Distance Education Booming at Iowa's Public Universities
Distance education is booming at Iowa’s public universities. Since 2013, total enrollment is up 44 percent and total credit hours taken are up 40 percent. This is by design, as the Regents’ strategic plan calls for the expansion of distance education efforts, which are already paying dividends.
These distance education efforts, including greatly improved online course offerings and the consolidation of the Regents Resource Centers in Western Iowa, have provided students more flexibility in how they schedule their classes and have expanded access to higher education and services throughout Iowa.
Online classes from the three Regent institutions serve students living in all 99 Iowa counties. Whether through the ICON system at the University of Iowa, the Canvas System at Iowa State, or UNI’s eLearning System, students have access to world-class education at one of Iowa’s public universities from almost anywhere.
In addition to dramatically expanding off-campus access, the Regent institutions online offerings have had an on-campus effect, as well.
“We’re seeing many students enroll as traditional on-campus students and also enroll in online classes,” said Rachel Boon, Board of Regents chief academic officer. “This provides greater student choice and allows students to be more flexible with their schedule.”
These benefits - greater student choice and more flexible scheduling - can lead to students graduating more quickly and taking on less student debt.
“Taking a mix of traditional and online courses can help students schedule around an internship or a job,” Boon said. “This gives students real-world experience in conjunction with their college experience, and can help them avoid student debt.”
Despite the advances in online class delivery, geography still plays a part in who attends Iowa’s public universities and who does not. The 26 counties in Western Iowa, for example, are geographically removed from the bulk of the Regents Enterprise. Iowans living in those counties often live closer to public institutions in Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Missouri than those in Iowa. The Western Iowa Regents Resource Center (WIRRC) helps provide access to Regents institutions for Iowans in the western part of the state.
“The center expands the footprint of the Regents enterprise,” said Steve Warnstadt, coordinator of the WIRRC. “It helps to provide Regents services to all Iowans, regardless of where they might live.”
The WIRRC employs a number of transfer specialists, who work with students, counselors and other education professionals to help them understand the different avenues to a Regents education. In many cases, these avenues allow students to remain in their home communities while completing their degrees.
“Higher education can be something of a mystery to lots of people,” Warnstadt said. “Transferring credits from community colleges, especially, can be a complicated affair. Having our transfer specialists around to help people get through it is really important.”
The WIRRC also provides a number of Regents services in smaller communities. The center brought in professors from the University of Iowa to speak to classes in Sheldon about diversity. The UI Latin Jazz Ensemble played a 2015 show in Denison. Instructors and students from Regents institutions regularly travel to Sioux City to talk to high school students.
“We’re exposing these communities to Iowa’s public universities,” Warnstadt said. “And we’re exposing folks from the Regents to the communities here, too. It’s a mutually enhancing experience.”
The Regents ever-growing distance education and outreach efforts will continue to shape the experiences of future students at Iowa’s public universities. No matter where they live.