Austin Community College District (ACC) ranks top in the state and nation in online learning according to two recent reports. The recognition comes at a time where the college has grown its online and distance education programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Learning how to respond to the changing needs of our students is essential," says Dr. Charles Cook, ACC provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. "We have to continue exploring opportunities to expand access and to overcome barriers of place and time."
ACC ranked among the top 20 colleges in the nation — and the only college in Texas — to be recognized on OnlineU.com's 2021 Best Online Associate Degree list.
"In an increasingly demanding culture where students balance multiple commitments of work, family, and education, distance education is more important than ever before," says Dr. Erasmus Addae, associate vice president of Distance Education. "With ACC, you have access to supportive faculty, free tutoring, financial aid opportunities, and more. Our goal is to nurture learners with well-conceived, well-designed, well-presented courses and programs. We're honored to be recognized among the leading colleges in the nation in this important work."
The ranking identifies colleges and universities that offer the best return on investment (ROI) for their online associate degrees. OnlineU developed the list using graduates' salaries and debt payments for 10 years after graduation to give each school a percentile ROI score that reflects how the salary and debt of each school's programs compare to similar ones.
ACC's Distance Education (DE) Program offers courses, certificate programs, and degree programs in three formats: (1) Online – all instruction and services are provided online; (2) Distance Learning Campus – instruction is offered online, but some services, like lab or testing, are offered on campus; (3) Hybrid – instruction and services are provided partly online and partly face-to-face.
Enrollments in DE programs increased 29.7 percent over the last five years at ACC. Before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our region, the percentage of ACC students enrolling in at least one DE course increased from 23.8 percent in fall 2015 to 30.2 percent in fall 2019. In April 2020, the college temporarily transitioned all courses to online formats as a result of COVID-19. Many courses remain fully online, and the college's support services and resources have transitioned online as well.
The college also ranked among the top in Texas according to TexasOnlineColleges.com's 2021 Best Online Community Colleges in Texas report for its distance education programs. The report recognizes programs based on affordability and flexibility and tracks criteria including, but not limited to:
"Community colleges offer lots of benefits to undergraduate students, whether traditional or nontraditional. Online degrees earned through community colleges make your educational experience even more affordable and personalized," states the report. "Community colleges not only save students money, they make it easier to get into universities. Community colleges feed into state colleges, which means transferring credits is simple, and you won't lose credits in the process."
The college continues to work toward improving its DE programs, and it's building off lessons learned during COVID-19.
"Our faculty did a phenomenal job in moving instruction online quickly in response to the pandemic. In doing so, we learned a great deal about the need for course redesign and additional student support," says Cook. "Going forward, we want students to find our online and hybrid programs just as engaging, effective, and satisfying as the traditional face-to-face options."
In spring 2019, five distance education assistant deans were appointed to work in collaboration with instructional departments and the distance education department to ensure accountability in distance education processes and procedures. In support of the college's strategic goal of persistence and engagement, the distance and alternative learning experiences departments and the IT department collaborated to implement Blackboard Ally and Blackboard Collaborate to make digital course content more accessible and improve online teaching and learning.
Learn more about ACC's online programs and distance education courses at austincc.edu/online.