By JORDAN BRADLEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Michigan Community College Association, or MCCA, is working on a system that will give people students in remote areas of Michigan access to all online online courses available at community colleges in the state.
Residents in sprawling Michigan’s sprawling areas, like much of the Upper Peninsula, have larger distances to travel to reach a community college’s campus.
“Fifty percent of the land mass in Michigan is not in a community college district—that means within 30 to 40 miles,” Michael Hansen, president of the MCCA, said.
According to Connect Michigan Inc., a non-profit dedicated to increasing Internet quality and access for residents in rural areas, 643,000 households are either without access to broadband Internet services or with access to slower upload speeds.
However, since 2011, there has been a 60 percent increase in access to broadband Internet that has a minimum download speed of 100 megabits per second.
While the association has been promoting a virtual learning collaborative since the early 1990s, it’s revamping the collaborative to better serve students. With a new name, stronger online tools and the same purpose, Michigan College Online, or MCO, association will beef up existing online courses and organization to offer students distance learning, Hansen said.
Previously called the Michigan Community College Virtual Learning Collaborative, the rebranding will mean a “student-centric focus,” Jeff Blumenthal, director of learning technology at Alpena Community College, said.
As part of the changes, MCCA is developing a widget that moves online course registration to one website that has access to all courses available at a Michigan community college, creating a “course repository,” Hansen said.
A widget is an application that uses a small portion of an existing website to display information hosted by other web pages.
When online classes fill at their college, students can immediately see openings in the same course at other schools.
With advances in technology web pages that are accessible with tables and smartphones, the quality of online courses has drastically improved since the program’s inception, he said.
“The whole concept fills gaps for students,” Blumenthal said. “If a course isn’t offered during a semester at one community college, a student can find the course online at another college and stay on track to get his or her degree.”
Hansen said, it will also be able to tell students how many classes they need to complete their degree, which will lead to better guidance overall.
The MCO has three tuition rates: in-district, out-of-district and out-of-state.
The in-district tuition of $160 per credit hour applies to residents of any community college district. The out-of-district and out-of-state tuition cost $230 and $300 per hour respectively.
Students who are out of district, but live in Michigan will pay the $230 per contact rate.
These rates apply only to courses taken outside the student’s home college.
Michigan College Online will also benefit professors by allowing them to share teaching modules.
“A good online program is interactive,” Hansen said. “Faculty members will be able to share lectures and use the best teaching modules available.”
Hansen said the widget is being tested and he expects it to be running for the spring 2015 semester.
By JORDAN BRADLEY