CSU extends community college education online | CraigDailyPress.com

CSU extends community college education online

Collin Smith

— Just because Moffat County is more than a hundred miles from an accredited four-year university doesn’t mean residents are unable to take high-level college classes.

Someone who wants to get a four-year college degree, but doesn’t want or can’t afford to leave Moffat County, will soon be able to get a full bachelor’s degree through Colorado State University’s planned online and distance-learning program.

The university is looking to enroll students in the second quarter of 2008 and begin classes in the third quarter, according to a university press release.

John Boyd, Colorado Northwestern Community College system president, is excited to be able to offer more higher education opportunities to prospective students in rural Western Slope areas.

“Any impact from this will be positive for Northwest Colorado,” Boyd said. “It’ll give the people, who had to leave for places elsewhere to get four-year degrees, the opportunity to stay. That will serve rural Colorado everywhere, and definitely help with the (lack of qualified workers for businesses) here.”

CSU’s online system, dubbed CSU-Colorado, is directly linked to community colleges across the state, and in fact serves as an extension of them, Boyd said.

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Community colleges that before offered two-year associate degrees are now able to provide two more years of education in those subjects, and a full bachelor’s degree, through CSU-Colorado.

“Students will work on a two-year degree with CNCC and then complete their junior and senior level coursework with CSU,” Boyd said. “(CSU has) agreed to not offer the first two years of courses.”

Current plans are for CSU to award all four-year degrees, and community colleges would provide two-year degrees.

Before, some students have had problems transferring credits from a two-year associate degree program to an accredited four-year program, said Elisa Shackelton, CSU Moffat County Extension director.

Colorado State wants to streamline the process to benefit students and attract them to pursuing further education.

“Some young people go to community college and get their (associate degree) but then can lose a year of credits when they try to transfer,” Shackelton said. “CSU online provides a seamless opportunity to continue education.”

Final teaching plans have not been set, but Boyd would like to see the CSU program make use of a variety of different resources, not just the Internet.

CNCC operates a two-way video conferencing system known as Polycom. Boyd envisions the Polycom system, and some in-class teaching at CNCC campuses, to be additional resources for distance learning toward a four-year CSU degree.

Colorado State wants its program to address job and market demands, and so expects to provide region-specific programs that compliment specialized classes at different community colleges.

For Northwest Colorado, those areas will probably include energy technology and exploration, Boyd said.

“Different regions have different needs,” Boyd said. “We do a lot with energy, and this year started an equine science program, which deals with horses. That would be more beneficial to us than, say, Denver.”

The program is not limited to vocational education, Shackelton said. It is designed to find what communities need in terms of professionals, and provide for those needs where education is lacking.

“Anybody who wants to move forward with their education, or just have a career change, or if they’ve focused on their family and their kids have recently moved out, this lets them get the degree they’ve always wanted, be it English or history or something else,” Shackelton said.

Extension offices, such as the one Shackelton works in, could become the “front doors” for online classes, Shackelton said. Students might be able to meet there for study groups or access to technology.

Colorado State is a land-grant institution, which means it was mandated at its inception to provide education for people whether they could attend classes or not. An online and distance-learning program is a direct progeny of its mission statement, a CSU press release read.

“Having a major university behind online learning helps give the program credibility,” Shackelton said.