As Penn State’s World Campus
marks its 10th anniversary,
online enrollments continue to grow
By Deborah A. Benedetti and Jenna Spinelle
D istance learning at Penn State began in 1892 with correspondence courses delivered by Rural Free Delivery. As technologies for delivering education evolved, so did Penn State’s strategies to extend education to more people. In 1998, the University launched the online Penn State World Campus, expanding its reach worldwide.
From just 41 students, the World Campus has grown to more than 5,000 students worldwide, plus an additional 2,000 students who are enrolled at a Penn State campus and are simultaneously enrolled in the World Campus. Online enrollments are continuing to increase by more than 25 percent annually. The World Campus has been recognized as one of the 10 largest online learning campuses, featuring one of the largest and most diverse online learning portfolios in the nation, with 62 credit and noncredit programs and nearly 700 courses.
Nationally, online enrollments have been growing: Nearly 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course in fall 2006, compared with 3.2 million students in 2005, according to the Sloan Consortium, which aims to help learning organizations improve the quality and breadth of their online programs.
“The drivers of growth in online learning
are accelerating,” said Dr. Ken Udas, World Campus executive director. Factors influencing this growth include increasing acceptance of online learning within the higher education community, as well as workforce needs in today’s global economy.
Vice President for Outreach Dr. Craig Weidemann attributes the success of the World Campus to its integration into the University. “The World Campus works in partnership with the academic colleges to extend undergraduate and graduate degrees and professional certificate programs—all taught by Penn State faculty—to adult learners who otherwise do not have access to a Penn State education,” he said. Many of these adult learners are juggling multiple roles and are drawn to the fact that they can complete their course work anytime, anywhere.
The following stories from a few of the faculty and students participating in the World Campus help illustrate Weidemann’s point:
A.J. Turgeon—Turfgrass Management
One of Penn State’s first online programs, turfgrass management remains popular, according to its creator Dr. A. J. Turgeon.
“When I saw the Web and I saw what you could do, I thought, ‘That’s the future of education,’” Turgeon said. By 1996, he had all of his case studies for Turfgrass 403 on the Web, so he was ready to go when the World Campus launched.
In 2006, the Sloan Consortium named Turgeon’s courses the Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program.
Robert Cherry—Public Health Preparedness
Dr. Robert A. Cherry likes the convenience of the online education format and believes it’s ideal for educating emergency planners.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cherry was working as the trauma director at Lincoln Hospital in New York City. His experiences inspired him to develop a program that could teach emergency planners not only how to plan for terrorist and natural disasters, but also how to make these plans adaptable so that people can respond to the unexpected.
When Cherry joined Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center as trauma program medical director for the Penn State Shock Trauma Center, he worked with his Penn State College of Medicine team to make the online Master of Homeland Security in Public Health Preparedness program a reality. It is the only one of its kind in the nation from a medical school.
Since its launch, response has been overwhelming, reports Cherry, with the number of applicants doubling in a two-year span.
Barbara Sims—Criminal Justice
Barbara Sims knows what it’s like to be an adult student, having juggled multiple roles herself as mother, worker and student. She began college at age 34 and earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees while raising three children. After joining the criminal justice department at Penn State Harrisburg, Sims led an effort to create an online criminal justice degree program that mirrors the campus’ resident education program.
Sims, who was the recipient of last year’s Faculty Outreach Award, enjoys teaching and interacting with students online and currently is developing another course for online delivery. “I told the instructional designer with whom I’m working: ‘Teach me how to use the latest technology, because I want to expose our students to up-to-date techniques,’” said Sims.
Brian White—Disaster Preparedness
Adult student Brian White is an example of someone who likes the flexibility of online learning. When the New York City fire chief wanted to attain new knowledge and skills to advance his career, he chose Penn State’s online Graduate Certificate in Disaster Preparedness, because it would allow him to continue to fight fires.
White’s love of firefighting began when he was 8 and got to sit on a fire truck. However, after 25 years as a firefighter, he wants to take his career in a new direction—working behind the scenes to make sure New York is ready for large-scale emergencies.
White said, “I want to be one of the people at the forefront of making sure we are ready for another attack.” White was one of the first students to complete the program in spring 2007.
Stacy Bryan—Law and Society
Stacy Bryan, a deli owner in north Idaho ski country and mother of two young children, also chose online learning because of its convenience. “Legal problems always come up [at the deli],” Bryan said. That’s what led to her interest in studying law; but like White, she wanted to learn more about legal issues impacting small businesses without having to trade her customers for a classroom. “Taking classes online is really helpful, because I can take a lighter load during ski season and then double up in the off-season.”
As part of her online Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society
program, Bryan participated in a credit internship—a World Campus first. Since attending Idaho Supreme Court cases and job-shadowing a local attorney, Bryan is considering attending law school after completing her Penn State degree.
Abigail Caldwell—Special Education
For Abigail Caldwell of Boalsburg, Pa., the World Campus made it possible for her to get her dream job. After working as therapeutic staff support with children on the autism spectrum, Caldwell realized she really wanted to become a teacher so she could do more to help these children. “I enjoy working with children with autism because of the wide range of functioning levels you find in these kids,” Caldwell said.
She talked with her supervisor, who recommended Penn State’s online Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis for Special Education (ABA). Caldwell enrolled and completed her course work and supervised training just in time to apply for and get a teaching position at the NHS Autism School in State College. Caldwell credits her experiences working with children on the autism spectrum and “the classes I took through the World Campus ABA program.”