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Higher education going online

POSTED: July 28, 2014 5:42 p.m.
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Sen. Jack Hill

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Students who have had to put their education on hold, like soldiers returning from deployment, and individuals looking to make a career change, are in the market to not only advance their education but to do so in an easily accessible and low-cost manner.

This has caused many public and private institutions to offer undergraduate and graduate degree courses through an online platform. This means that students would be able to do most of their coursework away from campus. Recently, Georgia Tech has received national press for its groundbreaking offering of an online master’s degree in computer science through massive open online course (MOOC) offerings. Tech, along with several other schools in the University System, has been making great strides in making higher education more accessible to all Georgia residents.  “Notes from the Senate” will be taking a look at online higher education programs currently available in Georgia, costs, initiative in other states, as well as the future of online courses in Georgia.

Programs currently available in Georgia
In fall 2009, the University System of Georgia (USG) was offering 1,571 online course sections. By the fall of 2013 this increased to 4,737, a 201.5 percent increase. These courses are designed to not only be a time- and cost-effective alternative to traditional programs, but some also have been created to get students to graduate in less time than the average traditional student.

The 4th District’s Georgia Southern University offers some 26 fully online graduate programs, six certificate programs and three undergraduate (baccalaureate) programs in the Colleges of Business Administration, Education, Health and Human Sciences, Engineering and Information Technology, and Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.  Online undergraduate programs offered include bachelor of general studies, bachelor of science in information technology (WebBSIT) and RN-BSN. approximately 400 online courses are currently offered including one person classes on thesis and publication writing.

Columbus State University offers bachelor’s degrees in both communication and criminal justice.

The school’s “Degree in 3” (also known as “DN3”) program provides a complete online platform while shortening the typically four-year degree completion time period to three.

This program also allows students to utilize past work history to count as credit hours. Work history is especially taken into account for active duty, National Guard annd Reserve members of the military, and veterans with the program accepting and converting military credits into credit hours. The DN3 program does not utilize the MOOC model but rather follows the more common online course platform that is not open to the general public.

Additional information on the DN3 program is available at: http://degreein3.columbusstate.edu/.  According to USG, since 2010 the number of online degree and certificate programs offered system-wide has grown from approximately 175 to 307 programs. All of these programs are currently listed in the USG catalog for online degree programs at www.georgiaonmyline.org.

The University System as a whole also offers a program called “eCore”— short for electronic core-curriculum — which allows USG students to complete their first two years of their collegiate careers in an online environment.

Although not a formal degree program, it provides a convenient and adaptable option for those wanting to start college or for those resuming studies after a break. The classes offered in eCore primarily consist of courses required during the first two years of college (frequently referred to as “core” courses) for a given degree.

This program is taught entirely online, except for the occasional proctored exam. The courses also are designed, developed, taught and supported by faculty and staff from USG, meaning that the school offering the eCore classes contributes not only the course structure but also their faculty.  Any student in the University System can also take an eCore course, no matter their school of residence.

The program is currently offered by 13 USG institutions but, according to Regents, the goal is to expand access by fall of 2015. Like Columbus State and Georgia Southern, the eCore classes do not utilize a MOOC platform. To view the online course material, people must be enrolled in the eCore program. More information on the eCore program can be found here: https://ecore.usg.edu/.

Enrollment
Traditional brick and mortar higher education students have generally increased in the University System since 2008.  The fall of 2011 brought a slight enrollment decline to USG, which has created a general plateau on enrollment that continues today.

Meanwhile, enrollment of students for one or more online classes in the University System increased from 46,898 students in 2010 to 58,869 in 2012 — that’s more than a 25 percent increase in a three year period.  In fact, in 2010, roughly 15 percent of all USG students were taking one or more online courses. By 2012 this number increased to 18.7 percent. This demonstrates a clear demand for online courses in Georgia.

The University System offers several other online options outside of what is highlighted in this column. A complete list of course and degree offerings can be found at: http://www.usg.edu/academic_programs/external/degrees_available_via_distance_learning_technologies .

Next week: A look at the costs of online courses, other states’ online education models and the future of online courses in Georgia.

I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7092 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free at
1-800-367-3334 day or night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811

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