By Tierney Gallagher
The Master of Human Resource Development, Master of Science in Youth Development Leadership, and Master of Science in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management have recently increased enrollment and added additional students to their programs.
The MHRD program has almost doubled admissions, enrolling 75 this year from last year's 40 students. The youth development leadership program has added a second cohort for this spring to expand enrollment. The PRTM program was new this past fall, enrolling 16 students and adding four more to begin this spring.
These three programs are based online and designed so that students do not have to come to campus to obtain their degree. They are aimed at new or current working professionals looking to further their education with a master's degree.
Who are online students?
Due to the online accessibility, students in the programs can study from anywhere. Students in the youth development leadership program connect from states across the country and countries all over the world, including Canada, Brazil and Ireland.
"Because we're online, this appeals to the working professional," said Dr. William Quinn, program director for the youth development leadership program. "They don't have to move to campus, pick up their family or leave their job. They can engage in activities in their community but still pursue a graduate degree."
While the programs are offered online, students still have the advantage of a face-to-face learning experience and participate in interactive group activities through the use of technology. "There is an emphasis on helping students feel engaged in interacting with each other on a regular basis weekly and in real time using the synchronous technology," Quinn said.
Students also benefit from the added experience brought to the courses by their classmates. The students that participate in these programs are working professionals and are able to learn a lot from each other,as well as the instructors.
"This particular model lends itself to a high level of learning and quality coursework delivery because the students are all working professionals and share a lot of their experiences with each other," Quinn said. "They are sharing the challenges that they've faced and how they've overcome those challenges, or what the current issues are that they sense need attention."
Dr. Barbara Hoskins, assistant dean of distance education, also feels that online students gain something from their interaction with peers. "Adult students may have experiences beyond what faculty have sometimes because they're out working in business and industry, parks and recreation, or nursing or wherever they are, so they can share their current real life experiences back into the class and enrich the content and discussion," Hoskins said.
Benefits of online education
Online or distance education has appeared to be a growing trend over recent years. According to Hoskins, one-third of students nationally take at least one online course, whether they are enrolled in online degree programs or traditional face-to-face programs.
Technological advances have made online learning more available and more sophisticated so that there are more opportunities for students and a higher demand for online programs.
Hoskins attributes the expanding enrollment in these online programs to advances in technology. "I think it's a combination of being comfortable with the technology and reaching out to students who are place bound, who can't put life on hold and move to a campus," she said.
Students are attracted to these programs because of their convenience and flexibility, made possible by technology. "They can continue with their family, work and community responsibilities and still get that education," Hoskins said.
Students can access online programs in a convenient way that fits with their already existing lifestyle. "The students have a high degree of satisfaction with the program because it's challenging, they can learn a lot,but it can be done in the context of their own life circumstances," Quinn said.
Another factor contributing to the expansion is the cost-effectiveness of online programs. These programs not only cut costs for the university, but also the students as well. "Some students find it more economically viable for them to take online classes because they don't have to leave a job in order to go back to school," Quinn said.
Online but not missing out
Aside from the convenience and savings, online students are not compromising the quality in their education. According to Quinn, students receive the same degree of instruction whether on or off campus.
"Clemson University has high expectations for instructional quality that holds with the online programs," he said. "Faculty are expected to teach at the same high level of quality as any faculty who's teaching a course on campus where students come to the classroom. Online faculty are not only held to the same standards and requirements, but are also expected to live up to the expectations from students who are working professionals."
Reaching out & enhancing at home
While online education appeals to students for a variety of reasons, it is also beneficial from the university perspective. Discovering new ways to teach and interact with students without being in the same room has affected learning both online and on campus.
"Because we're rethinking how we teach in an online environment, a lot of those new strategies are now migrating back to the face-to-face environment and are enriching the instruction in the more traditional classroom," Hoskins said.
Online programs also help Clemson to reach students it might not normally on campus alone. "It enables us to take education beyond the campus borders," Hoskins said. "We are a land grant university tasked with serving the communities, and in this global world our communities get further and further apart."
Through online education, Clemson has the opportunity to serve both new students and alumni in the workforce, or people who may be interested in such programs but are not nearby. "There may not be enough mass in upstate South Carolina to support a specific program, such as PRTM, but by reaching out online you can support programs and take all this quality education to where your targets are," Hoskins said.