Northeastern Junior College enjoying boom in online enrollment

Staff has stepped up to allow college to provide more online classes.

By CALLIE JONES | | Sterling Journal-Advocate
PUBLISHED: October 9, 2023 at 10:53 a.m. | UPDATED: October 9, 2023 at 11:30 a.m.

October 10, 2023
Northeastern Junior College students complete coursework in an English 1021 class that is taught online. The college recently greatly expanded its online course offerings, which has lead to a significant increase in online student enrollment and a four percent increase in total overall enrollment.

Last year, the college had 490 students enrolled in online classes; this fall it’s up to 660. However, some students may be counted more than one time in that number if they are taking multiple online classes. That increase has come as Northeastern has been able to add a lot more online courses to its offerings, going from just six classes in 2021-22 to 35 classes this fall, which are attended not just by NJC students but students across the 13 colleges in the Colorado Community College System.

According to Sam Soliman, vice president of academic affairs, the reason for the growth is because previously the Colorado Community College System’s central office was providing online courses but the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits colleges, told them they couldn’t do that since they are not a college.

So, in the summer of 2022, CCCS started distributing its 900 online courses, in phases, to the 13 colleges in the system based on each college’s enrollment, how many online courses the college had taught, and how many students the college had taking online classes.

“NJC was in a bad spot because we had only taught six (courses),” Soliman said, explaining that it was sort of a “sink or swim scenario” because if NJC students had to go through other colleges to take the online courses NJC would have lost that revenue. “It was like (I told staff), I need you to teach online because our future depends on it.”

Fortunately, the faculty did step up and soon Northeastern started picking up more courses because they would volunteer when other colleges couldn’t offer a course after the instructor backed out. Because of that, while CCCS tries to prioritize NJC instructors with NJC students, right now some instructors are teaching classes with no or very few NJC students.

“As a smaller college in the system, we would have a fairly small share of the courses but through the work that Sam and others did, we have pretty much tripled our planned share and will keep those courses forever,” NJC President Mike White said. “I am so proud of our faculty and staff at Northeastern who stepped up, accelerated processes, and enabled us to support students across Colorado by teaching these online classes. Their extra effort will bring additional revenue to NJC this year and well into the future and highlight our exceptional faculty to students throughout Colorado.”

Veronica Koehn, dean of arts and sciences, also said some of the increase in the number of Northeastern classes came when there was a spike in overall online enrollment. As the CCCS was sectioning students off to enroll them in classes, they soon realized there were more students than anticipated and they needed to add more sections, and NJC was aggressive in getting courses when those additional sections opened up.

“So, NJC was able to catch additional courses both from other school’s instructors backing out and the jump in online enrollment that led to CCCS opening more sections. We kind of jumped right in and said ‘We’ll take it! We’ll take it!’” Koehn explained.

Right now, there are nearly 26,000 students across the CCCS enrolled in online classes. According to White, that is a 10 to 12 percent increase in growth this year that the system didn’t anticipate.

“All of that is to our benefit because it allows us to grow enrollment,” Soliman said, which in turn will provide more revenue for the college.

So far, the CCCS has allocated 40 percent of the courses it was teaching to the 13 colleges; by the spring it will be 60 percent and in fall 2024 it will have 100 percent of its courses allocated out. This means NJC will be adding even more; it anticipates eventually having over 60 online classes.

Northeastern’s enrollment has also increased due to a rise in concurrent enrollment students who are taking advantage of the online course offerings as well, especially now that they’re offered at a lower price. While online tuition was higher than resident tuition, with CCCS’s focus on equity and access, the system has allowed colleges to charge a resident online rate for concurrent online students, saving them about $100 a credit hour.

“That means that we can have a much broader reach and our concurrent enrollment students can take a lot of additional classes than they might otherwise be able to. If you look at some of these areas that are a little bit isolated, it’s hard for their students to come to NJC so they’re kind of limited on which of the high school faculty are credentialed to teach college-level courses; now they have a lot more options,” Koehn said. “That was one of the goals of the model: We live in a huge state, so we want to be able to reach as many potential students as possible and this allows us to do that.”

None of this would be possible without the dedication of not only the instructors who stepped up to teach courses but also the IT and HR departments who have helped in the rollout. Soliman is especially grateful for people like philosophy instructor Clint Rothell, who recruited adjunct instructors including Sterling Foursquare Church Pastor Ben Hackbarth and also used his connections as the CCCS statewide philosophy chair to find enough instructors so that NJC was able to offer multiple online philosophy courses.

“We had a marketing class become available late last week and Amanda Kerker jumped up, ‘I’ll take it!’ So it’s really neat that they’re taking on a heavier load but they’re still really enthusiastic and do what they can to help our students,” Koehn said, sharing that while some of NJC’s online instructors are on the Front Range, quite a few are at NJC.

Even White, Soliman, and Koehn have stepped up to teach classes.

It hasn’t been without its challenges though and has definitely caused some stress, especially when there is no course content and instructors have to come up with it sometimes in as little as three days. Koehn said the CCCS is soliciting input from faculty across the system, asking them if they’re willing to share their syllabus, assignments, etc., so hopefully, that won’t be so much of an issue in the spring.

All the colleges also have some work to do on updates to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements, such as having a reader, so students with vision difficulties can click on text and it is then read to them, and providing captioning for videos.

For right now, NJC is celebrating what it’s been able to accomplish.

“Our faculty has really done a great job and it’s been good for us,” Soliman said.

View All News Submit a Story