Schenectady County Community College moved its associate degree program in criminal justice fully online this spring, and there are plans to transition three more programs online by next year.
The 61-credit criminal justice program marks SCCC’s first online degree program. Acting President Martha Asselin said she is looking to push online learning at the college to boost enrollment.
“We started offering our first online course in the fall of 1988 and we have been looking at the growth,” Asselin said. “This is helping to better meet the needs of the workforce in the state and globally as well. It’s also helping us expand our enrollment, which then brings in additional revenue for the college.”
Asselin, who was named acting president following former President Quintin Bullock’s departure last month, said the focus on online learning comes following State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s launch of Open SUNY in January — a collaboration between SUNY’s 64 campuses that offers courses and degrees online.
By next year, SCCC is looking to also offer its associate degree in business administration and certificate programs in criminal justice and business management online. Asselin said there is increased demand for those programs online because a majority of students enrolled are part-time or over the age of 21.
“For many students, they are looking for quick solutions that are conducive to their work environments and family lives,” Asselin said. “They are also looking for something more affordable. It all falls in line with this Open SUNY initiative. Students are coming from other counties, states and countries. We’re making it more global and it gives more recognition for the program itself.”
Last year 28 percent of students in the criminal justice associate degree program were part time; 47 percent were more than 21 years old and continuing their education, Asselin said. The new online program has a 28-student cap, and it is currently at full capacity. SCCC has a total enrollment of 6,600.
Peter Shea, associate provost for online learning at the University at Albany, said online degree programs are a great way to provide access for students who cannot attend classes on campus.
“The mission of community colleges really is about extending access to students who might not be able to attend classes on a college campus,” he said. “So there is good alignment between the goals of online learning and the missions of community colleges. The bottom lime is it will be a matter of choice for students and the research shows that well-designed online courses can be as good or even better than classroom courses.”
About 30 percent of higher education students nationwide have enrolled in at least one online course and 38 percent of students enrolled in college are over the age of 25, according to SUNY. Open SUNY has 12,000 online courses offered across all of SUNY’s campuses.
SCCC also offers a bachelor’s degree program in Criminal Justice through a partnership with SUNY Delhi. The program enables students who complete the online associate program to continue their education in the field with a four-year degree. The courses are taught by faculty from both institutions.
“Students will choose the format, whether online or classroom, based on their needs,” Shea said. “Even students who are younger may have other life commitments that makes getting to campus more difficult. So even at a young age, someone may have a work schedule that makes it hard to take courses in the classroom.”
SCCC recently completed a facilities master plan to identify future projects. Asselin said aside from moving several programs online, the main focus of the master plan is enhancing SCCC’s current science programs and labs.
“We want to keep up with technology and programs in the [science, technology, engineering and math] fields,” Asselin said. We did a five-year plan in 2010, so next year we will start looking at our next strategic plan. A new science building is part of that feasibility study. We are currently making renovations to our science labs as well.”
Asselin said some science courses could be moved online as well as the college’s communications major, which was just recently introduced on campus.
“I’m hoping to increase the number of students online and maintain the number of students coming to campus. That is our main goal,” she said. “In this day and age, we have to think outside the box and bring educational opportunities directly to the individuals.”
But will online degree programs replace brick-and-mortar institutions? Shea says that is highly unlikely.
“Innovations do not fully replace what preceded them, typically,” he said. “For example, television did not replace radio. Online learning will not replace college campuses. Online learning simply provides a new way for students to succeed in their educational careers.”