Global Campus popularity grows, students see online classes as flexible option
Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series about the future of higher education.
Central Michigan University’s Global Campus experienced increases in enrollment this year as demands for undergraduate courses increased among both traditional and non-traditional students.
Global Campus, or off-campus enrollment at CMU has increased 1.4 percent from last year. A total of 7,189 students are enrolled in Global Campus, up from 7,091 students in fall 2011.
Undergraduate Global Campus enrollment is up from 2,341 students in fall 2011 to 2,646 students in fall 2012, an 13-percent increase and the highest undergraduate enrollment in Global Campus to date. However, graduate enrollment in Global Campus is down 4.4 percent from 4,750 students in fall 2011 to 4,532 students in fall 2012.
Merodie Hancock, vice president of Global Campus, said traditional and non-traditional students approach Global Campus with different interests and goals. Traditional students want more general education classes to add into their schedules, she said. Global Campus benefits students who are having trouble building their schedule because of work, sports and other time commitments.
“Online helps those students,” she said.
Graduate enrollment used to be greater because CMU historically focused on graduate courses for Global Campus. However, significant undergraduate options have been added in the last five or six years, Hancock said.
Benjamin Jankens, assistant professor of educational leadership, said in an email more universities are offering online programs at the graduate level, so CMU now has more competition than ever. However, he said he expects to see an increase in enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate level as Global Campus transitions from face-to-face courses to more online courses.
Another reason graduate enrollment in Global Campus has decreased in recent years is that employers are not as readily paying for employees to pursue graduate programs, said Dana McCann, business information systems fixed-term faculty. Because Global Campus has expanded the number of undergraduate programs, she said, some students are choosing to go for another undergraduate degree instead of a graduate degree.
Hancock said some programs come and go, and Global Campus has between 50 and 55 locations at a time. She said many Global Campus programs are clustered in Michigan, and there are locations in other parts of the country, including Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Programs in Canada and Mexico also exist, and Global Campus is looking to expand to China next year, she said.
Students on campus prefer to be in class, but they take online classes to make their schedules more flexible and cut time to graduation, Hancock said. She said she is seeing more traditional students take one or two classes online per year, usually over the summer.
Hancock said online students look for classes that are applicable to the work force. She said classes in technology, business, leadership and psychology have the biggest demands.
McCann teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, both on-campus and through Global Campus. She said Global Campus allows students to eliminate conflicts from their class schedules.
“Many of those courses weren’t previously offered in an online format and it’s allowing students to take additional courses,” she said. “They don’t have to choose one over the other.”
Jankens said online education and blended learning have become major considerations for students when deciding which program to enroll in. He said undergraduate enrollment in Global Campus has increased because students are looking for convenient course options.
“Over the past decade, the learning culture has shifted from students going to the university to the university now going to the student,” he said.
Mount Pleasant senior Kevin Vaillancourt said he began taking classes through Global Campus last fall toward a degree in psychology. Vaillancourt works as a corrections officer, but said he is looking into graduate programs in psychology to pursue a new career working with returning veterans.
“I’m not really happy with my current job and need a degree to improve my current situation,” he said.
Vaillancourt said although not all the classes he would like to take are available online, Global Campus has allowed him to be flexible with his academic schedule so he can continue to work while taking online classes.
“I can do the homework when I have the time,” he said. “I’m not restricted on when I have to do things.”
McCann said professors share similar benefits as their students, in having the flexibility to administer and facilitate a class at times that fit their schedules.
McCann said some of the classes she teaches through Global Campus she also teaches in an on-campus setting, and the structure allows her to organize her class on Blackboard in preparation for both formats. She said being able to organize her classes online helps both her and her students.
“The more structure you have, the easier it is for the instructor as well,” she said.
Jankens said flexibility is the main advantage to teaching through Global Campus, not only for the class choice but also the format and approach to teaching. He said he has taught face-to-face, online and hybrid courses for Global Campus. He said Global Campus offers a lot of support for instructors.
“I’ve had great experiences with satellite locations, professional development and working with my courses through Blackboard and Wimba,” he said. “They are very knowledgeable, helpful and provide a high level of support to instructors.”
Global Campus has different policies and procedures than what some instructors might find in their departments, but overall this has not been a problem for him, Jankens said. The more Global Campus and academic departments work together to collaborate and build programs, the more CMU will be able to maintain a high quality of education, he said.
“The content of what we teach is still pretty much the same as it was 10 years ago, but the students and the way in which they learn has changed dramatically,” he said. “We need to continue to meet these new demands and offer courses and programs that meet our students’ expectations, without sacrificing quality or outcomes.”
McCann said she has noticed more students are taking a mix of on-campus and online classes even when they live in the Mount Pleasant area. She said she has had some of her online students visit her office hours on campus to seek clarification on activities.
McCann said she enjoys teaching a variety of students, traditional and non-traditional, local and international.
“It’s nice to have that mix of students not only from a demographic standpoint, but it also gives you a tremendous mix of background as well,” she said.
McCann said students appreciate that online classes are condensed into eight weeks because they are able to complete the course in less time and take another class in the second half of a semester. However, one disadvantage to a shorter class is that students don’t always have enough time to improve their grades if they need to, she said.
“Sometimes I just run into students who wait too long to ask me a question or let me know they’re struggling,” she said.
Some online classes can be challenging for students because they don’t have face-to-face interaction with the faculty, McCann said, but new technology is allowing faculty to be more interactive through video presentations and demonstrations. She said these improvements allow her to teach her online classes the same way she teaches her on-campus classes.
“As our technology advances, we’re getting to where I can show more and where that gap is narrowing,” she said.
Despite not always being able to interact with students in person, McCann said one advantage to Global Campus is that some students are more willing to engage in class participation.
“Sometimes students are a little more open in an online environment to discussion,” she said. “Sometimes they’re a little more free with their opinions.”
McCann said she expects more classes to be offered through Global Campus in the future, especially more professional development courses. She said there is also a tremendous opportunity for Global Campus to offer workshops and training programs to students.
Hancock said Global Campus is an ongoing experience, and CMU will continue to strengthen programs and add new programs. As students desire to have more options to learn, Global Campus will play a bigger role at the undergraduate level, she said.
“Non-traditional and innovative methods in teaching and learning are going to play a bigger role at the national level and locally at CMU,” she said.
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