ALTUS — Western Oklahoma State College officials say they'll use an upcoming visit from the college's accrediting board as a chance to redeem the school's name.
But officials with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the college's accrediting board, said recent reports about so-called quick courses offered at the college raise questions about the courses' place in a college curriculum.
Officials from the commission announced Friday they planned to visit the college early next year in response to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that claimed the 10-day accelerated online courses offer dubious credit for minimal time and effort.
According to the report, major college athletic programs use the courses as a way to keep athletes eligible to play.
According to the article, Western Oklahoma State College's online offerings are well-known among major college athletics programs nationwide as a good option when players find themselves in an academic bind.
The article raises questions about the quality of the courses and lack of academic oversight.
In a statement, commission spokesman John Hausaman said the report raised concerns about how the college markets the courses to athletes nationwide. Officials are also concerned that the college relies on the courses to raise money to close gaps in its funding.
The article says the college brought in about $2 million last year in revenue from the courses.
Before the visit, the college will be required to submit a report to the commission explaining how the courses are implemented and how they comply with the commission's regulations. After the visit, the commission will determine whether to continue monitoring the college or impose some type of sanction.
The commission isn't the only organization to express concern over the report. Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, said in a statement that the organization was reviewing the allegations against the school to determine what action to take.
“We are committed to identifying safeguards that ensure the integrity of online curricula provided by the colleges we represent and to best protect the interests of the students our colleges serve,” Bumphus said.
Phil Birdine, president of the Altus-based community college, said Monday that he thought the Chronicle of Higher Education article mischaracterized the college's intention.
He also disputed the amount of revenue listed in the article, which he estimated is nearer to $500,000 a year, which covers the cost of operating the program.
“We have to keep the lights on,” Birdine said. “The technology has to be supported.”
In the past, the college has had no reason to monitor how many of its online students were student athletes at other schools, Birdine said, although officials may begin to look at that figure in the future.
Officials do monitor where students in its online accelerated programs come from, he said. The largest share of students live in Oklahoma, he said. Roughly 10 percent come from California, he said. He suspects those students are looking to programs in Oklahoma to avoid skyrocketing tuition costs in their home state.
Lisa Greenlee, the college's vice president for academic and student support services, said the 10-day courses generally include a written assignment and online discussion-based components.
Greenlee said she expects the commission will examine the quality and rigor of the 10-day intersession courses the college offers.
“If they showed up today, we could show them that,” she said. “We welcome (the commission) here at Western.”
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For more information about Western Oklahoma State College, go to www.wosc.edu.