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Online courses spur enrollment jump at SUNY Canton

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By CHRISTOPHER ROBBINS

CANTON — SUNY Canton is experiencing a surge in enrollment, but not all those new students are filling parking spaces and dormitories.

The big increase is in students taking online courses. In 2000, 99 students participated in four online courses. By 2010, that number had grown to 3,232 students enrolled in 142 online courses.

Kyle A. Brown, director of online learning, said an intentional effort to encourage more online courses led to the growth.

“In 2005, Canton saw that there was an increased demand from students to have more flexibility in the courses,” he said. “We grew out of an initiative from some of the technical colleges in SUNY to look for more online work and videoconferencing.”

Thanks to the Internet, a college education is more accessible than now than ever before, said Mr. Brown. SUNY Canton now offers eight four-year degree programs completely online.

“We have one of the larger full online programs,” he said. “We are close to the largest summer and winter term.”

Mr. Brown credits the online course offerings for record-setting enrollment in the university’s “winterim” winter term courses.

For students who hold full-time jobs or have families to care for, online learning may be the only way they can take classes, according to Elizabeth A. Erickson, a criminal justice instructor.

“A lot of our students work in law enforcement jobs,” she said. “They can work regular shifts and log into classes late at night or early in the morning. It allows them the opportunity to have a family, earn an income, and still complete their four-year bachelor’s degree”

Students follow along with course materials on the SUNY Canton online website in ANGEL, a learning environment which organizes lectures, readings and assignments. Students can interact with instructors and each other through discussion forums.

Ms. Erickson said the online format gives her the opportunity to use more multimedia tools to enrich the students’ educational experience.

“Actually, one of the benefits, why I like the online class as opposed to face-to-face is that you can incorporate more multimedia types of things,” she said. “I love to have video clips or short movies that help students who are visual learners.”

The push to include more online learning ties into the SUNY system’s goal of allowing education to be more mobile and transferable, Mr. Brown said.

“We’ve seen some further growth due to many of the ongoing initiatives in the SUNY chancellor’s vision for mobility and transferability,” he said. “It allows students to take courses from multiple SUNY institutions that may not be offered at their home institutions.”

The online courses also attract students from campuses around the country, creating a virtual campus, Mr. Brown said.

“We’ve had enrollments that represented over 220 home institutions, it is quite amazing,” he said. “We have a lot from community colleges and local colleges, but we also have students popping up from UMass, Arizona State, Penn State, Harvard, Kettering University, amongst a whole number of other institutions. It is incredible to see.”

Mr. Brown said online learning also allows SUNY Canton students and faculty to participate in classes while travelling.

“Students don’t have to cancel vacations, they can do work while travelling,” he said. “It saves the faculty time in terms of their obligations to be here on campus during the summer and winter terms, allowing us to bring in a broad range of expertise. Our faculty who are traditionally from South America, China or Canada who bring the cultural touch to the courses can teach courses from home.”

Though course offerings on the Internet continue to grown in popularity, they won’t supplant traditional classrooms, said Mr. Brown.

“We’re unique here in that all of our online four-year degrees started out as on campus degrees, we still have students on campus who take all these programs in the classroom,” he said.

To learn more, visit SUNY Canton Online’s website http://www.canton.edu/ol/index.html.

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