Op-Ed: Online courses poor substitute for faculty at Connecticut state universities

After graduating from high school I wandered around the country trying to find myself.  I literally and figuratively “found” myself back in Connecticut and attended Middlesex Community College before transferring to Southern Connecticut State University.  Attending these schools was a transformative experience because I learned that I could excel at the college level, due in no small part to the relationships I developed with fellow students and faculty.

For many, the pleasures of going to college include meeting a future spouse or partner, making lifelong friends, and learning for the sake of learning.  The educational and the social experiences are part of the growing experience.  The goals that the CSCU Board of Regents harbor, however, show that they neither understand what college is about nor do they understand the motivations behind attending a college and being a classroom with others.

Op-ed submit bugThey do not understand the value of going to college for someone like me.  Since these individuals do not appear to understand what an education means to the students in this system, they should not serve on the Board of Regents.

I am not in college to get a job.  Most students do not go to a university to simply get a job.  College is a way station between the teen years and adulthood for the young, and way to further ambitions for the not so young.  It is a place for us to mature even if we do immature things.  It is a place to help students discover themselves and what they want to do in life.  And it is a place to prepare for careers.  In this maturation and self-discovery process, the faculty at Middlesex, Southern, and other schools in the system, are instrumental in guiding students toward whatever goals we have for ourselves.

Focusing on job training is not the university’s role nor should it be.  Goodwin College can handle that.  I do not attend Southern Connecticut State University for “hire” education.  I attend for higher education.

Today, the average 38-year-old will change jobs 15 times.  I understand that jobs held in high school and college are included in this statistic, but that is a lot of jobs.  It speaks to the fluidity of the market today and shows that students had better be prepared for future changes.

Think of it this way: over half the jobs that will be available in the year 2025 do not yet exist.  By the same metric, at least half the jobs in existence today will not exist in 2025.  That means that students had better be prepared to switch careers at a moment’s notice.  We have to have the ability to adjust.  This means being able to think fast, think critically, and think outside the box.  We had better be able to write well and be informed about life outside the walls of our communities.

I am majoring in biology but a liberal arts education is important for everyone.  This is most important because those of us at Connecticut State University and the community colleges understand that we are not just competing against each other or those within the state.  We are competing against the world.  This is something that seems to go over the heads of the CSCU Board of Regents.

The faculty at Middlesex and Southern Connecticut State make it a point to get to know their students and it is apparent that they truly care about what they do.  They all have office hoursm but on more than one occasion I was welcomed to get extra help or to simply talk regardless of the time.  These times are valuable even when informal because the knowledge gained is substantial and fascinating.

I am now able to confidently talk about such diverse topics as why the importance of oil prices help or hurt the economy, why studying the fruit fly is important to developing knowledge about human disease and aging, and the role The Beatles had ending the Cold War.  And in a memorable 30-minute hallway conversation with one of my professors at Southern, I learned why Toronto, Canada, is one of the greatest cities in the world.  I never visited Toronto but have now added it to my bucket list.  No way would I have learned about any of this taking an online class.

This is not a rant about the Board of Regents’ goal to cheapen my education through online courses per se.   Yet, I am opposed to the over-emphasis of online courses because of personal experiences.  I took an online math course at Middlesex Community College and it was a bad decision on my part.  The class wasted my time and money and I did not learn anything.  I also took online courses in literature and history and struggled with them as well.  I know I am not the only one who struggled with these classes.

The classroom experience differs because I can immediately ask questions and get the answers just as quickly.  Being in class helps students learn, retain information, and understand the subject matter much better than an online course. Honestly, online courses are ineffective and harder to learn.  A student’s attention span and focus simply are not there.  Extremely low graduation rates and constant investigations at the University of Phoenix gives substantial evidence that online classes are not very effective and should be kept to a minimum.

I now know that nothing can replace the in-class experience.  The valuable relationships I have developed with my professors are such that I know I can count on them to give excellent advice on diverse subjects such as the proper way to study and what to beware of as I continue my career path.

Not only are professors great with advice, but they also write great recommendations for graduate school and jobs.  By taking the time to get to know their students, they can write recommendations that are academic and personal in nature.  How is someone who teaches me online, whom I have never met, and who may or may not be a legitimate professor, going to write a recommendation?  Is she going to write, “Melissa Hall did a great job with her multiple choice answers?”  It makes no sense.

Neither students at Connecticut State University nor the community colleges deserve what the CSCU Board of Regents apparently has in store.  It makes no sense to utilize instructors in other countries whom we will never meet.  We are much better off learning in class, face to face with our own professors, at our own institutions, than with an online entity hired by the Board of Regents.

Melissa Hall of East Haddam is a student at Southern Connecticut State University.

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