By Linda Lockhart
Nearly a third of the state's 23 community colleges are partnering with Ohio University to give their students the opportunity to work toward bachelor's degrees through the university's first fully online degree program.
Owens Community College in northwest Ohio signed on to the community college partnership program Wednesday, becoming the seventh school to do so. The first classes under the program -- leading to bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and technical and applied studies -- are available this quarter.
Ohio University has received more than 125 applications for the program since May. Of those applicants, 81 have been accepted and 31 are taking online classes this quarter. Others are enrolled in courses at their partnering community college that will apply to their bachelor's degree.
The program provides flexibility for students to take some required courses on their local campuses at the community college's tuition rate and others online from Ohio University at a cost of $153 per quarter credit hour. Students can save up to 40 percent on tuition compared what they would pay to attend a more traditional public residential campus in Ohio.
Owens has more than 21,000 students on campuses in Toledo and Findlay. Other partners are Hocking College and Columbus State, Cuyahoga, Lorain County, Sinclair and Washington State community colleges, all of which have students who have applied to the program.
Although Ohio University has long offered online courses and even full programs that are partially online, this is the first to be delivered completely online. That means participating students may never set foot on an Ohio University campus or meet an instructor in person.
Several units have worked to ensure that potential hurdles -- such as the processes by which students enroll, apply for and receive financial aid and are issued IDs -- have not been roadblocks.
"Being able to offer our first online program has been a true team effort," said Marsha Ham, executive director of Lifelong and Distance Learning. "Departments across campus have focused on solutions and how we can make that happen, instead of putting up barriers."
One of the essential elements of providing online programs is ensuring quality.
Jeanne Vilberg, who joined Lifelong and Distance Learning this fall as a learning systems designer, is focusing first on the courses delivered under this program.
"The faculty are owners of the content," Vilberg said, describing her role as that of a facilitator who can help faculty ensure the delivery method doesn't sacrifice quality. "We want to provide the best experience we can for the student."
One tool the program employs for online course development is the Quality Matters rubric. The research-based tool was developed by a consortium of schools in Maryland to identify the traits of quality online courses. Now used by more than 200 schools, it lays out 40 standards online courses should meet.
"Teaching online is very rewarding, but also a lot of work," said Vilberg, who has taught both traditional and online courses. "It is not as easy as one might think."
Vilberg helps instructors find ways to include interaction and convey their own personality to students. She also is developing course template tools as well as a site to help faculty see what their course might look like in action -- steps that have resulted in good conversations about content. She also wants to promote consistency in online navigation and course presentation so students can focus on content rather than how to get around a Web site.
Although Vilberg's current emphasis is on courses offered under the community college partnership, later this year she plans to help other faculty members use the Quality Matters rubric to improve their online courses.
Ohio University is in discussions that may lead to further expansion of its community college partnership program, which increases college access and affordability -- major goals of the University System of Ohio.
"The future of our partnerships with community colleges includes strengthening the ties with those that are already partners and exploring additional ways we can expand our partnerships with them," Vice Provost for University Outreach Charles Bird said. "It also includes remaining open to conversations with other institutions that might want to be part of this partnership."