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WCU's distance learning enrollment grows despite period of decreasing online enrollment

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Jason Hong has taken an online class at UNC. 

As Western Carolina University finalizes its online enrollment and distance learners program for this coming year, the school is expected to grow despite national declining enrollment trends at schools across the country.

The university reports growth of more than 20 percent over the past decade.

Susan Fouts, executive director for educational outreach at WCU, said in an email that the degree programs offered to distance learners at WCU are rigorous. 

"There are high expectations for students both online and in face-to-face classes," he said. "One difference is distance students have multiple priorities like work, family and community obligations, whereas a residential traditional student’s job is going to college and making good grades.”

Fouts said online degree completion programs are a major service to the people of the region and the state.

"Working adults can further their education, advance their careers and make greater contributions to the state," she said. "It is also awesome to see the joy and sense of accomplishment when adult students graduate.”

There has been a large number of community college graduates in North Carolina who have progressed in their careers, Fouts said. 

"Now they need a Bachelor's Degree so they can advance further in their careers," she said. "So WCU has strengthened our partnerships with North Carolina community colleges, particularly those in western North Carolina.”

Unlike WCU, UNC does not offer a full degree program online. Robert Bruce, director of UNC’s William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, said this is due to a UNC policy that prohibits students from taking more than 24 hours of online courses.

Bruce said many students are now trying to obtain degrees in ways that are not traditional.

“This is an important move for (WCU) because a large amount of people in North Carolina have minimal access to education,” he said.

Jason Hong, a junior at UNC majoring in business, said his first online class at UNC was his first experience without a lecturer in front of him, which stressed him out.

“I would say it was a good experience, even though there were times where I felt stressed out because it was an online class,” he said.

Hong also said he found it difficult to contact his professor because he had another job in New York and Hong had to wait two to three days before receiving a response.

“I don’t regret taking the class," Hong said. "I was still able to receive a good grade and got a lot out of it at the same time. I would recommend online classes to any student at UNC.”


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