Online classes, meant for relief, have own hurdles

Pedro Kim has yet to begin his student development class. The course is almost entirely online, and while the rest of his students were almost one week into their school routine at Glendale Community College, Kim is being left behind.

"I haven't had the orientation yet," he said Friday. "I can't log on until we've had [that]."

The mandatory face-to-face orientation and classroom final that are required for all classes have stymied Glendale Community College officials as they look for new ways to reach students through online courses, while easing the overcrowding issues of having so many bodies on the campus.

The regulations have drawn scrutiny and become an object of scorn among some college board trustees, administrators, students and faculty members who see it as a strait jacket.

"It defeats the purpose of an online class," said Janet Shamilian, president of student government and the student trustee. "I don't see the reasoning behind it. I've heard from students they'd rather have it be totally online."

Demand for entirely online classes continues to surge, but the mandatory orientation and a hiring freeze have capped Glendale Community College's capability to grow student enrollment through the World Wide Web.

"It all has this synergy together that makes [expansion] really challenging," said Shereen Allison, the college's associate dean for instructional technology. "Online has its own set of issues and challenges and I think we're moving in the right direction."

But some instructors are opposed to online instruction as it could dilute higher education.

"The faculty opinion is across the board from 'No we shouldn't go that way,' to 'Yes we should go that way,'" said Michael Scott, president of the Academic Senate. "Everybody has their own opinion as to the quality and success of online courses."

Budget cut stalemate

With no state budget in sight, college officials have begun circling the mandatory face-to-face rule as a way to further expand college access.

"I think we probably would've turned the corner a year, or two years, ago," Allison said. "The budget's been so difficult the last few years for every program that there's not a real growth mode right now."

Many students flocking to community colleges are beyond the typical 18- to 22-year-old. Many are seeking employable skills, or struggling to balance class with work and family commitments.

"It's difficult to go to an employer and say, 'I don't want to come to the job interview at this time because I have class,'" said James Glapa-Grossklag, who oversees distance education at College of the Canyons. "Online education gives those students flexibility."

These non-traditional students is one reason that propelled College of the Canyons to begin offering entire degrees online, something that is not available at Glendale Community College.

"The name of the game for community college is access and to bring more people into higher education, [and] online education makes sense for that mission," Glapa-Grossklag said. "The college needs to fit the student schedule."

It's a balance Glendale Community College officials are reviewing.

"The ability to find the courses that can be taught online, and teach those well online, and free up classroom space for a face-to-face course is going to be tremendous," Allison said. "I think it's really important we keep the integrity of the education, regardless of the mode."

Expanding

Online classes could eventually create space on campus, which is partly why advocates at the college see it as a way to boost student enrollment in the long term.

"We are experiencing growth at the college, but most of the growth is fueled by everyone's need to go back to school," said Vahe Peroomian, a college trustee and a physics instructor at UCLA and the solely online University of Phoenix. "When this recession ends…I think we're going to have an issue where we'll have to look outside and we'll be behind."

The landlocked college has little room to expand its already overcrowded facilities, so purely online classes could release some of that pressure in the future, officials said.

"I think online education will be a component, and it's up to the college to decide how big of a component," Peroomian said. "But it definitely has to be a component if we are to go forward and grow as we're expected to grow."

It's a debate that should soon kick into high gear in the college's Academic Senate, a roughly 30-member committee that oversees academic and instructional affairs. The group will address the issue of offering all-online classes and degrees later this year, said Scott, the group's president.

"In these discussions, the key issues are going to be student success and quality instruction," he said. "We want to make sure our students will benefit from this."

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