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Facing accreditation dilemma, Oakland Community College curtails online courses

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Oakland Community College, Michigan’s largest community college system, will sharply cut back its online course offerings next year.

OCC has offered online courses for years.

More recently, it sought accreditation as a “virtual campus” that’s authorized to grant online-learning based degrees as well.

But its application wasn’t approved by an oversight body, the Higher Learning Commission.

So the school decided to sharply cut back online offerings this winter, to make sure students aren’t taking classes that won’t count toward a degree.

By federal law, the Higher Learning Commission must authorize online programs where students can take more than 50% of their courses online.

OCC vice chancellor of external affairs Sharon Miller said the school needs to make sure it has a full “virtual campus” before going forward.

“We’re going to reduce the number of (course) offerings that we have for now, so that we can put those vital services in place for students,” such as access to bookstores and counseling services, Miller said.

Miller says that OCC will cut its 250+ online course offerings “at least in half.” The school plans to re-apply for accreditation in 2016.

OCC Faculty Association head Mary Ann McGee said that faculty were first told in June that all online classes would be canceled for the winter semester.

McGee suggested the school administration should have put the full range of online services in place before applying for virtual campus accreditation.

She said that since voting to approve the idea in 2010, faculty have built the backbone of the school’s online offerings, but administrators have bungled the rest.  

“Many of the faculty members that I talk to, even if they don’t teach online courses themselves, are very embarrassed and upset by this,” McGee said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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