By Valerie Jones
August 14, 2012 - Penn Foster College is taking the hospitable approach when it comes to its students by offering more faculty training, eliminating fees for extended course time, and most recently, the launch of a new community networking website.
The site, which launched in early July, is accessible by anyone.
“Since January 2012, we have been trying to add an incredibly high level of hospitality to our students,” said Raymond McNulty, chief learning officer for Penn Foster College. “We saw through online forums that students were asking instructors specific questions. Several of the students would have the same question. This site allows us to bank those questions where students can immediately see the instructor’s answers.”
McNulty said the community site is an opportunity for instructors to see exactly where students are having problems, noting that if several students are experiencing the same problem, then the issue isn’t with the students. The site also features blogs and a map of the U.S., which allows students to see where other students are located who are taking the same program.
“This site creates peer-to-peer conversations as well as teacher-to-student conversations,” he said.
McNulty also noted Penn Foster recently expanded its hours to include weekends, so students can now receive online support seven days a week.
“Our student support services include one-on-one instructional support via telephone, discussion boards, webinars, an online library, as well as a career services division,” he said.
McNulty stressed that cost is a big factor for students, and Penn Foster prides itself on being self-paced and affordable.
“People engage in these programs for self-improvement and advancement, and we want to be able to support these students by finding a program that fits their lifestyles,” McNulty said. “Many of these students like the online format, but several of them like the idea of having printed material as well. We offer blended programs, meaning a mixture between online and printed material and lecture capture.”
McNulty said future plans for growth include having more online offerings, but he recognizes that maintaining a balance will be integral to the future of Penn Foster’s programs.
“We will continue to have the printed materials – textbooks and study guides – and we will also provide it digitally,” he said. “We know where the future is and it’s going to be a more digital environment, but we’re not going to abandon those in the pipeline.”
McNulty said the college is also working to add an adaptive learning engine within the next two years.
“We’re going to look at all the lessons that are taught, go through the curriculum, and break the lessons down into smaller modules,” he said. “We want more lessons, but we want them shorter. That’s a characteristic of online learning: short lesson followed by assessment, then repeated.”
According to McNulty, surveys show students at Penn Foster complete courses with a 90% satisfaction rate.
There are 5,500 students enrolled in Penn Foster’s online business degree programs. Students can earn associate degrees in accounting, business management, fashion merchandising, finance, human resource management, marketing and retail management; a bachelor’s degree in business management; and undergraduate certificates in accounting, business management, and human resources management.
Students need to complete anywhere from 63-68 credits to earn an associate degree and 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. Penn Foster College is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is recognized by the U.S. Department Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
About Penn Foster
Penn Foster is a global leader in online education, providing career-focused degree and vocational programs in the fields of allied health, business, technology, education, and select trades through the Penn Foster College and Penn Foster Career School.