Faculty Senate president said growing online enrollment comes with challenges.
By Sergio Medina
The Alamo Colleges’ online tuition rates will decrease for out-of-district students from $215 to $170 per credit hour in the fall.
The new rate, or eRate, which was approved by the board of trustees March 19, will apply only to out-of-district students exclusively taking online courses.
Tuition will not change for those physically attending the colleges — $99 per credit hour for in-district, $215 per credit hour for out-of-district and $466 per credit hour for international students.
Tuition rates for online courses for in-district, non-Texas residents and international students will not change, remaining at $99 per credit hour for in-district and $466 per credit hour for non-Texas residents and international students.
In an interview April 15, Faculty Senate President Lennie Irvin said the reason for the decrease is to make the district more competitive with other community colleges in the state.
“And they (the district) felt like lowering the rate would make it, you know, easier for someone to take online classes from out-of-district,” he said. “But it’s only for students doing 100 percent online.”
“If you’re doing all online and you live in New Braunfels or something, you can get that eRate, but if you’re taking one face-to-face class and one online class from New Braunfels, you’ll pay the old out-of-district rate ($215 per credit hour).”
Irvin said instructing online courses can be challenging because online classes require more attention than teaching face-to-face classes.
Creating instructions for an online course requires in-depth, specific instructing to prevent confusion among students.
“The communication, I mean, it can happen face-to-face, but there seems to be more questions and more interaction has to happen with students online,” Irvin said. “Face-to-face, we can meet, and I can explain things, and they can ask questions and we can work it out together.”
Further, online classes have more students per class, he said. An online class could have up to 40 students, whereas a face-to-face class could have 25-30.
“So faculty have a little bit of disincentive to sign up for online classes when they see it’s going to be more work,” Irvin said. “It’s not like they’re less work for faculty.
“You have to get everything set up in incredible detail for online,” he said. “All of what you might be able to do in class — an exercise or something — you have to set up and then grade everything online.”
Irvin said another concern with online learning is the uncertainty of students learning and retaining the material.
“How do you verify that someone’s doing the work?” he asked. “And then, how do you test them? They have what they call LockDown Browser, so once you start the test you can’t open the web or anything, but everybody has a phone, you know, or another computer or laptop or something.”
“Everything is open book, I guess,” Irvin said.
The enrollment of online-only students has increased in recent years.
In fall 2015, 5,951 students were enrolled exclusively in online courses.
That figure increased to 7,125 in fall 2018.
Of that number, 953, or 15.4 percent, were out-of-district students.
A March 19 presentation given by Luke Dowden, chief online learning officer, during the board of trustees’ regular meeting reported the district has the sixth most affordable out-of-district tuition rate in the state, at $215 per credit hour.
The first five are: Dallas County Community College at $111, San Jacinto College at $112, Tarrant County College at $126, Houston Community College at $159 and Lone Star College at $172.
With the new eRate of $170, the district’s out-of-district rate for online-only students would become the fifth most affordable in Texas.
Dowden also said there are about 1.12 million potential online learners within a 100-mile radius of Bexar County, 643,000 of whom are high school graduates without a college degree.
A presentation on online enrollment can be found at https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=44057908.