So why would anybody want to get a
To save about
On the flip side, why would a private college older than 26 states want to offer online degrees, upending an educational experience that has succeeded for so long and cutting its income from some students?
To save itself, potentially.
"We have to think about the next phase for
The move online comes because officials know the economic reality for small colleges in the Northeast: They have to expand their audience or face trouble.
"This will allow us to serve new groups of students that we couldn't serve at all in the past -- working adults, people at some distance," Taylor said. "We know the demographic issues."
Local student shortage
The problem for schools such as
Add worries about school loans and debt loads, and it gets harder to attract students to a college that has tuition of
That's compared with an A-plus for
The magazine gave D grades to
The specter hanging over everybody is
That's also the sort of pressure that can lead to innovation.
Considerable attention has been given to college courses online because of free, massive online courses, but they don't offer academic credit and the huge class size -- 10,000 students isn't uncommon -- makes them a different experience.
But creating an entire 120-credit bachelor's degree program that's strictly online remains a big step for a small liberal-arts school. (Technical and engineering schools translate more easily into the Web-only world.)
Unlike single classes, the online degree program required approval from the
"We looked at what our own students were doing during the summer to get ahead or make up work, and noticed certain kinds of courses that many of our students were taking elsewhere, then transferring credits back in," Taylor said.
"We had 10 or 12 classes the first summer. They were well enrolled."
An important part of the development process was finding an acceptable price. The school settled on
It takes at least 120 credits to get a bachelor's degree at
All along, said
Courses on the Web are taught by full-time staff members with the same curriculum as traditional courses in formats that they choose. Some have their own classroom lectures filmed, others do separate filming, some just do voice-overs of material. It's all based on Moodle, an open-source learning platform used by many schools.
Enrollment is capped at 20 students per class, which is fewer than some traditional classrooms. The classes are asynchronous -- that is, you don't have to be signed on and participating at a specific time -- but components must be completed within certain times, whether it's watching a lecture, writing an essay, answering a quiz or participating in discussions.
"One of our big focuses is to make sure that students feel a sense of isolation but are part of an online community, part of the
College-specific branding of the website is part of creating this sense, but so are mechanics of the operation.
For example, instructors are required to respond to students within 24 hours -- although weekends might be different -- and student participation is mandatory, Hayward-Wyzik said.
To an extent, she said, enforcing all of this is easier online than in the real world, since there is a permanent record of who does what.
"In a classroom, the instructor asks a question, only a couple of students are going to participate and respond to that question," said Hayward-Wyzik, who has taught online English courses. "When I ask my question (online), every student has got to respond. The trick is to not ask a question where there's one answer -- What is 2 plus 2? The answer is 4 -- the trick is to pose a question that requires application of the knowledge."
Just as important, she said: "We ensure students interact with each other" by using the Moodle equivalent of the Facebook "wall," in which everybody sees what everybody writes and can respond.
"We require that the students respond to two or three other students, engaging not only with the (course) content and with me as instructor, but they're also interacting with each other," she said.
More courses to come
The reality of the program leaves a bigger question: What would its success means for
"I don't think so," Hayward-Wyzik said. "There a coming-of-age experience of college, in which it's critical for many students to come to the campus -- the 18-year-old out of high school. For the slightly older students -- single parents, those who are working, or they live too far away to commute to the campus -- it provides them the same ideal
And not only are online students welcome in
"Can they have a
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