HBCUsOnline.com Conveying the Black College Experience to Distance Learning: Radio Personality's Venture 'Expanding the Voice' of the Institutions by Targeting Growing Contingent of Nontraditional Students

Article excerpt

There are 6.3 million African-Americans over 25 with some college or an associate degree, and 700,000 set out each year to complete their undergraduate degree. That's what the executives at Tom Joyner Online Education LLC call a significant "degree completion" audience.

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It's a market, executives say, HBCUs should dominate but have ceded to predominantly online institutions like the University of Phoenix, which has the largest Black student enrollment of any U.S. institution and is the number one producer of bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans.

Launched by radio personality and longtime HBCU booster Tom Joyner, HBCUsOnline is one of two new enterprises--the other an online university being developed by a former Radio One executive for for-profit Latimer Education--seeking to tap into the lucrative online adult higher education market. In addition, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of Education Online Services Corporation, has partnered with NAFEO to build online degree programs at member schools.

The mission of Joyner's for-profit educational services company is to help HBCU partners increase their market share, enrollment and revenue through marketing to Joyner's morning show audience--8 million listeners--and to provide other technical assistance to help them offer degree programs online.

Hampton and Texas Southern universities are the first to sign on with HBCUsOnline, which will launch in January. Hampton already has an extensive online program.

Neil Foote, spokesman for HBCUsOnline.com, says Joyner watched as African-Americans turned to the online-education model to fit in with their busy schedules but became unhappy with the results.

"That got Tom thinking: 'Why should Blacks go to these 'new schools' when Black colleges have been around here for decades educating many of the nation's Black doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers?'" Foote says.

Joyner's and the other programs couldn't come at a more opportune time, as experts suggest situational variables are pushing more Blacks online as they pursue postsecondary education.

"For-profit institutions provide students with flexible class schedules in order to help them complete their education quickly and without much interruption to competing commitments," says Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Washington-based Institute for Higher Education Policy. "These seem to be factors important to many Black students, especially those who are first-generation students and who come from low-income backgrounds. Unfortunately, most traditional two- and four-year institutions are limited in offering students the same choices."

A number of students who enroll in college right after high school end up finishing many years later, leaving for some reason or another, then re-enrolling a few years later.

A 2002 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 73 percent of all undergraduates were nontraditional students, defined as those not attending college right out of high school or working while attending. Among those, 81 percent were Black.

How It will work

HBCUsOnline primarily connects prospective adult students with HBCUs offering online classes, although Joyner's company promises to not only bring students in through extensive marketing efforts but to see them through to graduation.

Greg Campbell, CEO of Tom Joyner Online Education, gave a detailed overview of HBCUsOnline at a seminar for HBCUs seeking to go online hosted by Excelsior College this past summer. …