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Online education is a rapidly growing part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.

Online education is a rapidly growing part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. About 2,300 online course sections and 70 online programs now are offered by the 32 state colleges and universities, working collaboratively as Minnesota Online. Linda Baer, senior vice chancellor for academic and students affairs in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, talked about the system, and what it could bring for the state’s students.

Why was Minnesota Online started?

It was created to develop online student services such as admissions, registration, financial aid, and teaching and technical support, and to coordinate and encourage our campuses to develop more online courses and degree programs that are critically needed in the state.

As the largest public higher education provider in Minnesota, our system’s seven universities and 25 community and technical colleges serve many working adults and others who need affordable, accredited online education. By collaborating through Minnesota Online, we can provide even more access and educational opportunities.

Why do you feel there’s a need for online programs?

People lead very busy lives today, and Minnesota is a big state. Many people who live too far from a campus to commute or who are balancing work and family responsibilities say this is the only way they can attend college. Many students are employees who want to advance their educations while continuing to work. And, we have students on our university and college campuses taking online courses to solve a scheduling conflict or to enable them to work.

In just the past year, the number of online degree programs grew from 40 to 70 programs in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. These are accredited programs leading to associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as certificates and diplomas, offered entirely or predominately online. We now offer about 1,000 different courses and 2,300 course sections, and last year 17,000 students across the system took one or more online courses.

What are some of Minnesota Online’s main components?

Web-enabled services and quality standards are two key components. We have developed comprehensive online services and tools that enable students to apply, enroll and earn degrees over the Internet in courses and programs that are accredited and based on national standards.

An example of our new services and instructional tools is eFolio Minnesota, an online portfolio that enables students to easily build a Web site that demonstrates their accomplishments using photos, video, audio, and graphics. Not only is this a key component in many online courses, but we offer the service to any state resident.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from students?

Very positive. Many students say this is a way to pursue courses and degrees they couldn’t get any other way because of their work schedules or family responsibilities. Students often are surprised at how much interaction they have with the instructors and other class members in discussion sessions and group projects.

What kinds of classes and programs do you plan on offering in the future?

We’re exploring the need for more graduate-level programs, such as an M.B.A, which is being requested by some corporations in the state, as well as additional teacher education and health care programs online. Also, we see more hybrid programs that coordinate online with campus-based courses in the future, plus we are looking for opportunities to build on what we have by pulling together various courses being offered at individual state colleges and universities into new degree programs.

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