Interview: David B. Kelley, Ed.D, Executive Director Massachusetts Colleges Online

David B. Kelley, Ed.D, Executive Director at Massachusetts Colleges Online (MCO) based in Massachusetts, joins us to discuss their programs.

1. Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Massachusetts Colleges Online.

Let me start by saying that Mass Colleges Online (MCO) is a consortium of the state and community colleges within Massachusetts that offer online courses. So the online courses and programs are actually offered by our members and not MCO itself. As of today our member institutions collectively offer 1474 courses, 61 Associate Degrees, 1 Bachelors Degree, 6 Masters Degrees and 30 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs. The degree and certificate programs range from Criminal Justice associates degrees to Web Development certificates to graduate degrees in Education.

2. What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

They vary depending on the type of program, but as you can see by the numbers the bulk of the degrees offered by our institutions are associates degrees which require a minimum of a 2 year commitment to complete for full time students. However, since many of our students work fulltime and pursue their degrees part time the time to completion can take longer.

3. What would you say makes Massachusetts Colleges Online programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

MCO member colleges have joined forces to collectively address the needs of their online students. Pooling of resources means that our members can collectively offer more to their students than they may be able to on their own. For example, our community college members broker courses with each other. Very simply put this means that students from one college are able to take brokered courses offered by another college without having to go through with the transfer process. In the Fall 07 semester 4 of our colleges will be offering an online Criminal Justice Associates Degree by sharing courses in the criminal justice curriculum. This type of collaboration increases access for students while allowing our colleges to be more cost effective and start specializing in the courses they build and offer online.

4. How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Accreditation is key to validating the validity and quality of any degree someone receives from an institution. The external review by an accrediting agency provides the stamp of approval that the faculty, curriculum, administration and students services of a particular institution meet or exceed the established standards of excellence. This is of particular importance in the case of online students who may or may not get to visit the college they are enrolled in. Knowing that they are getting their degree from an accredited institution proves the veracity of that degree and all the work that went into earning it. All MCO member institutions and their online programs are accredited by NEASC.

5. There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Massachusetts Colleges Online take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

Some people may have the mistaken impression that online courses are easier and that there isn't as much rigor in an online course resulting in a potentially substandard degree. However, as anyone who has taken an online course learns first hand this is far from the case and there is no back row in an online classroom. In fact according to the Sloan Consortium Study titled "Making the Grade - Online Education in the United States, 2006" 62% of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education "as the same or superior to those in face-to-face". Online courses cover the same material as in a face-to-face courses and many faculty teach the same course both in the classroom and online so the argument that one degree is less worthwhile no longer holds water. The fact that all MCO member colleges are accredited also lends further credence to the fact that both traditional and online methods of earning degrees at these institutions are equally valid endeavors.

6. What would you say are the greatest benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Online courses remove the time and space barrier that has stood in the way of many folks in the past. Working people, those without transportation, those who travel on business, soldiers stationed abroad, single mothers without available child care now can pursue a degree or certificate program online which may enable them to earn higher wages and move ahead with their careers. Home schooled students, high school seniors and students who live in remote locations in search of advance courses can take online courses that they may not have access to otherwise. Online education has opened doors for all these people who would not be able to get the education they need so this increased access is what I think is the greatest benefit of online education.

7. If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

As I mentioned before MCO is a consortium of colleges so the student would need to take this up with the particular institution they were enrolled in. Our member colleges try very hard to meet the needs of all their students.

8. Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes. Our colleges provide financial aid to their students.

9. Do you have any advice for students who have never attended an online school but are considering enrolling in one?

Online education requires dedication by the student. Students who are self-directed and can stay on task tend to do very well in online courses. In addition it is of course necessary for students to have a way to connect to the Internet, some familiarity using computers, sending and receiving e-mail and manipulating files online. Students who are not confident in their abilities in this regard may need to work on these skills before enrolling in an online course. Sometimes it is a good idea for a student to try their hand at a non-credit online course in an area of personal interest as a first step. This can be a relatively low-cost way of getting started in online education.

10. What do you love most about your position at Massachusetts Colleges Online?

Managing a consortium which is helping colleges to create new cutting edge innovative strategies to open up greater access to higher education is quite exciting. I am particularly optimistic that our new initiative whereby colleges can share online courses to launch a fully online degree program will rapidly escalate the number of online degrees offered by Massachusetts community and state colleges.

For more information about Massachusetts Colleges Online (MCO), go here to visit them online.

Thank you David, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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