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Local colleges see ‘bright future’ with web courses

With the start of the new semester, Dakota Wesleyan University has already met a goal for its online programs -- one it didn't expect to surpass until 2020.

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A screen grab of Dakota Wesleyan University's Online & Adult Students section page of their website.

With the start of the new semester, Dakota Wesleyan University has already met a goal for its online programs - one it didn't expect to surpass until 2020.

This spring semester, a total of 204 online students were enrolled into Wesleyan's four fully online programs. This is up nearly 150 students from fall 2013, when the campus introduced its first online program, according to Fredel Thomas, DWU's dean of admissions.

When administrators first began looking at the "growing market" for adult learners in online programs, they decided they'd like to see 200 students online by 2020.

That goal was reached three years earlier than expected. In fall 2016, the enrollment sat at 192, looming near the college's 200-student goal. But it finally breached the 200-student mark this spring semester. And seeing this growth not just every year, but each semester is "really, really positive," Thomas said.

"When we set out on that mission and set that goal, we had a plan on how we were going there and as opportunities arose, we were moving forward through the plan," Thomas said. "It just allowed us to keep jumping those numbers."

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In 2013, the university kicked off its first two online programs: the master of business administration and a program for registered nurses (R.N.) to acquire a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

The MBA program has seen a lot of success, Thomas said, and has been nationally ranked as one of the best, most recently by the U.S. News and World Report, but also from the Board of Commissioners of the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education and GetEducated.com.

The online nursing program has consistently boasted strong numbers since its start in 2013, enrolling more than 280 students and seeing 135 students graduate from the program.

Thomas said the university started these programs after seeing adult learners wanting to advance their degree, but still work full time.

"We saw this market and said, 'Let's devise this program,' " Thomas said. "We try to make it very applicable to what they're doing in their lives and try to help them grow."

While one of Mitchell's two secondary institutions is seeing steady growth in its online programs, the other has seen consistent numbers in the past four years.

Mitchell Technical Institute offers five online programs through open enrollment. And according to Julie Brookbank, associate to the president at MTI, the school has steadily seen approximately 90 students for the past four or five years. This year, the current online enrollment for Mitchell Tech is at 86.

The average number of graduates per year, since the start of online programs in 2014, is approximately 30, Brookbank said, with a total of 93 graduates so far.

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Both Brookbank and Thomas said the reason for the growing success of online programs is the flexibility and convenience that's offered.

"A lot of the students that we enroll online just simply have barriers to taking off from their life and enrolling in a school," Brookbank said. "It might be because of job commitments. It might be geographic, where they live or maybe they have kids in school and can't pick up their life and move to where the college or tech school is located."

Looking ahead

Since Dakota Wesleyan already surpassed its 2020 goal, Thomas said the school is already look at what's next.

"The future is very bright for online programs," Thomas said.

Thomas said the university will be looking at what the most need is in the region and reevaluating what the school's next goal should look like. She added that the school doesn't want to just keep moving forward, but really invest into the programs.

As for Mitchell Tech, Brookbank said there are no specific plans to launch any new online programs, but said the school is always looking at options for existing programs that could move to "hybrid delivery" or 100 percent online. Hybrid delivery, according to Brookbank, is a combination of online and face-to-face interactions.

Even though Brookbank said Mitchell Tech is not looking at expanding any online programs right now, she said they hope the interest will continue to grow.

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"One of the things that have been our benefit in our programs is our dedicated online instructors," Brookbank said. " ... We like the idea that we're able to offer these programs with dedicated online faculty. It gives students a much richer experience."

(Daily Republic Illustration)
(Daily Republic Illustration)

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