Distance education: UNCP is emerging as a leader


The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is going the distance taking higher education to students in its region and beyond.

Five years ago, distance education was something somebody else did. Today, UNCP is a leading provider in North Carolina of online courses and courses at its satellite campuses. The rapid growth shows no signs of slowing down.

distance_ed_1.jpgAt a recent UNC distance education forum, data from 2004-05 and rankings for the 16 member universities were released. UNCP is the third most productive provider of distance education in the UNC system, trailing only East Carolina University and North Carolina State University.

For 2005-06, tentative enrollment data indicates continued acceleration. In the 2004-05 academic year, UNCP enrolled 3,259 students (unduplicated headcount) in distance education courses, and in 2005-06, the University had an estimated enrollment of 5,396, an increase of 65.6 percent.

Distance education enrollment is defined as all students enrolled in one or more online courses or courses in off-campus classrooms. These students may also be enrolled in traditional classes at the Pembroke campus.


Charles Harrington

With the goal of taking higher education to students, the growth of distance education is making education accessible to more North Carolinians than ever, said Dr. Charles Harrington, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UNCP.

“With distance education programming, we are extending the reach of the University beyond our traditional service area,” Dr. Harrington said. “As a result, we are making a college education possible for many North Carolinians that otherwise would never have been able to think such a thing possible,”

“As we look to the future, we will continue to develop and implement quality online courses and programs that compliment the mission of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke,” he added.

UNCP trails two much larger universities, but is well ahead of its nearest neighbor in the region. Fayetteville State University reported enrollment of 1,831 students in distance education courses for 2004-05.


Collie Coleman

In unveiling the new rankings, Dr. Collie Coleman, associate vice chancellor for Continuing Education, noted the strong growth potential for distance education in the future at UNCP.

“As a regional University supported by the taxpayers, our obligation is to reach out to as many students as possible who may be unable to come to our campus because of jobs, family responsibilities or other obstacles,” Dr. Coleman said. “I have tried to build on a solid foundation, but it is really our faculty who should get the credit for the growth and quality of our programs.”

“We have made a concentrated effort to move distance education into the mainstream of University life and into the fabric of academic life – that is the teaching and learning process,” Dr. Coleman said. “Higher education is rethinking its mission at a time when technology and demand are available, and we are moving quickly to meet demand.”


distance_ed_2.jpgUNC EYES A PRIZE

In speeches across North Carolina, new UNC President Erskine Bowles has noted the potential of Distance Education.

“One of the best opportunities we have is expanding our distance education effort,” President Bowles told The Daily Tar Heel for a May 18 article. “I think it can be a definite revenue source, and I don’t have any qualms about it.”

The 16 UNC campuses delivered 90 online degrees and an enrollment of 33,000 students in distance education courses, up from 6,929 in 1999. Bowles believes that UNC can capture a larger share of the global distance education market.

The market for online programs and courses is booming. A recent report noted that the University of Phoenix, an online university, had an enrollment of 311,000.

President Bowles believes that improved coordination and marketing could make UNC universities a global force in distance learning.

“It will enable us to reach out internationally, and I think we’ll be able to take advantage of our great brand that we have,” Bowles said in a speech on June 9 that was reported in the Durham Herald-Sun.


At UNCP academic programs that are able to offer online courses are benefiting. For instance, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program may be completed totally online. This increased flexibility has helped it to grow into the largest graduate program at the University.

The MPA program offered six online classes in the 2005 fall semester, with 164 students enrolled, said Dr. Nicholas Giannatasio, chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

“We’ve experienced a five-fold enrollment growth in the past four years, which is phenomenal,” Dr. Giannatasio said. “Distance education has brought us students from all over the region and state.

“We’re launching an emergency management concentration within the program, and we expect students from all over the nation,” he said. “We are meeting a need.”


Enrollment at UNCP’s satellite campuses has also grown quickly since 1999. The addition of four classrooms and offices on Fort Bragg beginning in the 2005 fall semester should lift enrollment even higher.

UNCP’s largest satellite campuses are on the outer reaches of the region it serves, at Sandhills and Richmond Community Colleges and on Ft. Bragg. UNCP faculty also travel to Montgomery, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Scotland, Sampson and Anson counties and to nearby Lumberton.

Sandhills, located in Southern Pines, N.C., is one of UNCP’s busiest satellite campuses. Rebecca Roberts is the local coordinator.

“We are growing in programs and numbers at Sandhills,” Roberts said. “Our biggest accomplishment is the growth of graduate programs. Right now, we are offering Master’s of Education programs in three areas, reading, school administration and elementary education.”

UNCP is seeking to enroll new cohorts or groups of students to begin an MBA program, Roberts said. Fifty graduate students earned degrees in May 2004 and approximately 70 were enrolled in graduate education programs last fall.

On the undergraduate side, UNCP offers nursing and business courses at Sandhills. Seven nurses earned their Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees in December 2005, and 10 nurses are enrolled in a cohort that started in fall 2005.

“Fall 2005 was our largest ever enrollment with 170 students at SCC,” Roberts said.

UNCP’s satellite campus coordinators offer services from registration assistance to bookstore services. Julie Layne serves in that role at Richmond Community College.

“One of the biggest success stories here is how we serve the region in education, through the online courses and the off-campus sites,” Layne said.  “When we first began the undergraduate elementary education program at Richmond, we thought we would be helping teacher assistants in getting certified, and we are. We are also assisting lateral entry teachers who are clearing the coursework for their certificates.”

The number of programs at Richmond has grown, and the location helps UNCP reach out to even more distant counties, Layne said.

“The Master’s of School Administration (MSA) cohort began in spring 2005 and was greeted with great enthusiasm here and in Anson County,” she said. “When we first began at the RCC site in 1996, we were approved for business administration and sociology. We are now approved for undergraduate majors in business administration, sociology, criminal justice and elementary education and the MBA and MSA graduate programs.”


UNCP won approval to utilize four classrooms at Ft. Bragg in 2005. Dr. Coleman said the University has set aggressive goals for enrollment on a growing military base.

“Our ambition is to have 1,000 students on Ft. Bragg within three years and 5,000 students in 10 years,” Dr. Coleman said. “I believe we will do it. Our challenge is to build courses and programs flexible enough for 21st century military careers.”

UNCP has added staff and services in support of its distance education programs, including a librarian, an online course designer and a 24-hour helpdesk for students taking online courses.

“Dr. (Charles) Tita, director of Distance Education, his staff and our satellite campus coordinators are to be commended for their dedication and effective work,” Dr. Coleman said.

“For the future, we must push the envelope for the delivery of high quality education,” Dr. Tita said. “Our satellite program coordinators are extremely dedicated to delivering personalized services to our students. That’s why we have been so successful.”

Distance education at UNCP is one of two operational units that make up
the Office for Outreach. The other is the Regional Center for Economic, Community, and Professional Development. Distance education courses and programs are for academic credit. Certificate and professional development programs offered through the Regional Center are for non-academic credit but may earn continuing education credits.