Francisca Benitez

By Francisca Benitez

The Observer

Eastern Oregon University is in the process of negotiating contracts with The Learning House, a company that assists colleges and universities in expanding its online programs.

If the partnership goes through, The Learning House will help market EOU’s online program to more students, but students already enrolled won’t notice a difference. Tim Seydel, EOU’s vice president for university advancement, said the curriculum and faculty will not change. The Learning House will take a percentage of profits from online enrollment in exchange for its marketing services.

Distance education has been a part of EOU’s history for decades. Now, about half of the students enrolled at EOU are taking at least one of their classes online.

Dixie Lund is a Board of Trustees member at EOU, and former dean of distance education. She said about 40 years ago, EOU started looking into distance learning because it was the only college in Eastern Oregon and therefore needed to find a way to provide education for people in the area who couldn’t physically make the commute.

“We were able to establish part-time locations at different regional centers, and over time those have grown,” she said.

EOU now has 11 regional centers across Oregon. Students enrolled in online programs can visit their nearest regional center to meet with advisers in person, and certain locations offer in-person classes as well. Some online students are too far away to ever visit a brick-and-mortar location at all. Those students never meet their professors in person or even walk across a stage to receive their degree — they simply do all their schoolwork online.

Distance education was a lot different before the internet. Lund said students would receive packages containing paper materials, textbooks and VHS tapes of classes that were filmed the week before. In today’s electronically connected world, it sounds like an antiquated way to learn, but Lund said it worked for students.

“It served its purpose at that time for students who could not do it any other way,” she said. She said she admired the students who were determined to get their degrees no matter how difficult it was.

She explained most students in the program in those days were middle-aged, with families and jobs and no college in their towns.

“Relocating was not an option, so they just were stagnant, and if they had a career or even personal aspirations they were just not able to (earn a college degree),” she said.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer