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Feature

Salim Nyarecha holds his young daughter.

Salim Nyarecha, who completed his UMC degree online, is a bachelor of manufacturing student from the Twin Cities who traveled with his family to participate in commencement at the Crookston campus in May 2006.

Crookston continues online leadership

UMC can now offer all existing degree programs via the Internet

By Jim Thorp

Oct. 27, 2006

Nearly 300 miles northwest of the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, the rich Red River Valley gives rise to sugar beets, sunflowers and small grains. These days it's also fertile ground for tech-savvy University of Minnesota Crookston graduates and online degrees with U credibility.

In October UMC received official notice of accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)--part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, or NCA--enabling the U's northernmost campus to offer any of its current degree programs online with Board of Regents approval. This "blanket" accreditation streamlines the process of creating online degree programs; in the past, a proposed online degree program required the review and approval of both the board and HLC to be fully accredited.

Online degrees are key to UMC's strategic positioning efforts, benefiting the campus itself, the regional economy and U system as a whole.

"A well-educated workforce is essential to sustainable community and regional vitality," says UMC Chancellor Charles H. Casey. "By taking the classroom to the student, we are providing diverse and deserving learners greater access to high-quality baccalaureate education."

The accreditation is well-deserved recognition for a rural campus with a history of blazing high-tech trails on behalf of the U.

Natural progression
UMC currently offers its complete bachelor of applied health (BAH) program, as well as many individual courses, online. It will offer two additional degrees, a bachelor of manufacturing management (BMM) and a bachelor of science in business (BSB), entirely online beginning in January 2007, just in time for the spring semester.

David Seyfried, assistant professor of health management and applied health, oversees the BAH program, which was launched in the mid-1990s as the first online degree offered by the U. Seyfried says that the BAH online program was a natural fit for UMC--and a way to meet a critical need in the health care industry.

"There are a lot of other fly-by-night schools that offer [online] degrees; however, those schools are not always readily recognized as being top quality."

"Health care organizations needed their professionals to have more training in areas like finance, policy, leadership, administration and law," he says. "Our traditional BAH program offered that, but many health care workers had no access to classes. And even if classes were available, most potential students were on rotating shifts--they could make it to class for two weeks, then their shifts would change and they couldn't make it at that time anymore."

Michelle Christopherson, director of UMC's Center for Adult Learning, says moving a UMC degree online is less a matter of conversion than enhancement, because Crookston faculty incorporate so much technology in the classroom already. Since becoming the original "Laptop U" in 1993 (and with the advent of campus-wide high-speed and wireless internet access) even on-campus classes take advantage of downloadable presentations and lectures, streaming video, audio commentary, message boards and e-mail--not to mention available technical support and expertise.

QUICK FACTS

UMC leases and maintains 1,150 notebooks computers as part of its Laptop U initiative.

On-campus students taking six credits or more are charged a $500 technology fee each semester, which covers:
- An IBM/Lenovo R60 computer
- Unlimited laser printing
- High-speed internet connectivity
- Wireless access in all labs, lounges and outdoor common areas
- Loaner computers if hardware repair is required
- Microsoft Office suite and anti-virus software
- Infrastructure, network and technical support

The results of a recent survey dispel the notion that that 24/7 access to a computer increases recreational use of the computer:
- UMC students play computer games on a daily basis less often than other students in the state.
- UMC students download music or videos less often than other students in the state.

UMC estimates the volume of tech support calls at roughly 50 per day.

"Incorporating technology into the classroom is nothing new to our faculty--they're already doing it on a daily basis," Christopherson says.

"The online degree programs are the result of a small campus using its resources to the best ends--taking advantage of our capabilites and meeting a need," Seyfried says. "All the variables are in place, and it makes sense to do."

Good fit
The average UMC online degree seeker is age 35 to 55, likely female, works at least part-time, and juggles a variety of family and personal obligations. One such student is Helen Wamstad of Grand Forks, N.D., who worked for 16 years as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) in a nursing home before she realized the additional opportunities that would be open to her with a bachelor's degree. She says she was impressed with the number of credits that transferred from past college coursework.

"When you're in your fifties, you don't want to lose a bunch of credits and have to go to school for seven more years," she says. "I'd taken a lot of classes over the years, and I didn't think I should have to start over."

Betty Larson, a senior from Fosston, Minn., in the online BSB program, specifically chose UMC to combat the perception that online degree programs are substandard.

"I knew that a degree from UMC would be a well-respected degree. There are a lot of other fly-by-night schools that offer [online] degrees; however, those schools are not always readily recognized as being top quality," she says.

John Wheeler, a 30-year employee at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., also completed the online BAH program. Wheeler needed a self-paced program to accommodate his workload at Mayo, hunting, and playing in a rock band; UMC's online BAH program does not require a minimum number of courses each semester.

"I took one class at a time except for one time that I doubled up, and until my final year I never took any summer classes," he says.

Flexibility meets credibility--online degree programs are adding yet another feather to Crookston's high-tech cap.

For more on UMC students Helen Wamstad, John Wheeler and others, go to the UMC Center for Adult Learning's Student Stories page.



Further reading:

UMC Secures 10-Year Accreditation, Blanket Approval for Online Degrees

Technology and collaboration to advance Crookston campus vision

Envisioning something big