Older, Part-Time Students in South Dakota Turn to Distance Education

In Dakota, more students who are older and are attending college part-time are taking online college courses. The Board of Regents say that 22,500 students enrolled in distance courses at South Dakota's six public universities in 2013. Of those distance course learners, 63% are part-time students, the average age is 27-years-old, and 63% of the distance course students are female.

Most of these students are taking online courses, but many are taking courses at off-campus sites. However, says the Associated Press, enrollment in distance courses rose 2.6% this year, but this was compared to an 8.5% increase last year and a 13% increase before that.

University centers in South Dakota are providing opportunities for non-traditional and "place bound" students, who wish for more direct contact than is available through online classes, according to Jon Michaels of KELO-AM.

At Capital University Center in Pierre 73% of students are 24-years of age or older. CYC also serves students by administering and proctoring placement exams, tests, and quizzes for courses taken online.

University Center in Rapid City has begun its second full academic year with a small increase in student enrollment. The center offers testing and tutoring services and, over the past five years has increased its course offerings by 31.6%.

University Center, Sioux Falls is serving students with an average age of 26. Tutoring is offered at no charge, and UC-SF proctored 8,790 tests, quizzes, and exams throughout the year.

 "The university centers are a terrific resource for students in their community. It is the goal of the regents and university leaders to continue identifying and developing ways the centers can make higher education more accessible to the place-bound student," Jack Warner, executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents, said. "Higher education should be available and attainable for everyone if we are to meet the educational needs of the state's workforce."

The South Dakota Board of Regents received reports this week that indicate distance education may be competing against the university centers for student enrollment, says Bob Mercer, American News correspondent. The centers were developed a decade ago before online courses became ubiquitous.

"It's a head-scratcher and we keep coming back to the same thing," Bilodeau said: Students are "out there working" rather than going to school.

One answer to the dilemma could be to offer more graduate-level courses in the Pierre market since many adults in that area already have college degrees. The board was told that class sections at CUC declined from 42 to 26 in five years, but Craig Johnson, director of the University Center in Sioux Falls, said that there was a natural diversity growing there in recent years and the center had more day enrollment and more traditionally-aged students.

"We're shifting toward a younger age group that is coming to take classes in person," Johnson said. Most students are employed and many are from part-time jobs in the retail and service sectors, he said.

The largest number of people taking distance courses are women and part-time students. Students taking at least one distance education course rose from 20,425 to 22,533 in the past three years. David Palmer, the regents' director for institutional research said:

"These are essentially record highs for every indicator we have." He noted that the growth has slowed, however. "It's becoming much more incremental and not exponential as we once saw."

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