In the five years I have served as president of Tarrant County College’s newest campus, TCC Connect, I and my team have been charged with developing opportunities for typically non-traditional college students to achieve their associate degrees or technical certificates and, thereby, embark upon the path to greater self-sufficiency and professional success.
TCC Connect was designed to meet the needs of individuals whose competing priorities — namely, jobs and families — make attending a brick-and-mortar campus during “regular” class time difficult, if not impossible. Quite simply, TCC Connect grew out of the conviction that digital native students already have mastered living in a virtual world, so learning in that same world makes sense.
According to the 2018 report “Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States,” more than 6.3 million students in the U.S. have taken at least one online course in fall 2016, a 5.6 percent increase over the prior year. This increase represents the 14th consecutive year of growth for online learning.
This excerpt comes from the April/May issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.
To date, online learning is one of the most researched topics in higher education because it’s not only innovative, but also disruptive: it challenges time-tested teaching modalities and puts students in greater control of their schedules, pacing and progression. The question is, how do we work to ensure that our online students achieve success?
High tech, high touch
In my experience, balancing the high-tech nature of online learning with the high-touch approach characteristic of the best higher education institutions is the key.
To date, we have more than 20,000 students who are benefiting from the flexible learning opportunities, accelerated programs and prescribed degree plans that TCC Connect offers. Through our Weekend College, students may earn their associate degree in 18 months or less by attending class only on the weekends. We launched Weekend College in fall 2014; in May 2016, we graduated our first cohort of 35 students.
Through e-learning, students attend classes when they wish, but before enrolling, they need to complete an assessment that measures their aptitude to learn independently with technology and with little guidance. We know that online learning isn’t for everyone, so we want to set our students up for success from day one.
While offering programs that honor our online students’ desires for flexibility and independent pacing, we support these online students through online advising, tutoring, student organizations, workshops and webinars, so they feel part of a greater whole. They are visible, even as they are studying in a virtual space.
As an example, in 2017 we inducted 73 members into the newly established chapter of Phi Theta Kappa specifically created for TCC Connect. This chapter is the first and only virtual campus chapter in the southwestern region of the United States.