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In 2006, the Title III – Distance Learning team began making plans for offering student services online. There were a number of key factors driving this decision. First, there is the issue of accreditation. As distance learning becomes a more integral aspect of education, it is garnering greater attention from accrediting bodies (in our case, SACS – the Southern Association of Schools & Colleges). SACS mandates that, “students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the programs.” For this reason (and the fact that we are up for reaffirmation in 2009-2010) inspired us to look closely at developing online services, accessible to all of our students (and not just online students).
But, we believe that the more compelling reason to begin exploration of online services is because it’s the right thing to do. First, the number of DL students is increasing all the time. So, yes, we need to give them access to the same services that all students who come to campus can access. True, a great many of our DL students come to campus anyway, which leads us to the second reason for developing online services. Our students are changing. This may be a rural community, but a great many of our students are exhibiting many of the characteristics that define the so-called millennial generation. One of these traits is a blurring of time and space. Students (of all ages, really) are not space bound (i.e. learning takes place as much off campus as on), nor are they time bound (i.e. just because the class or day is over does not mean that they don’t want access to the college at any time they have a free moment, no matter what time it is).
Finally, we are driven by cold, hard facts. Through grades and attrition, the numbers tells us that our students need a broad support net to ensure their success in class, and throughout the whole college experience. Therefore, we are working hard to develop and put online services for tutoring, counseling, career coaching, and financial aid assistance.