- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - In 2002, Oregon State University’s distance education program looked sort of like a Blockbuster video store.

The school had a storage room in Corvallis with lectures on VHS tapes, which staff would mail to students enrolled at OSU who rarely set foot on the main campus.

Today, OSU’s so-called “Ecampus” is a juggernaut, routinely recognized on national lists as one of the best online curriculums in the country. If the program itself were a university, it would be the fourth-largest in Oregon. More than 5,000 full-time OSU students take classes exclusively online, compared with 24,500 students on campus.

Enrollment at Eastern Oregon University is smaller, with about 1,200 students on campus, but another 800 study exclusively over the internet.

Students take courses from the same professors who would lecture in Corvallis or La Grande and have easy access to advisers and other campus services. Both schools target students who started college but never finished.

Flexibility is the name of the game in the online classroom. For the most part, the education is on-demand. Students can watch videos of recorded lectures at their leisure and participate in interactive assignments from home. Both schools give students the option of taking finals in person but at locations off-campus.

Oregon State expects online enrollment to more than double in the next decade, while creeping up roughly 15 percent on the ground in Corvallis.

OSU sees the online program as a way to expand its brand and visibility nationally. Currently, nearly three-quarters of its online-only students live outside Oregon.

“We’re not just a land grant for Oregon,” said Steve Clark, OSU’s spokesman of the university’s roots as a university with a foot print in every county in the state. “We think of ourselves as a land-grant for the world.”

Eastern Oregon University, the state’s smallest public school situated in rural La Grande, is also all-in for online education.

Roughly the same number of students take classes full-time at Eastern online as in person. “I see it as a major part of our strategic growth,” President Tom Insko said, “as well as our service mission as an institution.”

Eastern began teaching distance education courses in 1979. Despite the localized branding, it has offices dispersed across the state - from Gresham, to Roseburg, to Ontario.

The university says it’s a hybrid model, where students can go to one of the 11 centers for some coursework if they desire, or to meet face-to-face with faculty or staff, depending on the location or program.

More than half of the faculty members teaching classes this fall have at least one course online.

Insko said the school, which has endured enrollment declines and numerous leadership changes, is trying to offer more options for students to finish degrees. The state wants 40 percent of Oregonians to hold at least a bachelor’s degree by 2025.

OSU, too, says it is helping fulfill the state’s graduation goals. A record 692 completed one of the university’s more than 45 online degree options last year.

Lisa Templeton, the Ecampus executive director, said online learning is not for everyone.

“You have to be self-motivated,” she said, “It’s definitely not easy.”

The online program employs 65 designers, developers and administrators. Coursework is vetted through the same academic process as other classes, and instructors go through training with Templeton’s staff to develop online curriculum.

Oregon State classes online cost more than on campus. A full course load of 15 credit hours for an undergraduate student online is about $4,200, some $750 more than for on-campus Oregon students.

But the online program is a bargain for out-of-state students. Whereas on-campus tuition is higher for non-Oregonians, online classes cost the same regardless of where a student lives. Non-Oregonians can save more than $5,400 per term by taking courses at home rather than in Corvallis.

Templeton said OSU can continue to grow because there will always be students who want to take a class or finish a degree, but can’t uproot their whole lives to do it.

“They might have a job, they might have kids,” she said, “and getting to Corvallis at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday for class just isn’t in the picture.”

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, https://www.oregonlive.com


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