STLCC becomes more accessible through ‘STLCC Online’
By: KATIE HAYES
As the demand for online courses increases across the nation, St. Louis Community College is focusing more attention on the development of what Chancellor Jeff Pittman calls “STLCC Online.”
“Online education continues to grow across the nation,” Pittman said. “Online courses at STLCC were up by nine percent this fall. The St. Louis regional population is interested in this type of modality.”
This spring, interest in online courses increased again. Enrollment in only online courses increased 14 percent from spring 2015 to spring 2016.
Although retention rates for online classes are five percent lower than face-to-face classes, STLCC is right around the national average according to Robin Grebing, director of online education at STLCC.
“As we look at enrollment trends, the demand for online classes increases and we have an unmet need in this region,” Grebing said. “We want to be able to offer and coordinate more classes for students.”
Pittman previously served as vice president of online education at Ivy Tech Community College, where he increased the retention rate of students enrolled in online programs.
There is currently a steering committee which meets twice per month to develop STLCC Online.
“We’re talking about how can we make this user friendly for students and how can we increase our market,” Communication Professor and Steering Committee Member Denise Sperruzza said. “You know, how can we get more students to take our online courses? How can we make the online courses quality courses?”
Although there is already a business plan, the steering committee looks through that plan to determine what STLCC Online will look like and who will be involved.
“They have identified a certain amount of programs that are really close to being 100 percent online,” Sperruzza said. “Probably that will be the next step — to start looking at those programs and then add online classes that will allow those programs to be completely online.”
The online courses will be taught by current faculty as opposed to separate instructors.
“[We’re] just kind of looking through the business plan and identifying things that need to be done,” Sperruzza said. “Who — in terms of people in positions in the college — need to be working on these different pieces?”
Staff members from departments including financial aid and student services will contribute to STLCC online as well, Sperruzza said.
The steering committee also discusses how to present STLCC Online to students.
“There are a lot of things we’re talking about, but the details haven’t been worked out,” Sperruzza said. “Some students don’t realize or think about that if you take online classes, you can really take it from any campus.”
One option the steering committee discusses is making online education its own campus on the Interactive Class Schedule, where students search for classes on the community college website. Online courses would still be searchable by campus, but easier to find if students wanted to search only for online courses.
While the flexibility of online classes benefit some students, not all students are successful in them.
“Students think it’s easier, but it’s more challenging in several aspects,” Pittman said.
Pittman said the way to increase the retention rate in online courses is based on how the course is created and how engaging it is.
The steering committee continues to discuss how to increase the retention rate as well.
“How do we help [students] decide ‘is this the best choice for me’ and then how do we help them be successful,” Sperruzza said. “Because if we have more students in online courses, then at the same time we have to monitor our courses and make sure they’re good courses.”
The steering committee wants to create a free, but mandatory, one credit hour course for online students, which teaches them how to properly navigate online courses.
“Faculty that have been teaching online, we’ve been talking about that for quite a while,” Sperruzza said. “We need some sort of orientation for students and we want it to be that students have to take it, because if it’s optional then students won’t and we want to make sure that everybody is ready and that all students are going to be successful.”
Another hope for STLCC Online is that it will increase enrollment. This is also accomplished by advertising to a broader market.
“We’re kind of in that stage of making a list of what are some of the other markets out there,” Sperruzza said.
While students may take online classes through STLCC regardless of residence, the college cannot advertise to residents outside of Missouri. To advertise to a broader market, STLCC is required to obtain a certification.
Sperruzza said she meets with other faculty members to discuss online education at least three times per month.
“People are specifically meeting and talking about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s working in other schools and what we can use,” Sperruzza said. “We sort of jumped into offering online courses because students were asking for it. We didn’t have an office of online education and we didn’t have as much training for faculty. We are actually having discussions and developing a plan. I think that will make [STLCC’s online education] better.”