Scaling programs that support unique needs of online students
- Colleges must support online offerings with many of the same initiatives they offer to on-campus students, though some programs may need to be tailored to the online learner’s unique needs, according to three officials at the University of Arizona who are helping to shepherd the online university, which is a priority with the university.
- Writing in The evolllution, the three suggest that the University of Arizona actively recruits online learners with approaches that best suit them, including communications through various media, unobtrusive automated contact technology that can be easily customized, and a website that fully informs the students and allows for a growing number of “stealth applicants” who interact with the admissions office very little or not at all.
- University officials also make close connections to the business community for these students. The authors suggest that colleges can support them with initiatives such as student services and online communities, noting that research shows the top reasons online learners drop out they feel the university doesn't care about them.
In one successful program with the businesses community, the University of Arizona partnered with Caterpillar to allow workers to virtually visit and study mine sites throughout Canada and the U.S. and take online course work from professors in its Department of Mining and Geological Engineering. The program supports a planned move of Caterpillar's Surface Mining and Technology Division to Tucson.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education recommends that universities offer online students a full range of support services, While many of the efforts are the same as those traditionally offered by universities and colleges such as admissions, financial aid and academic support, library services and networking opportunities, WICHE writes that “logistics and online learners’ unique needs require a different approach.”
A new study by the Instructional Technology Council reports that accessibility to online learning is another issue for colleges to consider, with confidence in community colleges meeting federal standards for accessibility dropping dramatically, according to Inside Higher Ed.
In California, a new report published in eLearning Inside News also shows that while some key standards have been developed for online learning and a new website lists all the state's public university courses online, students are not crossing over to other colleges in the system to take courses, a priority for state legislation about the issue.
Older students, who by one estimate make up 40% of college enrollment, are being targeted with new online efforts in some colleges. “You are at the mercy of demographics,” said J.C. Turner, director of Riverland (Minnesota) Community College’s online FlexPace program. “Over time, the population shifted and the number of younger students continued to drop. To stay viable as an institution, Riverland had to look to creating online courses. Now more than half of our full-time students are in some type of online program.”