New online, low-cost GenEd classes at University of Akron blend online, experiential learning.

online-akronMore than 620 students at the University of Akron (UA) have signed up to take at least one of its new online, discounted GenEd Core classes. The classes involve a blend of online, classroom and experiential learning.

UA designed the program to increase college affordability and help reverse a trend of declining enrollment, which fell to 25,865 last fall. It also was seen as a way to compete with community colleges for students.

“The initial goal was 500 and we topped that,” said Todd Rickel, vice provost and executive dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology.

UA is offering six classes for $50 a credit hour, not including fees, a major reduction from the usual $359 for undergraduate students at the main campus.
The courses range from sociology to basic statistics to Earth science.

It’s unclear right now whether UA attracted any students who otherwise wouldn’t have come to the school without the GenEd Core classes.

Rickel said the university will survey students about why they are participating once school begins.

UA records show:
•45 percent of the students enrolled were freshmen, while 22 percent were sophomores. Thirty-two percent were juniors, seniors and fifth-year undergraduates.
•25 percent were transfers from other institutions.
•77 percent are taking just one class.

Marine Cpl. Michael Nunez, 20, who’s stationed in South Carolina but is from Norton, is one of the students who signed up for English Composition.

He plans to enroll at UA and study aerospace engineering after his military service. He praised the school for offering the classes and said they fit with his current schedule.

“They are great and low cost,” Nunez said. “It’s a great, great thing they got going.”

John Zipp, the president of the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the school must hold off before declaring the GenEd Core program a success.

“The real question is: Are there people coming here for this who wouldn’t be here?” he asked. “We really can’t judge it until we know that.”

If there aren’t, then the school is simply “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by having students take less expensive courses, he said.

Zipp added that the school needs to do an assessment of student performance, as well.

Zipp also questioned why the school pushed the program through so quickly. It will likely lose money this year and UA should have waited a year to promote it and recruit more students.

“Why do that and add to your financial challenges?” he asked.

Rickel said the university wants significant communication between faculty and students in GenEd classes.

“We want students to do more than just have a passive learning experience,” he said. “Good learning is never passive. Good online learning isn’t passive. Good learning is engaging.”

Senior instructor Mark Fridline, who will teach the statistics class and has taught an online class at UA in the past, said he expects online learning will keep growing as an option as more students are exposed to technology in their lives.

But he also cautioned that “not all students will do well in an online environment.” The students who perform the best are self-motivated and work well independently, he said.

“The in-classroom experience will never go away,” he said.

©2015 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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