State Grant Boosts Community Colleges Online Courses

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LANSING — Taking courses online will soon be easy for Michigan employees and job hopefuls.

A $75,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to the Michigan Community College Association will provide the means for all the state’s computerized job training programs, including distance learning, to be grouped into a single database.

“The grant will encourage more distance learning by grouping all the learning modules in one database,” said Nancy Cretsinger, the director of grants and institutional research at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville.

Learning modules, she explained, include classes and programs that can be accessed online as well as software and training materials that businesses can download into their offices. Previously, these modules had been scattered all over the state, hosted by individual community colleges. It was difficult for a prospective student or business to find them.

“Development has been done at different community colleges and the modules are all over the place,” said C.J. Shroll, the director of work force development at the association. “Now it’s hard to find out if they exist and how to get them. This would hopefully make that easier and quicker.”

Community colleges are marketing their individual programs to their specific areas, while distance learning crosses boundaries by providing classes via home computer.

“We’re primarily marketing to Michigan residents, but there’s also no reason people from Indiana couldn’t take one of these courses,” said Cretsinger. “We need to improve our promotion of these programs.”

The learning modules will be used primarily by community colleges, Michigan Technical Education Centers and Michigan Virtual University, an online non-profit corporation that links students and job training programs.

“The beauty of online programs is that geography doesn’t limit them,” Cretsinger said. “That a public community college system provides them makes it much more appealing to people.”

For example, Glen Oaks Community College has collaborated with faculty at Jackson Community College to create a health insurance billing and coding program that will lead students toward a national certification, the only one of its kind in the state. Glen Oaks is also working with Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek to create an associate degree in social work that will be accessible online.

“The important thing is to promote these online courses,” said Cretsinger. “People still don’t know about them.”

Shroll agreed that advertising the availability of the e-learning programs is key.

“There is a demand for this kind of thing,” he said. “If people meeting with companies have better and more current information, they can respond better to businesses’ questions and needs. Businesses sometimes wait until the need is very immediate. They don’t want to start next semester or next year, they want to start tomorrow or the next day. That’s the pace of things in the world.”

By grouping these learning modules together, the association hopes to encourage more active use of distance learning opportunities.

“This is part of making the whole system more efficient,” said Shroll. “We’re pleased that we’ve been provided this resource.”           

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