U.S. News and World Report has recognized Fort Hays State University for its online course offerings.
And at Kansas University, officials are looking to bolster the number of online classes offered with an emphasis on adding more degree programs.
“Online learning is fast becoming an integral part of all education, whether for K-12 students, higher ed seekers or adult learners. It is innovative, efficient and sometimes effective,” wrote Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News and World Report in a section explaining why the magazine decided to debut the new online rankings this year. “With our first annual rankings of the Top Online Education Programs, we’re giving consumers a clearer picture of the scope and quality of this important education sector.”
Fort Hays State, which has long been invested in distance education, was the only Kansas school to be mentioned in the rankings. Its bachelor’s degree programs were ranked second nationally, and three graduate programs — a business MBA, a master’s in nursing and a master’s in education — received rankings of distinction.
Bachelor’s programs were evaluated according to three criteria: teaching practices and student engagement; student services and technology; and faculty credentials and training. Graduate programs were also evaluated in a fourth category: admissions selectivity.
“Our mission is to serve western Kansas,” said FHSU President Ed Hammond. “In doing that, we’ve been delivering courses at a distance since 1910, 1915.”
At first, FHSU faculty traveled the state, then transitioned into two-way video and then into online education shortly thereafter, he said.
Today the university enrolls 4,504 students in its Virtual College.
Hammond said the university has invested in faculty that can teach both online and in the traditional classroom, as well as providing student services such as advising and career placement for its online students, to help its programs achieve success.
He said the program also seeks to keep costs low: tuition rates for the fall are at $174 per credit hour for an undergraduate.
Sara Rosen, KU’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, said KU is looking to expand the number of degree programs it offers online. In the past, the university mostly offered individual courses online, without a focus on specific degree programs.
“Our priority will be to create degree programs going forward,” she said.
Among the first-priority degree programs will be a bachelor of general studies degree designed as a sort of “two-plus-two” program for students who have completed two years at a community college, Rosen said.
KU does offer a few degrees through distance learning and online today, including an online master’s degree program in special education that debuted this fall, Rosen said.
KU formed a new Center for Online and Distance Learning in May, and it will soon move to Budig Hall, Rosen said. There, it will be in a centralized on-campus location and will be able to coordinate with KU’s Blackboard course management system that’s in use in many of the university’s regular classes.
“It will serve as a service center,” Rosen said of the center, providing technical support for faculty wanting to develop online courses, as well as a place that imparts the best teaching strategies.