New Online Degrees Feature Affordability, Convenience, Credibility

 From Focus magazine, Fall 2013

By John Lester

olumbus State University is dispelling the notion that higher education is an intimidating, high-cost adventure so littered with options, and so confusing, that some students get lost, or quit altogether.

CSU is combating these stereotypes — especially for those who think college is not really a viable option — with new online programs in communication and criminal justice. Both degrees are affordably priced and streamlined to easily guide students to a bachelor’s degree in just three years.

A quick trip to cyberspace reveals that online degrees are more popular than ever, offered by an ever-expanding list of institutions. Columbus State’s new degrees are different because they come from an accredited institution, are backed by the full resources of a comprehensive university and, thus, ensure credibility. The new programs also feature:

  • Discounted tuition to make college more accessible. With full financial aid, most students can finish with little or no student debt.
  • A computer for all enrolled students that is theirs to keep if they finish the degree.
  • Easier to follow class schedules and the elimination of unnecessary courses that delay degree completion.
  • Assigned advisors who will help with everything from registration to graduation, monitoring progress of each student.

The university’s new degree programs are supported by a national grant designed to encourage the development of programs that are more affordable and easier to access for many different populations.

To put the programs in place, faculty have been working at a pace that might be considered light speed for the university world. It was announced in October 2012 that the University System of Georgia had received a $1 million grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges, a national initiative to improve college readiness and completion, led by Educause and principally funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The system chose Columbus State University to develop the degree program for a fall 2013 launch.

“Last summer when the Board of Regents wanted a partner for this grant, the communication program was selected because we knew the program could be delivered in the format sought by the grant,” said Richard Baxter, dean of the College of the Arts, which oversees the communication department. “The program opens opportunities for a college education for a population of students who might not otherwise be able to attend college because of the costs and-or being bound to a geographic location where they could not easily get a degree. It also enhances the retention and graduation success of students who might have to move after beginning a degree program.”

CSU’S provost and vice president for academic affairs, Tom Hackett, said serving traditionally underserved populations, expanding the university’s reach online and improving retention were all important reasons why the university decided to offer this new way of delivering a bachelor’s degree. Actually implementing the programs was the complicated part.

“Our faculty really pulled together to figure how to make this happen,” Hackett said. “We enlisted the help of veteran English Professor Barbara Hunt to serve as project manager for this initiative, and she and her team — and a lot of other teams on campus — have done a great job of working out all the details so we can offer these degrees.”

Many of the difficulties centered on creating classes that could be completed in seven weeks. Making the classes more convenient for students meant reworking a course that regularly fit into a 16-week schedule, then putting it online. Obviously, this course delivery also applied to all university’s required prerequisites, and then had to be matched with all the supporting enrollment services functions such as financial aid, registration, grading and testing.

A new website, ColumbusState.edu/degreein3, details the complete schedule and pricing for students in each program. Tuition for each seven-week, two-course term is designed to make a college education seem more achievable for students who might otherwise think a degree is out of reach, too expensive or too complicated. Because of the grant, tuition for the Degree in 3 program is $1,200 per term, meaning students who are receiving the full benefits of financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, may have almost no out-of-pocket expenses.

The programs provide students multiple complementary avenues, such as online courses, opportunities to create portfolios for credit, service learning and some work that can be self-paced to a student’s knowledge. Students will advance through a series of key achievements that include the opportunities to receive certificate credentials within the first year, an associate’s degree before the end of year two and the bachelor’s degree upon completion.

The degree is well suited for those in the military, those out of school for a few years, working adults or those looking for a streamlined experience focusing only on what’s needed to complete a degree. Students who have already accumulated numerous credit hours from other colleges or universities will not be able to transfer most of those credits into this new program.

The communication degree, which includes a civic leadership focus, offers a practical and economical pathway to a successful career in numerous professions such as community relations, public affairs, nonprofit management, and association or organization administration. CSU’s online communication program is carefully crafted to prepare students for the professional and interpersonal challenges of today’s workplace. CSU Degree in 3’s civic leadership focus will create exceptionally well-qualified students for today’s professional environment, officials say.

The criminal justice degree can lead to career opportunities in law, public service or law enforcement. Graduates often find jobs with local, state and federal government agencies such as city and state police and sheriffs’ departments, probation and parole departments, FBI, drug enforcement agencies, the Secret Service, correctional institutions, juvenile justice agencies and in private, industrial security.