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November 20, 2008 4:08 am

NWC plans to begin offering online degrees

Written by Tribune Staff

Northwest College will begin offering online degrees soon, pending permission from the Higher Learning Commission.

Sher Hruska, vice president for academic affairs, last week asked for, and received, the NWC Board of Trustees' approval to apply to the commission to offer three trial associate degrees online. Two of those degrees will be general studies and social sciences, and the other hasn't been chosen yet, she said.

If the Higher Learning Commission grants its permission and those degrees are offered successfully, the commission will give blanket accreditation allowing the college to offer other degrees over the Internet.

Hruska noted that Northwest College already offers many courses over the Internet, but it isn't accredited to offer entire degrees.

“We're not allowed to offer a complete degree online until we have this,” she said. “We can offer most of the courses, but right now, we must have some face-to-face delivery in order to complete degrees.

“We just want students to be able to complete a whole degree online. It really is an extremely powerful avenue for changing students' lives.”

Among other things, the college must prove it has support services for online students to qualify to offer online degrees, Hruska said.

“We have student support activities online and have been building those capacities over the last two or three years,” she said. “We're excited that they're ready to go now.”

Those support activities include Smarthinking, a 24-hour, seven-day-per-week online tutoring service. The college also offers online library database searching and online scholarship applications, she said.

“Vodcasting is a very rapidly-growing part of this,” she added. “Students who are taking courses online can now see video and audio instruction in presentations by the faculty.”

But, she told the board that one of the challenges is “helping students understand that college courses are not the same as texting your friend.”

NWC President Paul Prestwich said offering online degrees is another tool in the college's strong academic offerings.

“It's very important, and we can add more (degrees) as we go along,” he said.

Hruska said the proposal to offer online degrees has been endorsed by the college's Academic Advisory Council, Student Affairs Leadership Team, College Council and the President's Advisory Council.

The proposal does not require approval from the Wyoming Community College Commission, since the college already offers those degrees on campus, she added.