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Technology & Learning

From the Field

June 1998

Distance Learning in the Oregon Community Colleges:
A Partnership for the 21st Century 
by Ron Baker

As demands for instructional programs and support services increase, how will the Oregon community colleges serve expanding populations of new and continuing learners? It is unlikely Oregon could afford to  build enough buildings to meet the projected need. Even if it were possible to build additional facilities, how will Oregon serve the growing number of people who are unable to attend traditionally structured on-campus courses due to physical limitations, time constraints, or geographic barriers? Overcoming these challenges will require greater attention to how students learn and how education is assessed, delivered, and managed. Many people look to distance learning as one step along that path.

All 17 Oregon community colleges offer some form of distance learning. They are the largest providers of distance learning in Oregon. During 1997-1998, the Oregon community colleges collectively offered 1,169 distance learning classes that enrolled 22,953 students and generated 1,673 FTE. These numbers suggest that the demand for distance learning courses, programs, and services can overwhelm an individual college's ability to respond to the need. One potential way to surmount this problem is through the formation of college partnerships that create an operational framework in which colleges fulfill component roles, rather than comprehensive roles, of a student's overall learning environment.

Such a partnership was formed in June of 1997 when the Oregon community college presidents and the Commissioner of the Office of Community College Services unanimously adopted a statewide distance learning strategic plan (http://www.lbcc.cc.or.us/occdec/). The strategic plan outlines a unique ”host/provider” partnership in which colleges share responsibility for distance learning courses and services. “Provider” colleges are responsible for the instructional component of the student's distance learning experience. “Host” colleges are responsible for the student services component of the student's distance learning experience.

Provider colleges develop courses and offer them to “host” colleges who determine which classes will be chosen for inclusion in the host college's curriculum. Students enroll in these classes through the host college. Revenues generated by student enrollments in host/provider classes are distributed equally between the provider college and the host college.

The Oregon legislature showed their support for this innovative program recently when they unanimously voted in support of a special authorization of nearly one million dollars to expand the distance education initiative. “This is an unprecendented collaboration in this area,” said Representative Lynn Snodgrass (R-Clackamas), majority leader for the Oregon House of Representatives. “It is a very good sign for Oregon's future.” 

The $950,000 just approved will fund the development of new courses, train instructors, and support the coordination and operation of statewide distance learning activities. The money will also provide installation of computers and
related resources in over 70 community college centers across the state. These computers will be available to anyone in the community who wishes to take a distance learning class. “This legislative investment is a bold step that brings college courses into the home and the workplace,” claimed Roger Bassett, Commissioner for Community College Services.

This innovative partnership leverages individual community college distance learning experience, expertise, and infrastructure investments to benefit students statewide. It is one of the ways the community colleges will keep education's “open door” open to all Oregonians.

For further information, contact: 
Ron Baker, Director of Distance Education 
Oregon Community Colleges 
P.O. Box 14007 
Salem OR 97309-7070 
(503) 315-4596 

or browse the Distance Learning Consortium
Website at: http://www.lbcc.cc.or.us/occdec/



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