Budget Cuts Into Nau Distance Learning Offerings

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Budget cuts have quickened the transition from video conferencing to internet classes for students enrolled at Northern Arizona University’s Payson distance learning campus.

Students can still take the university’s classes, just in a different format.

Video conferencing is an older and more expensive technology because staff members need to be at various sites, said the Associate Vice President for Extended Campuses of NAU Patricia Moore.

“We’re still going to be around. We’re still going to be serving the community,” Moore said.

The school had always planned to switch to Internet-based classes, but the budget crises made the decision a quicker one, Moore said.

The video conferencing will stay through the end of the summer, and the internet technology will take over starting in fall.

For the spring semester, 20 graduate students and eight undergraduate students are taking classes from NAU, although some of those students are already enrolled in online classes.

Students can purchase a low-end web camera for roughly $30 and take classes from their home computer.

Total budget cuts to NAU distance learning topped $3 million, $1.6 million of which came from video conferencing.

In the future, however, Moore said NAU would consider having a teacher physically in the classroom with students if enough people show interest in a particular program.

“We wait until we have a critical mass of students,” Moore said — typically 15 students who all want to start the same program. In that instance, the school could consider mixing the web-based classes with traditional classroom instruction, or having an entire class with a teacher physically present.

Moore said that when students progress through a curriculum with other students, retention rates are higher.

“They get to know each other and they kind of become their own support system,” she said.

“Whether we are able to offer face-to-face classes depends entirely on whether there are sufficient students interested in the same program to allow us to cover our costs of delivery,” Moore wrote in an e-mail.

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