Approval sought for 5 online degrees

7:57:00 AM CDT - Thursday, March 01, 2007

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

WSU has submitted a request to the Higher Learning Commission, which is scheduled to make an accreditation visit later this month, for approval to offer five degree programs completely online.

If approved, students would have the option of completing coursework online for the bachelor's degree in nursing or master's degrees in gerontology, criminal justice, curriculum and instruction and later the master of arts in teaching.

"We're starting with departments that are far enough along (in offering online classes) to go the route" of offering the entire degree program online, said Nancy McCarthy Snyder, the associate vice president for academic affairs and research who has been spearheading WSU's reaccreditation process.

WSU has to ask the HLC's permission to offer a degree program completely online because it is considered "an institutional change," according to Snyder.

The HLC accreditation team will spend part of its site visit at WSU March 26-28 looking into whether the university can ensure the learning experience a student would receive in an online program would be equivalent to that in a classroom, Snyder said.

If approved, the nursing, gerontology and curriculum and instruction programs would begin during the next academic year. The target date for the criminal justice program would be fall 2008.

The department of curriculum and instruction hasn't started the process for getting university and Board of Regents approval for the master's of teaching online degree so a beginning date isn't set for that program.

There is a growing need for online degree options in the four programs WSU plans to start in the next couple of years.

The major factor is that students in the nursing, criminal justice and education programs are already employed in those career fields, so the online degree options will make it easier to complete their degrees while still working.

The need for gerontology will increase as the numbers of aging Americans rise, so offering an online degree option will help increase enrollment and qualified graduates to handle issues related to aging.

According to the request sent to the HLC in preparation for its visit, WSU is not looking to offer more degrees online "because extensive distance degrees are not part of its strategic plan at the present time."

WSU will spend the next couple of years determining if there's enough student, faculty and employer interest in developing more such programs, the proposal said.

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