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Lone Star College Invests in Support for Online Students

Findings from a recent report by the Lumina Foundation revealed that nearly 40 million Americans had enrolled in college, but did not complete a degree. Of this number, about 12-14 million completed more than 60 credit hours – generally enough for an associate degree – without receiving any recognition.

Lone Star College System chose to confront the degree completion problem head on when it launched an initiative to support its nearly 8,000 online students. Equipped with a Sloan Consortium award-winning online student support services team, LSC-Online is trying to combat this trend by increasing student completion rates.

Lone State’s LSC-Online is integral to its mission to extend education to a larger segment of the population. The student support services unit was created in 2011 to enhance the online student experience. The team proved so popular, Lone Star tripled its staff to keep up with student demand. Technical support is available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and students can chat with an online advisor every day of the week. There are two full-time and eight part-time online advisors.

Creators said feedback from students has been positive and early signs suggest the services are contributing to student success and completion rates. Currently, online student support services provide more advising resources than face to face students receive.

Student usage data released from LSC-Online to The Sloan Consortium shows that online advising communications from Jan. 1-May 13, 2012 experienced a significant increase from communications in Aug. 1-Dec. 18, 2011. Chats increased by 1,646; e-mails increased by 566; phone calls increased by 251; and web conferences increased by 37.

Results from surveys given to students after they complete an online advising chat reveal that 90% were satisfied or very satisfied with how well the advisor answered their question. Ninety-one percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall knowledge of their online advisor, and 96% were satisfied or very satisfied with the ease in process to chat with their online advisor.

Lone Star, the fastest growing community college system in Texas, is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and offers students associate degrees and certificates in several fields.

Online students can pursue an Associate of Arts in Business, Associate of Applied Science in Accounting, Associate of Applied Science in Management, General Business Certificate, and Small Business Management Certificate. The popularity of business degrees is partly due to the wide scope of career fields it lends itself to.

“I think it’s like a catchall. Business is a general area where people feel the skills they attain are cross-functional,” said Ruben Howard, Department Chair of Business at LSC-CyFair. “However, the area is very broad so just having a degree in business might not be enough. Some students will need to narrow it down to a specialization.”

The curriculum online students take is the same curriculum offered on each individual campus, Howard said. He said students are encouraged to consult with an academic advisor the first day to determine which programs and classes will transfer into an academic degree.

Follow Valerie Jones on Twitter @ValerieJonesCMN

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