Interview: Liz Anderson, Director of Distance Ed, Bellevue Community College

Liz Anderson, Director of Distance Education at Bellevue Community College joins us today to discuss their distance education programs.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Bellevue Community College.

We offer something for just about anyone, from certificate programs in specific skills for people who want to enter the workforce as soon as possible, to associate transfer degrees for students who want to complete their college freshman and sophomore years online before transferring to a four-year university, to full online bachelor's degrees from the University of Washington and Washington State University, which we offer in cooperation with them and with Edmonds Community College.

The bachelor's degree programs are offered in Business Administration (with majors in Management and Operations or Management Information Systems), Social Sciences, Humanities, Criminal Justice, Communications, English and Health Information.

The professional and technical skills certificate programs include Bookkeeping, Introductory C++ Programming, Business Intelligence Analyst and Business Intelligence Developer.

We also offer an associate degree in general studies, which is not a transferable degree.
Students wanting more detail on any of these can find it on our website, at http://distance-ed.bcc.ctc.edu/. Click on the ���Degrees and Certificates' link on the left.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Our certificate programs can be completed in two to four quarters of full-time study. Associate degrees typically required six full-time quarters. Of course, students quite often take classes on part-time schedules, so the actual time required depends on the student's needs and preferences.

What would you say makes Bellevue Community College programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

For one thing, we give personal attention to all students, from their first inquiry through completion of programs " and not just through e-mail but by phone conversations with a live person, too. We have someone in the office specifically to answer student questions and provide technical support from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time every business day. It's this personal attention that has led to a great word-of-mouth buzz about our program. I even answer students' questions on the weekends.

Also, we offer many more programs to choose from than are usually found at schools like ours. Right now we have 228 different classes in our online offerings, which attracted more than 14,000 total enrollments last year. Bellevue Community College has been offering distance education in throughout much of our 40-year history. We've been offering online courses since 1996, building upon all that prior experience.

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

It's crucial. For one thing, accreditation involves an in-depth analysis of the school's offerings, services and policies, so to receive accreditation is a clear stamp of approval that the school meets broadly accepted higher education standards of quality. Also, if a student studies at a non-accredited school, his or her hard-earned credits can't be transferred to other institutions. Bellevue Community College is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

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

I know that debate is out there, but I have to say, I have no doubt that online programs are every bit as good as those taught in physical classrooms. Just like all of our on-campus programs, all of our online classes are designed and taught by tenured and affiliated faculty. Each program and course has to meet the same strict educational standards that our on-campus courses do in order to get the required approval of our college's curriculum committee. We also have created a Faculty Resource Center specifically to help our online faculty determine the best way to offer their particular course content over the web, and also provide technical training and support so the faculty are proficient with the software that we use to enhance the individual course sites. In addition, we use an online evaluation tool to gather students' course evaluations as input in our ongoing program to constantly improving our offerings and systems.

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

Time savings is perhaps the biggest benefit. Online classes are equivalent to on-campus courses in academic quality and rigor, but they are quite different in one major way: online classes offer almost unlimited scheduling flexibility, so they fit well into busy lifestyles that include jobs and family commitments. Students in online courses can study whenever they want and, with wi-fi access, just about wherever they want. Many of our on-campus students take online courses along with their mostly on-campus schedule just to get that flexibility -- so they can keep progressing on the pace they want and still fit school in around their work schedules.

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?

Yes we do. And we highly recommend such opportunities. Internships can be a wonderful way to explore a career, make contacts and gain more experience. Bellevue Community College offers a great internship program through our Career Center. The Center's staff work with businesses and other organizations to set up the internship opportunities and then match the student to the position. Opportunities can be found in a wide variety of fields. Some are even paid. The internships vary in length, but the minimum is 100 hours. They don't have to be timed with our academic calendar. They can start at anytime during a quarter or year. But student interns must sign up for credit through our Academic Internship Program. Depending on the position they can earn from two to five credits. The Career Center also offers help in exploring college majors, planning a career path and finding resources to fund your education. To find out more, students should go to www.bellevuecollege.edu/internships/.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes. All government grants, loans, scholarship and VA benefits are available for students taking online classes at Bellevue Community College, just as they are for on-campus students. The URL for more information on that is www.bellevuecollege.edu/enrollment/costs/.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

Students who are new to distance learning should be very careful and start out slowly if they haven't been in school for awhile. Students sometimes think online classes are going to be easier than on-campus courses, yet from the feedback I get, but that's not really true. Online classes are every bit as challenging and content-rich as on-campus classes. So if a student has been too ambitious and enrolled in too many classes at once, the fact that online courses are not easy can actually make their daily scheduling more difficult, especially if they have other things going on in their lives that demand their attention such as jobs or family.

Also, to be a successful online student you need to be highly self-motivated. All online courses involve a lot of reading and writing, and there is no one to tell you what to do each day to keep progressing adequately. We suggest students plan on spending 15-20 hours a week studying for each five credit class " the same as for a regular on-campus class. Not all that time is necessarily spent on the computer, though. There will be textbook reading for example, various projects and preparing for exams, etc., in addition to online lectures and online discussion (usually asynchronous, not chat-based).

On our website we have a simple self-test to help students decide if online learning is appropriate for them. It can be found at http://distance-ed.bcc.ctc.edu/webassess/

The advice of current and former online students is also quite helpful for people who are new to it. Some of their suggestions and descriptions of what has worked for them is posted at http://distance-ed.bcc.ctc.edu/itsforyou.asp

For more information on distance learning programs available at Bellevue Community College, Go Here to visit them online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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