Education feature: CCC seeks online expansion

Clovis Community College is hoping to expand its online classes. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena: Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Traditional classroom learning has a rising competitor. Electronic learning through TV and the Internet has gained popularity at colleges and universities across the country. And soon, Clovis Community College students may be able to earn undergraduate degrees without leaving their homes.

The college leapt closer to offering associates’ degrees online during a Wednesday CCC Board of Trustees meeting. Trustees showed unanimous support for the online expansion and cast a blanket of approval for future online degree additions.

The college currently offers just one complete online degree, an associate of applied science in criminal justice.

But the demand for more is strong.

“This will open up several more avenues (for students). I think it’s excellent,” said CCC Board of Trustees Secretary Gayla Brumfield.

The number of students enrolled in electronic classes has steadily increased since the Clovis Community College program began offering instruction via television in 1991 and via online in 2000, according to CCC Interim President Becky Rowley. The online program began with a meager 10 courses and now has a menu of about 50, Rowley said. In an average semester, she said, about 800 to 900 students are enrolled in online courses. College administrators want to capitalize on that popularity.

“We really need to improve our degree distribution rate. This (offering online degrees) will do that,” Rowley said during the Wednesday meeting.

The majority of students enrolled online are also enrolled in classes at the college. But some students choose online classes randomly, Rowley said. The college could offer those students more specialized instruction, while also reaching out to rural students who cannot easily commute to the campus.

“This is designed more for people in really rural areas of New Mexico,” Rowley said.

But is an online degree really as valuable as a degree earned in the classroom, with other students, lively discussions, and hours spent face-to-face with an instructor?

According to Rowley, it is.

“I don’t think anymore there is a perception that an online degree is worth anymore than a degree earned in the classroom. It depends on the instruction — an online degree can be as good as an in-class degree,” said Rowley, who believes the online degree is a valid way to cater to students with busy schedules, and different learning paces and preferences.

At least one Clovis Community College student doesn’t give online classes rave reviews. Megan Feerer, a 20-year-old cosmetology student, is taking a human biology class online this semester, but she said she will likely drop the course.

“I am a hands-on learner. I don’t know if you can really benefit from an online lab,” said Feerer, who believes it is easier to invest in a class when you are actually in the classroom.

“Online classes are not taken as seriously,” she said.
Before students can earn online degrees, the college must petition the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools for permission to expand the program.

Rowley anticipates students will be able to obtain online degrees by the fall semester.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting:

• Trustees voted to rename The Student Success Center the Mabel Lee Hawkins Student Success Center, after late Clovis resident Mabel Hawkins. Hawkins bequeathed $270,000 in property and cash to the CCC Foundation. The Foundation awarded several scholarships in her memory and may endow another portion of her gift for future scholarship awards.

• Final fall enrollment figures were reviewed. Enrollment at the college declined by about 6 percent from the previous fall, Rowley said.

• The college will auction about $30,000 worth of obsolete or used computer equipment in April.

•Trustees approved a New Mexico Higher Education Department fiscal report of the CCC budget for the fiscal year 2006. The state instituted reports budgets are intended to measure and monitor the financial health of institutions of higher learning.