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HIGHER EDUCATION

Community colleges invest online

Web-based classes expand the reach and access of state system

While everyone has had to adapt to a slow and evolving economy, higher education has also had to keep up with a new breed of students.

For the New Hampshire Community College System, that has meant significant time and investment in producing online and hybrid classes throughout the system to accommodate those who are working and returning to school.

“A large majority of our students work full time,” said Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System. “So the flexibility of being able to take an online course is very attractive to them.”

Gittell pointed out that the number of students enrolled in online classes through the seven community colleges in the system has doubled in the past four years, to a little less than 10,000 students.

And since the 2009-10 school year, the number of online classes in the community college system has jumped from 482 to 712, a more than 67 percent increase. Further, officials said they believe they will have more than 800 online classes once the 2012-13 school year is finalized to include the summer term.

Gittell said the number could go up even more since the community college system is enlarging the program that allows online students to take classes from any of the community colleges in the system.

This is particularly good for students in rural areas, he said, where it may be difficult to get some classes, like languages, regularly offered in more urban areas.

This trend is not only good for students, but it’s a money saver and maker for the college system.

“We can deliver more courses in a more effective way,” Gittell said. “It also increases the average enrollment, which increases the class size per course, which increases the net revenue since of course we still only have the one faculty person that you pay.”

New Hampshire Technical Institute has dedicated a position to implementing and improving this type of programming. At NHTI, more than 35 percent of the student population is made up of nontraditional learners, said Matthew Wood, associate VP for nontraditional learning formats. Further, he said, last year NHTI took in more than $2 million in revenue, just in online learning.

“If you look at that as a whole, that’s about 11 percent of what the college took in last year,” he said.

It’s so successful that by the fall Wood said he hopes to have five full degree programs online.

But even private schools are finding the need to adapt. At New England College in Henniker, President Michele Perkins said officials have been developing hybrid programs where the bulk of the class may be online, but one night a week, for instance the MBA/health care class, might meet at a hospital or health care facility.

“They get, we believe, the best of all worlds,” Perkins said.

“You get your online component and your face-to-face component, and I think it’s very interesting in this environment, everyone is talking about online and all of that, but the value of personalized education, the face to face, is definitely part of our mission and brand. We cherish that, and preserve that in our program.”

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