Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Online enrollment grows at Rio Salado

Ready for college? Looking for additional education so you can get promoted or start a new career? There’s a good chance you’ll be taking class from the comfort of your home.

Online education is no longer the new kid on the block but has become a popular way of gaining an education. So popular that enrollment grew by nearly 14% from 2007 to 2008 at Rio Salado College. And in the last six years online education has grown by a whopping 39% at the college.

“There’s been a fundamental shift in the perception and availability in online education,” Vernon Smith, Rio Salado College Dean of Teaching and Learning said.

“People are increasingly comfortable with online technology. They do their banking, shopping and even their dating online,” Smith said.

“I can foresee the day when students will board the light rail and complete a lesson or do their homework on the way to work," said Smith, who admits in the future wireless Internet connections with public access will make online education even more accessible for students.

It was 12 years ago in 1996 when Rio Salado, a pioneer in the field, offered its first online classes. The college began its first semester with less than 500 students. One semester later online enrollment had tripled and has continued to grow to more than 30,000.

And while enrollment has slowed or even declined in many traditional classrooms online enrollment at Rio Salado continues to grow.

Lured by the convenience of attending class where and when they want it, students are signing up in increasing numbers convinced they are receiving the same quality of education without the hassle of a classroom.

“Online learning overcomes the barriers of parking, time and transportation,” Smith said. “Online classes fit a student’s schedule and don’t force the students to meet the schedule of the class.”

“Those barriers that would have been a problem have been overcome. Rio’s online classes have developed a reputation for excellence and with our online support system students are no longer fearful,” Smith said.

“We really have an incredible support system.” Smith said. “We have free tutoring, and technical help as well as RioLearn, our state-of-the art course delivery system,” he said.

Most colleges vary widely on their online delivery as it's based on each individual instructor.

RioLearn is used for all of Rio Salado’s classes.

“Once you’ve done a class with us you don’t have to relearn the path to success,” Smith said.

Arizona Army National Guard Spc. Neah Ndiaye said Rio Salado’s online classes are great because she can access them while travelling with the military. Ndiaye hopes to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It works very well for us,” she said adding that RioLearn is “very user-friendly.”

Katie Shotwell, 22, likes Rio Salado’s online classes and wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies.

“I like it because I have two kids,” she said. “It’s easy for me to work and do classes.

“The speed is pretty fast. It’s easy to navigate RioLearn,” Shotwell added.

She said she believes there is “more credibility” to online colleges now than several years ago.

Jennifer Heiser, 27, is taking Rio Salado classes in hopes of later earning a degree in non-profit management.

“I definitely get things done much faster online compared with in-person classes,” Heiser said.

And as new technology become available Rio Salado, known for being an innovator in education, keeps pace.

“We have explored utilizing mobile technology for a variety of processes at the college including registration via text messaging, flash cards on cell phones, course components on cell phones, threaded discussion, instant messaging, chats, and certainly, virtual reality,” Rio Salado College Vice President Karen Mills said.

Rio Salado College is one of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges. The college offers degrees and career and technical certificates in business, computer technology, early childhood and teacher education, healthcare, law enforcement and more. For registration or more information call 480-517-8540 or go to www.riosalado.edu/registration.