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Interview: Larry Gould, Provost/VP Academic Affairs, Fort Hays State University

Larry Gould, Provost/VP for Academic Affairs at Fort Hays State University joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Fort Hays State University.

Currently, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) offers one associate's degree, 14 bachelor's degrees, 9 master's degrees, and nearly 20 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs, all available completely on line. One of our most popular undergraduate programs is the Bachelor's of General Studies, which is designed to be a degree completion program for the adult learner who needs a baccalaureate degree for career advancement. Students find this program to be a highly flexible option, particularly if they have already completed several years of college. Currently, FHSU offers nine different concentration areas, but students may also work with an advisor to build a custom program of study.

Several of FHSU's online programs have been designated as a "best buy" in distance education by GetEducated.com, including the BBA in Management, MBA in Leadership, BS in Justice Studies, the Masters of Liberal Studies-Justice Studies emphasis and the BA in Sociology.

Detailed information about each program can be found here.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Duration of any program depends on the individual student's enthusiasm, the time available for study and course status. Some students begin with a significant number of credit hours and need only 30 hours to complete a bachelor's degree. Some students come in with very few credit hours. Most fall somewhere in between. Also, students may choose to enroll on a part-time basis, while others enroll full-time. Some students may enroll for a semester or two, but then need to sit out due to family or work obligations. Others are able to complete their degrees uninterrupted.

FHSU believes it is important to offer students great flexibility in completing a degree. On the other hand, it is important to understand there are some time limits on the validity of course work and programs. We do not set a minimum number of hours or classes per semester to remain in good standing. We do require acceptable grade point averages each semester to continue in a program. Time limitations are liberal and can be found in the university catalog. We know that for the majority of online learners, earning an undergraduate or graduate degree requires a significant investment of time and effort. Our goal is to enable students to complete their degree on their time schedule, not ours. This is why we offer extra online tutoring and writing assistance that other institutions do not offer.

What would you say makes Fort Hays State University programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

First of all, unlike a lot of online programs, all degree-seeking Virtual College students have an academic advisor in their program of study. In addition, all non-degree seeking students have the option of working with an advisor if they feel it would benefit them. Advising happens at the departmental level, often by faculty who also teach online. They understand the academic needs of students, but they also know what it takes to be an online learner.

Second, the majority of our online courses are taught by the same faculty who teach on campus. Many are tenured or tenure-track faculty whose main focus is student learning " not research, not their "day job" in corporate America. We think that's really important to ensure online students a comparable experience online to what they'd get in a traditional campus.

Third, for its 105 year history as a regional, state-supported institution, Fort Hays State University's mission has been to provide students access to a high quality, affordable education, and it has always been dedicated to meeting the educational needs of first-generation college students. We believe a well educated citizenry is important to democracy. As technology made higher education available to almost all who seek it, we have maintained our mission of keeping education affordable and accessible to all, including the online learner in Kansas or anywhere in the world. We believe you will be hard-pressed to find a more affordable tuition and fees price-point that what we offer at FHSU.

Finally, we stay with you personally, professionally, for a lifetime when it comes to job placement and the need for new credentials. We help you find not only your first job, but the second, third and so on. We know you want to advance in your career and we want to be a part of that lifelong learning process.

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

Accreditation is absolutely critical. Not only does it guarantee students some minimum standard of quality, as determined by an accrediting agency, but it's also important to employers. FHSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, one of the premier regional accrediting organizations in the country. Within the HLC accreditation options, FHSU has selected the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) track. This quality management accreditation track has been recommended by the US Department of Education. As one of the seven regional accrediting associations in the US, HLC accreditation means your coursework will transfer to other institutions with almost no difficulty compared to national or other distance learning accreditation agencies.

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

FHSU believes we offer better education in many cases than what is offered in the classroom. That's because we start with a carefully thought out course development process that is reinforced by a nationally recognized quality assurance rubric known as Quality Matters. Add to this specially constructed course development process the fact that FHSU ensures that a majority of the classes we offer online are taught by the same faculty who teach traditional, face-to-face courses on our Hays (KS) campus. We reinforce 0ur faculty with the best technology and course management systems and allow every student to express his or her satisfaction with our services. Student satisfaction is important to us because the feedback provided helps us to improve and change.

