College students learning online, but stepping on campus

Like their peers on campus, students enrolled in online programs benefit when they feel included in a community and supported by their institution. Colleges cater to this population by offering in-person special events and extended office hours so students can find the mix of help they need to succeed.

It appears such efforts are needed. More than three-quarters of online students say they visit campus at least annually; nearly half visit three or more times per year, according to a survey by The Learning House Inc., an academic program manager.

Messiah College in Pennsylvania, which has about 700 students in its online graduate program, welcomes them to campus once per year for an intensive week of class.

Students meet their faculty, peers and librarian advisors (who moderate individual advanced degree programs). They also eat lunch with administrators, says Rob Pepper, assistant provost and dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

Messiah professors must hold office hours two days per week, so students can seek in-person assistance, including meeting an instructor for coffee.

While colleges rarely require online students to visit campus during the application process and orientation, many schools provide that opportunity.

Administrators at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have found that adult students in particular prefer face-to-face contact when getting financial or academic advising.

Students also prefer visiting campus prior to enrolling, whether it’s during the admissions process or for orientation, says Sonya Crosby, director of the Office of Professional Programs.

“There’s still comfort in connecting with a person, in putting a name to a face—especially for a financial investment such as education.”

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