MERCED — Students living in the rural reaches of Merced County may have an easier time achieving their academic or career goals come fall semester.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Merced College trustees approved an increase in the number of online course offerings and classes available at the Los Banos campus that are requirements for various majors and certificate programs.
In other words, Los Banos and the virtual college could have more than 50 percent of classes available for certain majors.
These new offerings would benefit students living in rural parts of the county, students who work full-time jobs or have children, and those who can't afford to drive to Merced College's main campus every day or have difficulty accessing reliable transportation, according to a report prepared by Merced College officials.
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At the satellite campus in Los Banos, some of the majors include accounting, anthropology, biotechnology, liberal studies, communications and business administration, according to Merced College officials.
A few of the added online courses fall under the following majors or programs: history, child development, business, real-estate certificate program, social and behavioral science, and Spanish.
Not all classes available this fall
This doesn't mean all of these courses will be available for the fall semester, said Anne Newins, Merced College's vice president of student personnel services. It does mean these classes have been approved by the college's curriculum committee and will be offered in the future.
Merced College is required to notify the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of these classes, Newins said, because this is one way to ensure quality control over online education.
"(The accrediting commission) wants to ensure that this is not a fly-by-night operation," she said.
Quality control is also a major concern for Merced College Faculty Association President Keith Law.
"How do you guarantee the person who is taking the online course is actually enrolled in the course?" he asked.
This is something the ACCJC may monitor.
Law said he was concerned about intellectual property rights for professors who design their courses.
"We are getting into issues of what the district owns and what the teachers own," he added.
Law's points could make for important discussion as the college's online presence grows.
Currently, the only associate degree students can earn online is international studies, Newins said.
But the college is getting closer to being able to offer a child development associate degree online, Newins added.
The number of classes offered online and students enrolled has grown dramatically.
In 2006, 52 online courses were offered. In the 2008-09 school year, that number was 104.
The numbers of students taking classes online in the fall of 2006 was 406. In the fall of 2009, it more than tripled to 1,369.
Newins cautioned that online classes aren't for everyone.
"You need to have good time-management skills and be self-motivated," she said. "If you need someone standing over you, then online isn't for you."
Adding classes online won't solve campus overcrowding, New- ins said, but hopefully it will satisfy a growing demand from some of Merced County's busiest and most remote students.