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20110809-eSTC-001McALLEN — South Texas College launched the eSTC Virtual Campus, its sixth site, on Tuesday promising to offer a broad range of courses across academic disciplines that will also allow students to connect to all departments via live chat.

“The Internet has transformed every facet of our lives,” said STC President Shirley A. Reed. “In a brave move that few colleges have dared to take, we are offering every service available to our traditional campus students – all online.”

STC’s distance learning program started in 1997, stretching the McAllen-based college’s services to Weslaco and Rio Grande City. Since the school’s inception in 1993, reaching long-distance students has been a goal, said Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs.

“Now with the use of technology and increased demand, we can help students receive a degree 100 percent online,” he explained.

The program is aimed at reaching all types of students, from stay-at-home parents, to professionals who are employed, to those in the military stationed abroad, along with individuals who wish to complete their degree from home, Mejia added.

Enrollment in distance learning is outpacing regular enrollment at STC. That doesn’t mean that enrollment is down, it just means that more people that couldn’t physically come to campus are now able to get their education online because of the broader opportunities presented by the college, STC officials said.

“With eSTC, we are eliminating time and distance barriers and making education more affordable and flexible than ever,” Mejia said. “During the spring 2011 semester, we served over 5,000 students through our online courses and by the year 2020, we expect to serve more than 10,000 students through eSTC.”

STC’s comprehensive online portal will allow the college’s 30,000-plus students to enroll in one of more than 500 course sections toward earning one of 15 degrees and five certificates. There are 20 certificates or associates degrees that are now available via eSTC that students can earn entirely online.

The online courses are across many academic disciplines including in anthropology, business administration, criminal justice, English, human resources specialist, interdisciplinary studies, language and cultural studies – Spanish concentration, Mexican-American studies, psychology, social work, sociology, teaching and technology management.

The certificates include management or marketing, and those that prepare students for being an accounting clerk, computer applications specialist or human resources assistant.

The three bachelor degrees that the college offers are not yet fully online, but several of the courses are.

The STC e-campus not only includes course offerings, but will also provide online student support services from admissions to financial aid to library services to veteran affairs. With the use of a chat function, students will be able to connect with a live individual to ask any questions. This is in addition to the existing chat option with instructors and group discussion boards.

The college will have expanded hours via chat and certain staff has been trained to utilize the program to be available to students in a more convenient way. The chat function is designed to be seamless. If a student is chatting with someone in admissions, but then has a financial aid question, their entire chat will be transferred over to a representative in that department.

Dr. Brett Millian, interim director for distance education at STC, has been at the forefront of the entire process. He helped put together a team of people that assisted in the development of the virtual campus.

“With distance learning and the resources we are putting online, like financial aid, some students may never even need to set foot on campus now,” he said. “Anything that a student can expect from coming to campus they can get online.”

Vanessa Martinez, 27, is a big fan of taking online courses. Juggling school, marriage and four kids (ages 8, 7, 5 and 3) makes the virtual classroom easy to handle.

In May, she graduated from STC with an associate's degree in English. This summer she completed four courses online, and this fall she plans on pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

"I just love taking courses online because it fits with my kids' schedule, especially during the summer time when they are all at home," Martinez said. "I like it because I'm not confined to a certain time slot. I just do my school work on my own time."

Interested students can learn more about the eSTC Virtual Campus by visiting http://vc.southtexascollege.edu.

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