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As interest grows, UND fosters online learning


With more students enrolling in online courses every year, UND is trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Interim Vice President for University and Public Affairs Peter Johnson said the university plans to increase its offering of "enroll anytime" courses, which students can take online at whatever pace they choose as long as they complete it within nine months, from 65 classes to 90.

"They're convenient, they're flexible, they can set their own schedule for when they want to study,", said Lynette Krenelka, director of the UND Office of Extended Learning, adding students enjoy the nontraditional class structure.

And the numbers back that up.

The percentage of enrolled UND students solely taking online courses increased from 16 to 22 percent in the last five years, according to the school's online dashboards.

UND offers 13 online undergraduate degree programs, many of which have a more traditional online coursework than the "enroll anytime" courses. The school also offers 24 master's degree programs online, according to data provided by Johnson.

Across all North Dakota University System institutions in the state, the percentage of students who take at least one distance course has gone from 40 percent in 2012 to 47 percent in 2015, according to NDUS data presented at an interim Legislative Higher Education Funding Committee meeting last week.

A class is considered a distance course when at least 50 percent of it is taught using methods such as online or video instruction.

Overall, 69 percent of all NDUS students taking at least one distance are North Dakota residents, while 61 percent of students enrolled solely in distance courses are in-state residents.

Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Institutional Research Lisa Feldner said those totals could include high school students earning college credits online.

The data also shows distance learning is more popular for degree-seeking students at two-year and four-year universities than at research universities UND and North Dakota State University.

Distance education began at UND in the early 1900s with correspondence courses, Johnson said, which involved mailing course material back and forth through the postal service. The first distance courses offered the way they are today were in social work.

Johnson said he doesn't believe growth in online courses will negatively impact campus life because there will always be those who want the traditional college experience.

"We've been at it for more than a century," he said. "We've done an excellent job with it and I can see it continue to grow but also campus will continue to grow."

UND also offers graduate certificate degree programs and doctoral programs online. Future online course growth will be tied to workforce and industry needs.

"Rather than looking at a population of X number of people and we're going to educate some this way and some that way, what we're really doing is opening up opportunities for a much wider group of students," Johnson said.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.