Academic journal article NACTA Journal

The Off-Campus Bachelor of Science in Professional Agriculture Degree Program: A Final Alumni Evaluation

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

The Off-Campus Bachelor of Science in Professional Agriculture Degree Program: A Final Alumni Evaluation

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to conduct a final program evaluation of the Bachelor of Science in Professional Agriculture Degree Program from the perspective of recent alumni. The typical graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Professional Agriculture degree program was male (54%), 46 years old, and took 60 months to complete the program. Most (87%) graduates had completed the program within six years. Graduates' highest-ranked factor for enrolling in the program was pursuing a degree followed by career advancement. Graduates were asked what specific aspects of the program that they liked best. The most frequently (65%, n = 15) cited strengths had to do with flexibility and convenience. The most significant obstacle faced by graduates was the limited number of course offerings, which was also the most frequently listed weakness of the program. It is recommended that persons responsible for distance education programs continue to pursue strategies (e.g. sharing course revenue with departments and faculty, sharing courses with other universities) that will ensure sufficient numbers and variety of courses.

Introduction and Background

Distance education has become an integral component of higher education institutions (Rovai and Downey, 2010; Lewis et al., 1997). The rapid adoption of online degree programs has led to reservations about program quality and completion rates by some administrators (Chau, 2010; Rovai and Downey, 2010; Lewis et al., 1997). Smith and Mitry (2008) questioned why certain universities (Temple University and New York University) had discontinued their online programs while others such as the University of Phoenix continued to see rising enrollments and expansion of global programs (Chau, 2010; Cronin and Bachorz, 2005).

Students' decisions to enroll in distance education are complex and diverse. Students' characteristics and motivations play a pivotal role in their program selection. One of the concerns with distance education compared to traditional on-campus programs has been a lack of consistent interactions with expert faculty and cohort members resulting from the variety of challenges and time constraints not normally encountered by traditional college students (Hezel and Dirr, 1990; Kelsey et al, 2002; Miller, 1995; Miller and Miller, 2005; Patterson and McFadden, 2009). The development of asynchronous delivery technologies has been shown to reduce the negative effects associated with obstacles related to time, cost, and convenience of distance education (Miller and Honeyman, 1993; Owen and Hotchkis, 1991).

Administrators often find that distance degree programs are more costly than anticipated (Smith and Mitry, 2008). Taube et al. (2002) conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the University of Wisconsin's Collaborative Nursing program to identify issues related to cost and access, impact of the program, availability and quality of support services, and technologies/learning modalities. The University of Wisconsin's distance program relied on combined resources of the five UW nursing programs plus additional support from the UW-Extension program (Taube et al.). Taube et al. noted that this program had been offering courses since 1996 with 184 nurses graduating from the program in 2001. Smith and Mitry (2008) argued that providing courses with lower enrollments at a distance that are of equal quality to on-campus courses with larger enrollments is not cost effective because the per student variable costs are lower in large classrooms. The use of reputable faculty members who are recognized as experts in their fields to provide instruction for a few students at a distance is a large expense associated with online programs (Smith and Mitry, 2008). With low student enrollment, administrators may not be able to financially justify offering degree programs at a distance.

Iowa State University began offering a Bachelor of Science Degree in Professional Agriculture to distant learners in 1991. …

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