Appalachian's distance education adds more online programs

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    Brittany Hedgins, left, and Crystal Stansell participate in the off-campus RN to BSN program, which will be offered online beginning in Fall 2012. (Photo by Glenn Dion)

For many adults, a college education or advanced degree is only possible if they continue living and working in their home community. Appalachian State University's distance education offers 45 degree and graduate certificate programs, at off-campus sites and online.

The number of online programs is increasing to better meet the needs of students and the state's economic demands, with two more programs added for Fall 2012: the RN to BSN program and the Master of School Administration. A third online program, the Master of Arts in gerontology, is set to begin in Fall 2013. Applications for admission are currently being accepted.

"Online courses allow us to increase enrollment and reach beyond our traditional service area," said Dr. Mary Englebert, director of distance education. "North Carolina has a shortage of nurses, as well as a shortage of educators prepared for principal positions within the public schools. There are also needs for more people skilled in the care of the elderly."

Each program had previously been offered on campus or in cohorts at higher education centers or community colleges in the 10 northwestern North Carolina counties served by the Appalachian Learning Alliance and other partner sites.

The majority of Appalachian's undergraduate and graduate distance education programs historically have been in the fields of education. As state budget cuts force the layoffs of many teachers, newer degree programs in business, health promotion, nursing and social work are growing in popularity, Englebert said. At the graduate level, the Master of Public Administration degree and the doctorate in educational leadership remain high enrolling programs.

At any given time, Appalachian has 75-100 different cohorts in its distance education programs.

The quality of online and hybrid courses is just as high as other courses taught at Appalachian, Englebert said.

"When creating these programs, we knew we wanted to do it well and with high quality. The faculty teaching these courses are the same as who teach on the main campus, and our Learning Technology Services department can apply national standards to review online courses to make sure there is a lot of interaction built in between students and faculty. We encourage faculty developing online courses to take advantage of this service."