Compressed Online Courses Draw More Scrutiny

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is investigating two more institutions over their use of accelerated courses, The Chronicle has learned.

The commission sent letters this month to Cloud County Community College, in Kansas, and Adams State University, in Colorado, requiring those institutions to prepare detailed reports describing their shortened-format courses, which have helped many athletes stay eligible for sports.

Earlier this month, the commission announced an investigation into Western Oklahoma State College, which was the focus of a Chronicle article detailing how thousands of college athletes have used its 10-day classes to help maintain NCAA eligibility. The American Association of Community Colleges has also raised concerns.

Higher Learning Commission representatives plan to visit Western Oklahoma early next year. In a statement published last week in the Altus Times, officials at the college said they stood by the rigor of their courses and welcomed the commission’s visit.

Cloud County and Adams State were also named in the Chronicle article. The Higher Learning Commission has asked that those institutions list every course they have offered this year in a format of less than five weeks, how many students have taken those classes, and how their grades compared to those received by students enrolled in longer-format courses.

Cloud County and Adams State must submit their responses by December 20. After that, the commission will determine whether further scrutiny, including the possibility of an on-site visit, is warranted, its letter said.

In an e-mail, Danette E. Toone, president of Cloud County Community College, told The Chronicle, “Just because an athlete, multiple athletes, or even multiple students found a course ‘easy’ should not lead one to assume it is easy for everyone. Or that, therefore, all classes are easy.”

“Cloud has nothing to hide, and we are proud of our online, hybrid, and face-to-face classes,” she added, saying that Cloud is in “full agreement with HLC’s responsibility to ensure academic integrity and will fully comply with their request.”

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