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

First and foremost, an online degree gives students ultimate flexibility and convenience. Asynchronous learning (different time, different place), which primarily happens through Blackboard, the university's course management system, enables students to study and interact with their classmates at times that best suit their schedule. Most, if not all, distance degree programs will tout this feature, but its importance cannot be understated.

Furthermore, place bound students have great choice in the marketplace today for what degree program they select and where they choose to enroll. For a student located in a rural community, with no two or four-year institutions close-by, it means access to higher education that has never existed in the history of higher ed.

Another benefit is that online learning is geared for the adult learner, which means that learning isn't nearly so instruction based. Through online discussions, students learn from one another, and the instructor can serve as more of a facilitator or mentor. The goal of much online learning is to bring the student into the experience in a way that can't always be done in the classroom.

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?

That is a fabulous question. Because the majority of our students are non-traditional, meaning they are at least 25 years old and already in the workforce, most enroll for career enhancement or progression within their current field. However, students enrolled through the Virtual College can take full advantage of the resources available through our Career Services office. Because many students are place bound in distant parts of the country, it can be more difficult to help them find internship experiences. However, our professional staff is always eager to assist Virtual College students over the phone, by email and through the web site. Also, Virtual College students can also work closely with their program advisor, whether in business or INT or sociology, to find or create an internship experience. Several of our online degrees actually require an internship and, often, faculty will encourage students to find an internship with or without the university's help because of the valuable work experience acquired.

Does Fort Hays State University offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

Certainly! FHSU invites online students to use any and all of the services available through Career Services. The Career Services web site serves as the primary resource for students, including sample resumes, cover letters, interviewing tips, and an interview video that can be used for both internships and full-time employment, and job search sites. Also, online students are eligible to register with our new Careers for Tigers program, which gives them access to job postings.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes, financial aid is available to Virtual College students as long as they are admitted as degree-seeking students or are admitted to our Teacher Licensure program. Students must be enrolled in at least six credit hours to qualify, which is the federal requirement. A high percentage of students who apply for federal aid qualify because almost all students are able to borrow through the loan programs. Since many online students have careers and are working, they tend to qualify for less Pell Grants but, unlike loans can be awarded to less than half-time students. Even so, 30 percent of the undergraduate Virtual College students qualify for Pell Grants.

Because the Virtual College student population is so diverse, it would be difficult to provide any meaningful averages as to dollar amount a student should expect to receive. Because of this, we think it best for a student to apply for aid and make financial decisions based on the circumstances specific to them. While the aid side of the question is very important, it's also important to emphasize that FHSU has worked hard on the other side of the financial equation--costs. FHSU has succeeded in keeping tuition prices down in the first place, making the aid a student receives go much farther and keeping loan debt manageable.

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

Absolutely! Online learning (when it's done right) isn't a quick and easy way to a degree. As you transition back into the world of higher education, you need to be sure to plan your time carefully. In that first semester, it may take longer than you might have expected to get your work done " partly because you might have been out of college for a while, but often because life happens. As an online learner, you'll be entirely responsible for ensuring that you keep up on the readings, review the online lectures, participate in discussions, and turn in assignments. It's important to set a schedule and keep to it. We have a quick quiz on the Virtual College web site to "test" your disposition toward online learning and a list of frequently asked questions to help you after you begin your class work. We also recommend you learn about our online tutoring services, our fantastic library assistance and the many other academic support services available to get you through that first semester or year.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Fort Hays State University?

The friendliness and caring FHSU faculty and staff is what makes my job so enjoyable. I'm surrounded by people who care and believe in constantly improving what we do. This attitude is contagious and is carried over into the online and campus learning environments in a way you will not find at other institutions. As a chief academic officer, it's important to have the "right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus." Believe me, at FHSU, we're all about great customer service and people helping people. It's a joy to come to work in the morning when you're surrounded by staff and faculty who truly believe that education is the most important path to the American Dream.

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through Fort Hays State University, Go here to visit them online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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