e-Learning Pundit

Blogging distance learning opportunities at traditional colleges and universities

Interview with Ms. Barbara Merlo of Central Texas College

I’m speaking with Ms. Barbara Merlo, Director of Community Relations and Marketing for Central Texas College. We are discussing the many online options that are available through CTC. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.

Paul: How long has CTC been involved in distance learning?

Barbara Merlo: Our roots with distance learning extend back to our video tele-courses in the 70s. We launched online classes in the early 90s, and have continued to grow our offerings since.

Paul: I’ve noticed that CTC recently introduced a couple new degree and certificate programs. Can you please tell us about them?

Barbara Merlo: Our two newest programs are a Homeland Security and Emergency Management certificate and degree and an AA in Teaching. The Homeland Security and Emergency Management programs are offered exclusively online, and so far enrollment is promising, especially among military. This career field is growing rapidly, and a certificate or degree can provide immediate marketability, especially when combined with military experience.

The AA in teaching is another program based on career demand. We offer the first two years of a teaching degree program, which transfers especially well to other Texas public institutions. We are about 90% online to date with this program, and the final courses are in development.

Paul: Which learning platform is CTC using for online course work?

Barbara Merlo: For our online courses, we use Blackboard. Some of our courses use additional online resources; for example, MyMathLab for certain math courses.

Paul: While browsing the online distance education schedule, I saw numerous start dates. How many start dates per year are usually scheduled by the college?

Barbara Merlo: We offer at least one start date monthly, and in 2009 have a total of 15 start dates. In addition to frequent start dates, our courses vary in length from 8 to 16 weeks, and also in delivery method. In addition to online courses, we offer multimedia courses, in which the course is delivered via CD-rom or SD card. These courses are ideal for students with limited internet access.

Paul: The Microsoft certificates of completion appear especially useful. Are tuition fees included in the price? Are the labs virtual or completely hands-on?

Barbara Merlo: This fall we began offering a choice of certificate programs; one is completely virtual, and one provides a one-week resident lab component. The platforms are different as well. One features video delivery via a handheld device like an iPod, and requires limited access to the internet. The other is a more traditional online format offered via Blackboard. The only costs that are not included in the Microsoft Certification preparation programs are the certification test costs.

Paul: How many fully online programs are now offered by CTC?

Barbara Merlo: Currently we have twenty degree and twenty certificate program completely online.

Paul: What sort of employer feedback are you seeing?

Barbara Merlo: Our largest follow-on employer is of course the military, and we receive excellent feedback from DoD on our students. We have seen particularly positive feedback from several of our career education programs, including criminal justice and homeland security. Our medical transcription program is accredited by a professional association that also works with us on job placement of our completers, which again speaks highly of the quality of education our students receive.

Paul: Please tell us about feedback from graduates.

Barbara Merlo: Social networking is allowing us to reach an increasing number of our graduates, and I’m constantly amazed by where they are and what they are doing. Many of the graduates I’ve spoken with credit their start at CTC with much of their success. Our graduates are also highly sought after as transfer students, a true testament to the quality of instruction provided.

Unfortunately, we do tend to lose track of our students—especially those online and who have taken courses from us at one of our non-Texas locations. We love to hear from students about their success, and are working toward growing our online social networking presence to encourage our alumni to join our alumni association so that we can communicate with them, and keep better track of their career successes. Right now we are on LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace.

Paul: What are your most popular online programs?

Barbara Merlo: With military students, our most popular online programs are Applied Technology, General Studies, Criminal Justice and Business Administration. Medical transcription has been growing in popularity among military spouses. The Microsoft Certification preparation programs are also quite popular.

Paul: Is CTC working on any other new programs that you can discuss with us?

Barbara Merlo: We continue to work toward putting more classes and programs online. We are currently working to complete our online homeland security and teaching programs. On the horizon, you will see some new Information Technology degrees and certificates and programs in Early Childhood Professions. Additional nursing and mental health services courses will be offered online as well.

We are focused right now on military spouse and veteran’s programs. In addition, we were recently selected to partner with the Community College of the Air Force in providing the academic course component for CCAF degrees.
We continue to work on Articulation Agreements with 4-year universities as well.

Paul: An acquaintance of mine graduated from Kentucky just a few years back. She’s now working on her AAS in nursing through CTC. Since she’s an out-of-state resident, is she eligible for resident tuition rates?

Barbara Merlo: Residency can be a sticky issue, since the State of Texas sets the rules. The general rule is that residency is established after one year living in the state (or in CTC’s district). However, military students and their families receive residency exemptions (and are charged resident tuition) when they are assigned to Texas. There is quite a bit of documentation students must provide to ensure that they receive resident rates.

Paul: Considering the comparatively low tuition rates for non-Texas residents, have you seen increased interest in online programs offered by the college?

Barbara Merlo: Certainly CTC is a bargain compared to the large for-profit online programs, and we have much positive word of mouth from military students that has gained us interest outside Texas and from non-military students. To keep tuition low, we are not able to spend much money to market our programs outside the areas where we have a physical presence, and that can be limiting in creating visibility. There has been much non-military interest in specific programs like homeland security, hospitality, medical transcription and several of our mental health services specializations including chemical dependency and at-risk youth. Much of the interest in these specific programs has been generated by our affiliations with professional organizations in those fields. Our biggest goal is to communicate with current and past students who either are transitioning or have transitioned from the military to encourage them to take advantage of the credit they have earned and complete their degree with us.