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Archive for Monday, March 27, 2006

Regents’ AccessUS program a slow-go

Few takers so far for long-distance learning

March 27, 2006

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It was billed as a way to bring higher education to residents of western Kansas. But three years after its inception, the Kansas Board of Regents' AccessUS program is struggling.

"It's a hard sell right now," said Jim Groth, director of virtual college off-campus centers at Fort Hays State University. "We're finding that there just doesn't seem to be much response for the programs that we're offering."

Though home to several regents community colleges, the southwestern portion of Kansas lacks any public four-year schools. AccessUS was meant to fill in some of the gaps by allowing students with associate's degrees to take general, technology and nursing classes through interactive television, teleconferencing and other long-distance methods.

Last fall, the program served 47 students. It's not quite what organizers expected when they launched the program.

"There was the assumption among a number of people that there was a great demand for this that was not being met," Regent Janice DeBauge said.

Perhaps not.

"Part of the problem is convincing much of the population that this is important for their future," DeBauge said. And that starts with convincing residents that they should attend community college first, she said.

Duane Dunn is president of Seward County Community College and chair of the Western Kansas Education Compact, which manages the program. He couldn't say what the problem has been.

"We've been chugging along making our best efforts," Groth said. "Realistically, it just hasn't been working out."

But organizers have determined it's too early to give up.

"It's just really getting started," DeBauge said. "It's just ready to take off. Whether it will ever be huge numbers, I don't know."

DeBauge said the program hadn't used much money.

"The $200,000 a year certainly hasn't been spent," she said, referring to the project's annual budget.

Program officials are considering offering a degree in education with emphasis on English as a Second Language training. They also want to improve marketing and advertising, and let students know that scholarships are available.

"I'm optimistic that it will work, but I'm not going to sit here and say to you it will definitely work," Fort Hays State Provost Larry Gould said. "I think we need to give it another year or two."

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