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Posted: Jul 1, 2014
Pat Jarvis, left, and Amanda Sagun, right, in the Web College FastTrack office at TMCC, on June 19, 2014.
Scoring impressive 92 and 93 percent rates of students who continue to study and move on to their next courses, the FastTrack Online Degree Program at Truckee Meadows Community College has also chalked up applause from working students who seek accelerated classes delivered online.
FastTrack’s retention rate for Spring and Fall 2012 was 93%, and for Spring 2013 was 92%, according to the TMCC Office of Institutional Research, Analysis, and Effectiveness. These accelerated three-credit courses are taken by students in five-week modules.
The national retention rate for U.S. community college semester-length and accelerated programs combined is 70-72%, as reported by Fred Lokken, who together with Christine Mullins, authored the 2013 Distance Education Survey Results report.
"The FastTrack program at TMCC allowed me to continue my education in a format that complemented my current life schedule,” wrote Troy Fontana in an email. “The FastTrack program has been an incredible resource to advance my education, accommodate my professional demands and maintain a sense of balance in my home life.”
The program’s staff credit students’ sense of purpose, and the concierge services that are built into the program and give support to each cohort.
“Our retention rate is so good because we have requirements before students start the program, they are extremely self-motivated, and we give a great deal of personal attention,” said Pat Jarvis, FastTrack Coordinator and Instructional Designer at TMCC.
A human element is important when coursework is entirely online.
“When they call, they don’t get a recorded phone tree, they get a human,” Jarvis said. “If students need anything, we try and help them or direct them to the proper person. It’s like students have a live assistant here. Students like the encouragement we give them. I keep encouraging them, telling them there are only a few classes left. I call myself the monitor of momentum.”
FastTrack is directed to students including working professionals, working people who seek career advancement or a new occupation, students who have served in the military, and those between the ages of 25 and 62. It is a student-centered and student motivated opportunity to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in two years or less.
Requirements to be accepted into the program are a résumé, 500-word essay on why the student feels an accelerated program is right for him/her, GPA of 2.5 or above, SmarterMeasure survey to assess computer literacy and learning styles, an ACCUPLACER exam and a phone interview with the FastTrack department. Students need to be ready to take ENG 101 upon entering the program, and they are encouraged to take any prerequisites to MATH 120 either in person or online depending on the student’s preferred learning style, Jarvis said.
“We get students started on their math right away,” Jarvis said.
Three five-week courses are offered during regular semester months, and two are scheduled during the summer.
The Associate of Applied Science in Business, and the Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice with Law Enforcement Emphasis are FastTrack degrees that will transfer toward a Bachelor of Applied Science in Management degree at Nevada State College.
Students completing the accelerated Web Design Certificate at TMCC can complete the rest of the requirements for an Associate of Applied Science degree, and then apply to the Bachelor of Management at NSC if they have met the general education requirements for transfer students. Classes at NSC are also accelerated and entirely online.
The FastTrack program began in Feb. 2012 as a pilot program funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant finished in June 2013, and now the program is financed by the college as one of the departments of TMCC.
Instructors choose their content, discussions and assignments, and place the material into modules following a course structure provided by WebCollege. The objective is for students to experience consistency in the location of information for each course they take, Jarvis said.
There are about 70 students currently enrolled in FastTrack Online Degree Programs, and 10 recently graduated in May.
Students complete FastTrack classes on Canvas, the interface for online instruction at TMCC. The tuition is the same as TMCC in-person course tuition, with an additional Distance Education Fee of $15 per class. Books employed for FastTrack classes are eBooks, because of the compressed nature of the modules, and are usually less expensive than their printed counterparts. TMCC’s accelerated degrees allow for a more cost-effective tuition than many in the current market, Jarvis said.
An 18-page color FastTrack handbook was authored as part of the required deliverables for the grant. Other colleges initiating their own accelerated online degrees can use the detailed brochure as a handbook and guide.
The glossy brochure describes a systemic process in program development; offering suggestions for funding strategies, articulation processes, curriculum spreadsheet, schedule needed for preparatory steps, information about course design and recommendations for marketing to and interviewing students.
“We advise faculty to schedule group projects as soon as possible within each module to allow for the students to work group meetings into their very busy lives,” Jarvis said.
More information about the FastTrack Online Degrees can be found on the program’s Web pages or by phoning Amanda Sagun, Web College Administrative Assistant at 775-337-5623, or Pat Jarvis at 775-673-7047.
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