in today's workforce."
When course material is posted on the Internet, students-can read through it, work on assignments and e-mail their instructor at any time, said Larry Warford, director of the League for Innovation's College and Career Transitions Initiative, which tracks students' movement from high school to the workforce. "A lot of distance-learning initiatives don't have anything to do with distance; they have to do with convenience," he said. "Students don't have to be in one place at 10 o'clock on a Monday morning."
"That's one of the beauties of online learning: You schedule the class yourself," agreed Jim Van Dyke, vice president for occupational programs at Rio Salado Community College, part of the 10-college Maricopa system in the Phoenix area. "What does that do for us as a college? It brings us a lot of people."
John Neibling, vice president of instruction at Rio Salado's sister school. Scottsdale Community College, echoed those benefits but also struck a cautionary note. "A challenge is that the students need to be prepared for the online experience, and that is not always the case," he said. "They're used to doing the face to face."
Another challenge community colleges face is faculty who balk at the concept, said Chris Mullins, executive director of the Instructional Telecommunications Council, an American Association of Community Colleges affiliate organization that represents community colleges with distance-learning programs.
"Some faculty feel threatened, as if these (online courses) are going to take away from their teaching, (and) students are going to be going …