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Commission planning on looking into WOSC

ALTUS, Okla_Does Western Oklahoma State College in Altus offer online courses that offer little more than athletic eligibility to students at other schools? That's the question the Higher Learning Commission is asking after a recent news article was published in the "Chronicle of Higher Education." The article criticized the educational caliber of WOSC's slate of ten-day online intersession classes and how many of those enrolled were athletes. The article has prompted the accrediting agency to schedule another visit to the college next year and take a closer look at those online offerings.

We talked with WOSC's president by phone Tuesday and he said there is nothing wrong with the way those intersession courses are conducted and welcomes the accrediting agency to take a look.

Western Oklahoma State College President Phil Birdine said the decision by the higher learning committee to take another look at their ten-day online classes caught him by surprise.

"They were here again in 2008 and did a very comprehensive review of our campus and looked at all of our courses and four years later they feel a need to come again."

This time influenced by a recent lengthy "Chronicle" article. The Higher Learning Commission released a statement pointing out what caught their eye. How the institution "makes a practice of offering accelerated courses in a ten-day time frame...raises serious questions about the rigor of these courses, their appropriateness as college level courses" and "also concerned about the marketing of these courses to athletes nation-wide."

"We take issue with the way that was presented in the ‘Chronicle' article. We stand firm on integrity in our courses, we stand firm on our academic credentials, of our faculty."

President Birdine said the ten days offered by WOSC's inter session are sufficient enough for most students to fully understand the teaching material.

"It may depend on the student, you know different people learn at different levels and what's hard for one person and vice versa."

He also said the 30 courses offered are challenging enough for students.

"Those courses are graded through a process that if there is a weak course in there in terms of content and course objective, then that course will not survive internal process for review when those courses go up."

He also addressed the issues pointed out in the article regarding inter-session and student athletes.

"Our best guess is that it is approaching 50 percent of our students enrolled in these intersession are athletes. Have we marketed to them solely? At one point we did. Have we marketed solely to athletes recently? No we have not."

The Higher Learning Commission said that's a driving factor that the college has relied on to close possible gaps in its revenue, but Birdine said that's not the case.

"We manage our resources very, very well year in and year out and you being in Oklahoma for a little bit, you understand that this state has struggled to support its institutions and Western, like any institution, has really has to manage its resources in a responsible way and I can tell you today unequivocally we have done that."

President Birdine said he is seeing more students turning towards intersession courses. He said if he had to take a guess why, it could be the higher cost of education and students wanting to get finished quicker.

Representatives from the Higher Learning Commission will post the results of their visit at the conclusion of the process next year.

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