Web-learning on the rise at CNCC

Internet helps rural students meet educational goals

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It may be the middle of the night or the end of the weekend but it doesn't stop Nicole Beckum from logging on and learning.

Beckum is just one of a growing number of Craig residents earning a degree through online classes offered through Colorado Community Colleges Online (CCCOnline) and Colorado Northwest Community College (CNCC). As a mother of two children and a teacher at Moffat County High School, Beckum said the Web-based program is the only way she could work toward degree in mathematics. From her Craig home, Beckum is earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics through Regis University in Denver.

"I don't know if I could do it any other way," she said. "It really makes a big difference to have this flexibility."

In the last two years, the numbers of CNCC students enrolling in the online courses has almost doubled. Last year the college recorded a total of 40 full-time online students but this year that number grew to more than 74.

Local students enroll for classes through CNCC but can access course offerings from all of Colorado's 13 community colleges, some of the state's universities and a handful of universities from some surrounding states.

Through CCCOnline for example, local students can work toward a wide range of degrees -- many that aren't offered locally.

It's more expensive for Moffat County residents to enroll in online courses compared to local campus-based classes. But students don't mind the costs because they can access classes that wouldn't otherwise be convenient for rural residents, said Gene Bilodeau, dean of CNCC.

"Like any online course the fees are a little higher, but when you factor in the convenience a lot of students say it's worth it," he said.

Moffat County residents are granted a tuition scholarship to cover class costs for CNCC courses. County residents wanting to take online classes can be reimbursed for about half the online costs -- or receive back about $70 for each credit, Bilodeau said.

One credit is nearly $135.

While the trend toward learning online is increasing at CNCC, the shift away from the traditional classroom isn't for everybody, said Laura Brewer of CNCC's admissions department.

"If someone has enough discipline and can communicate through e-mail then it's right for them," she said. "I think it takes more dedication than attending school through a regular classroom."

For those reasons, Brewer said the majority of online students are non-traditional students who are returning to school and juggling a host of other responsibilities -- like fulltime work and caring for families.

"People can do this most anytime," she said. "It can work with your schedule."

Bilodeau projected the trend toward online learning would continue at Craig's CNCC campus. CNCC joined up with the CCCOnline in 1996 and all online work is transferable to the state's four-year colleges.

In the last two years the numbers of both part-time and full-time online students has steadily increased. Last year, CNCC reported a total of 218 online students. This year, that number increased to 374.

"People will do what they need to do to take a course," Bilodeau said. "I would suspect that you will see a continued increase in students taking online courses. That's how people in rural areas like where we live are going to be getting an education in the future if they can't make it to class."

For Beckum, doing well with online studies requires a different kind of focus than learning in a classroom setting.

She makes sure to keep up on e-mail discussions with teachers and other students and turn in tests on deadline.

The workload is just as rigorous as it would be in a classroom, Beckum said.

"You have to check the message board all the time and follow the schedule. It's similar to a regular school schedule," she said. "I think it's better for non-traditional students. It really makes a difference to have that flexibility."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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