The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

Online BA first for University

Beginning in June, students can enroll in the first degree program offered entirely online at NKU.

The Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership (online) is a degree completion program, which means students must have an associate’s degree before enrolling.

The program is intended to serve those “not likely to have access to university programs if forced to attend face-to-face,” according to Carole Beere, associate provost for outreach and dean of Graduate Studies,

Rogers Redding, vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost, unveiled the program at the Jan. 15 Board of Regents meeting. He said the program supports two Council of Postsecondary Education goals of enrolling more students in college and ensuring that students advance through the higher education system. Additionally, it is intended to extend NKU’s reach into broader markets and expand options for students.

The program will make NKU more accessible to more people, Beere said. A variety of limitations exist that may make online learning a more viable option than attending classes on campus, she said. Some people may live in rural areas with no university nearby, or they may live across the street from campus, but job or family responsibilities make attending class impractical.

Geographic limitations and time constraints are the most common obstacles, Beere said, but disabilities and learning styles are also common reasons people prefer distance learning.

NKU partnered with Kentucky Community and Technical College System and Kentucky Virtual University to make this degree possible. KCTCS has experience with online programs and will provide marketing, library and computer support, while KYVU will list courses on their site, provide an advising network and loan money necessary for the program.

However, even with the assistance of experienced partners, NKU is moving into online learning slowly.

“We want to do it in a way that ensures the quality students deserve,” Beere said.

According to Redding, initial marketing will focus on students with an associate degree from the KCTCS, then, after the first year marketing will extend further – both inside and outside Kentucky.

The BA in Organizational Leadership was selected as the pilot program because it was already structured as a degree completion program. While there are hopes to add more online degree programs in the future, Redding pointed out that the university is in the learning stages and must carefully consider which programs are doable online.

“We don’t want to force programs that won’t work online,” he said.

One of the challenges being considered is the high dropout rate associated with online programs. Nationally, the dropout rate for distance learning programs ranges from 32 percent to 64 percent, while the rate for face-to-face programs ranges from 4 percent to 15 percent.

Beere attributes the high dropout rate to two major factors: the nature of the people who sign up for distance learning programs (typically extremely busy people with responsibilities beyond the classroom) and the myth that online programs are easy because they are easily accessible.

“One has to be dedicated and motivated to succeed,” Beere said. She pointed out that there is often a tendency for students to procrastinate and “cram” at the last minute. While this happens with both face-to-face and online classes, Beere said students who do this online can quickly feel lost. One solution is to make sure students stay participate regularly

While approximately 50 percent of NKU faculty are currently involved in some type of web-enhanced course, those involved in the online program receive additional and extensive training specifically for this new learning environment, including a full semester of guided instruction.

Students can experience good quality and bad quality education in online and on-campus programs, Beere said. “We need to be a proactive learning community rather than an isolated experience,” she said.

Some critics of online programs question the quality of learning due to the loss of the face-to-face interaction between professors and students. While Beere agrees that online learning is not for everyone, strong relationships can be formed online. “We have all heard stories of people meeting on the Internet and getting married,” she said.

In addition, the online environment may actually enhance the learning experience by allowing students to articulate their ideas more clearly than in a traditional classroom. As Beere explained, students have the opportunity to fine-tune their comments before posting them on a message board. Students can justify what is said with supporting facts, which isn’t always possible in class.

Another advantage is that “people are judged solely by what they write not on whether they are dark skin, light skin, tall or short,” Beere said. “They may not even know if you are male or female.” This type of anonymity can be beneficial, especially for shy students, and can result in a much richer exchange of information.

Projected enrollment is estimated at 30 students initially, 150 in 2004 and 300 in 2005.

While the program will support the continued growth in enrollment at NKU as well as help alleviate the space crunch the university is experiencing, Beere said implementation of the program is not budget driven.

Online programs are very expensive and tuition will be higher for the online degree classes than traditional classes, she said. However, cost to students, which has not been finalized, will still be less than similar programs at profit-making institutions or, even, out-of-state tuition at NKU.