Students who are enrolled in distance learning programs through Fresno State may soon have to find other means of receiving their education.

Slumping distance courses

Photos by Matt Weir, illustration by Michael Uribes / The Collegian

Students who are enrolled in distance learning programs through Fresno State may soon have to find other means of receiving their education.

Due to budget cuts across campus, some of the off-campus, video-based programs have had to make dramatic changes to their curriculums.

Distance learning programs allow students to take courses via two-way audio and video from locations off campus. The instructor is broadcast live from a classroom on the Fresno State campus and streamed to classrooms located in cities such as Visalia, Lemoore and Lancaster. This benefits students who want to enjoy all of the advantages of a live instructor without having to commute to Fresno. These advantages are slowly vanishing.

The Fresno State distance learning programs have been forced to reduce the number of sections offered. In effect, enrollment has decreased among Fresno State students.

The College of Sequoias (COS), located in Visalia, has seen a dramatic drop-off in enrollment and at least one other distance-learning program has been phased out of the Fresno State curriculum all together.

COS distance-learning enrollment has dropped from 439 in the 2008-2009 school year to 325 this year. That is a 26 percent drop-off in just one year.

Shirlene Major, administrative assistant for the COS Visalia Center, said this is due to the department’s decision to cut the number of sections offered through distance learning, which has gone from 22 sections to 14 in a span of two years.

“We were doing fairly well before last year,” Major said. “Then we came back in 2009 and the classes just disappeared, and so did the students.”

Major said the university’s decision to cut courses was based only on the budget crisis. COS used to offer multiple section of each course, but now only offers one section per course.

“We will always reflect what goes on the main campus and the decision to discontinue any more sections would come from the administration,” Major said.

Other distance-learning centers are in even deeper. Lancaster University Center (LUC) is being phased out of Fresno State’s engineering program completely.

President John Welty had Michael Jenkins, dean of the Lyles College of Engineering, review the campus’s involvement in the Antelope Valley Engineering Program (AVEP) at the LUC. After the review, Welty and other members of the administration decided the best course of action was to phase out the university’s involvement in the program.

In a letter to Kenneth Santarelli, director of the AVEP, Welty stated “disproportionate time commitment from faculty and staff on the main campus, continued lack of self-sustaining funding for operations, aging distance-learning infrastructure, chronically under-enrolled sections and our long-distance physical efforts in a region well outside the geographical service area of [Fresno State], all factored into our decision.”

Santarelli does not disagree that Welty’s decision was the appropriate course of action.

“The phase-out period is a sad, but necessary conclusion to 35 years of effort,” Santarelli said. “I believe that programs that wish to prevent being phased out must understand the political and economic conditions that exist. This requires very careful planning and program execution.”

The Lyles College expects to close its operations in Lancaster no later than August 31, 2011. No new students will be admitted to the program, but students that are enrolled will be allowed to complete the remainder of their degree program.

Major still has confidence that her center in Visalia can sustain the budget cuts but is saddened that students’ educations are being affected.

“It’s a shame that more students can’t take advantage of this opportunity,” Major said.