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Web-based network helps colleges market online courses

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Pamela Quinn
, provost of the LeCroy Center at the Dallas County Community College District, which manages OCC.

​ORLANDO, Fla. — Students searching on Google for an online community college course might find a confusing jumble of options from for-profit colleges and universities.

OnlineCommunityColleges.org (OCC) was created to help students navigate this process and help two-year colleges market their online programs.

“Student success was central to our objective,” said Jean Runyon, dean of the Virtual Campus at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. “How do we let students know we have these opportunities for them?”

“Too often, community colleges are excluded from online searches,” said Todd Simmons, vice president of business and employee services at Rio Salado College (RSC) in Arizona. Of RSC’s 70,000 students, 43,000 are enrolled in online courses, including students from 26 countriesmost of them in the U.S. militaryand every state.

Simmons said OCC provides “one-stop access” to all the online courses offered by the colleges that are members of OCC.

“We wanted it to be student focused and centralized,” he said. 

In addition to AACC and RSC, OCC members include Broward College (Florida), Illinois Central College Virtual CampusNorthern Virginia Community College, Foothill College (California), Dallas TeleCollege Online, Ivy Tech Community College and Darton College (Georgia).

These colleges serve 150,000 to 200,000 online students and offer more than 2,000 online courses, said Pamela Quinn, provost of the LeCroy Center at Dallas County Community College District, which manages OCC.

The OCC website, which just went live two months ago, allows visitors to search for online courses by college, degree and certificate, tuition and fees.

DCCCD just started marketing OCC March 22, and already it is seeing 350 visits and 65,000 impressions every day, said Valerie Cavazos, director of marketing at DCCCD.

Strength in numbers

Colleges interested in joining OCC have a choice of two levels of membership.

A charter membership, which costs $24,500 a year, includes an online profile of the college, up to 10 degrees and certificate programs online, a featured listing on the home page, national online marketingincluding display advertising and keyword search, and a 15-second video commercial for the college produced by the LeCroy Centerdetailed reports on marketing activities and an advisory role in the development of policies and procedures.

A premier membership includes all of the above plus two featured programs on the home page, a 30-second video commercial and a three-year term on the OCC board of directors.

According to Cavazos, joining the OCC is much less expensive than trying to market a college online individually. She said it would cost about $5,000 to $6,000 a month just to use Google ads, while OCC membership includes Google ads plus a variety of other strategies, including YouTube, social networking, keyword search and search engine optimization aimed at driving more traffic to the website.

“We’re casting the net much wider than a college could do on its own,” she said.

In response to a question from the audience about whether being part of a network would dilute a college’s message, Simmons acknowledged that is possible but added, “it’s still so much more cost effective than doing it on your own.” He said RSC spent $225,000 just to have online banner ads targeted to part of a state.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many students are online,” Cavazos said. “We need to be making our presence known. We need to be part of this very competitive marketplace.”

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