Bergen launches Center for Online Learning

By Larry Hlavenka

With demand for online options in higher education soaring and students seeking flexibility as they work toward earning degrees, Bergen Community College will launch its Center for Online Learning this spring. The fully virtual center will launch with two degree-granting programs, psychology and business administration, and a complete complement of online services, resources and assets.

To ensure a high-quality online experience, the New Jersey college will replace its online course delivery platform with the Canvas environment – a technology-enhanced student-centered learning tool.

“Offering online courses has become commonplace in higher education, but we seek to go beyond simply ‘offering’ classes,” Bergen President Eric M. Friedman said. “Anchored by the college’s respected programs, faculty and student services, the Center for Online Learning will build on Bergen’s reputation for delivering a high-quality learning experience. Students throughout our region will now have online access to the same renowned programs that nearly 11,000 local residents enroll in each year.”

The center also has garnered support from county government officials. In reflection of the administration’s stated goals of prioritizing support and enhancements for the college, Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III and the Board of Commissioners have awarded the institution a $670,000 grant to assist in launching the center. The seed money accounts for half of the center’s initial startup costs, including helping to finance the purchase of Canvas and expanding the online student resources.

“Programs like the Center for Online Learning will be critical in adapting to the educational needs of students, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Commissioner Education Chair Joan Voss said. “It is vital that we continue to educate, learn, and support the educational quality of our community to stay competitive in an ever-changing landscape and world.”

Adapting with the times

According to a recent Cengage survey, 76% of community college students expect to take at least some courses fully online this year. The study, conducted in partnership with the Association of Community College Trustees, Phi Theta Kappa and other leading community college organizations, speaks to a trend in higher education accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent reliance on distance learning. The number of undergraduates enrolled exclusively in online courses jumped from 2.5 million to 7 million from 2019 to 2020, with 11.8 million students enrolled in at least one online course overall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The pandemic not only hastened the use of online environments, but helped students experience the benefits of virtual learning as well – flexibility, accessibility and convenience among them. With the changing landscape apparent, developing robust online education options became a key takeaway in Bergen’s newly established academic master plan and Friedman’s annual goals.

Though Bergen has offered online classes for nearly 20 years, the center represents the first time the college will offer entire programs online. Program requirements remain the same as Bergen’s in-person offerings – 60 credit hours – and college faculty will teach all courses. Friedman expects to add new online programs in future semesters.

Students enrolling in courses through the Center for Online Learning will have access to online tutoring, advising and career services, while also benefiting from a completely virtual registration, financial aid and bursar system. To make the most of the fully virtual programs, students should have access to a personal computer, high-speed internet, a webcam and microphone. Tuition remains the same as in-person Bergen classes.

Unique to the center, each enrollee will work with a dedicated student success coach. The coach will provide guidance on coursework and transitioning to a fully online program. The college has also prioritized providing faculty with access to skill development workshops on best practices. The pandemic saw the institution enhance those efforts through its Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Larry Hlavenka

is executive director of public relations, community and cultural affairs at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.