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UA Partnership Creates New Degree Program in Yuma
The UA and Arizona Western College have partnered to provide an accessible and affordable bachelor's degree program to students who live in Yuma County.
Students in Yuma, Ariz. can now complete a bachelor of science degree from the University of Arizona without ever attending the main campus.
The new online option for the bachelor of science in family studies and human development, or FSHD, from the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences marks a major milestone for UA, which, like all land-grant institutions, is charged with improving access to education and building capacity in rural communities.
Students have been able to take UA classes online for years, partially fulfilling degree requirements. And many students currently take a combination of on-campus and online classes or complete some degree requirements at community colleges before transferring to the UA to complete their degrees.
Norton's new program brings together those two fronts in education, beginning with a pilot program recruiting from Arizona Western College in Yuma.
With two years of community college completed, admitted students will be able to earn the UA degree by completing all of their additional requirements – two more years – online.
While individual classes are open to any qualified student, the pilot degree program is available only to students who complete two years required coursework at Arizona Western College. They can begin coursework toward the online degree in the fall 2011 semester.
Faculty for online courses will include the Norton school's Pamela Payne, a research and program specialist, who will be primarily responsible for military-related courses, and James Hunt, who serves as a lecturer.
The new online degree option is the latest step in process of careful, organic growth that began eight years ago with Soyeon Shim, who directs the Norton school, wondering if online education could ultimately live up to the high standards she'd help create at the Norton school.
"Creating even one course is a challenge, so an online degree presents many more challenges beyond that," Shim said. "But once we started, we developed a shared a vision for what it could become."
The initiative began with a handful of online lower-division classes, which allowed the School to tackle online education on a small scale while increasing access to classes that had become so in-demand that students signed to waiting lists each semester.
When those classes proved a success, the school's staff and faculty built on what they had learned and developed online versions of a handful of upper-division classes, then created new classes, always with extensive review, revision and refinement before moving on.
"Then it was a matter of thinking through all of those challenges to create something unique to the University that would truly make a difference for Arizona," said Shim, who attended the program announcement in Yuma Tuesday.
While the initial FSHD launch will focus on students in Yuma, the Norton school's overarching vision for online degrees will guide development of future programs, Shim said.
The program's development has been funded by numerous grants secured by Angela Taylor, chair of the Norton School's FSHD division, and other faculty members. The program also has been supported by Arizona's Technology and Research Initiative Fund and also though a major grant that the U.S. Department of Defense awarded to the Norton School in 2010.
The Norton school and UA are pursuing additional funding to expand the program to involve other UA entities and to serve additional rural communities in Arizona, Shim said.
Shim also noted that the school developed the online degree in line with its five-year strategic plan, which includes working more closely with community colleges in rural areas and aiding in Arizona's community development and labor capacities.
The program is structured to not only to be self-sustaining, but also to generate surplus revenue to help fund other programs and initiatives at the Norton school.
In addition to general education units and lower-division coursework, the major requires 36 units of upper-division coursework and 18-19 units in one of two thematic minor tracks: children and youth in military families or families, health and nutrition.
All of the degree's lower-division and foundation courses from the Norton school are available online today, along with eight upper-division courses. The Norton school is currently developing online courses for the final five upper-division class requirements.
Sturctured this way, students will be prepared to work with families and individuals of all ages across a spectrum of government, nonprofit, private sector and community-based organizations.
"Recent program graduates from the Norton School have taken positions in family health, law and criminal justice, psychology, anthropology and teaching," said Amy Chandler, assistant director of student services at the Norton school.
However, one of the most distinctive features of the new online degree option is its focus on locally relevant education, said Taylor. She said a portion of the program's coursework is focused on challenges specific to the communities where its students live.
For example, with the pilot program serving students in Yuma, home to a Marine Corps air station and Army proving ground, some coursework and/or field-based education will focus on the needs of military families and military support personnel. Programming in future programs centered in other communities might address border issues, environmental issues and other locally relevant topics.
In developing the partnership and leading up to the FSHD launch, Shim said she went from being a skeptic to a champion of online education.She said that, along the way, she began to recognize the value of distance learning when it's "not just a PowerPoint presentation that you put online but a true transformation of traditional teaching."