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White Earth Tribal College expands courses to online

The White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen is, for the first time, dipping its toes into the world of online classes.

The school is launching what they say is essentially a pilot program this summer to hold hybrid classes, which will have students putting in a small amount of time in class and the rest online.

This is to gauge how online classes will work for students officials say aren’t always set up for online college classes.

School officials say while this “exciting new venture” was brought on by enough demand from students and desire to grow, they plan to jump slowly into online instruction.

“Traditionally many of our students have been tactile learners, which means they do best in the classroom setting,” said Sheila Michaels, who is not only the interim academic dean for the school, but also an English faculty member who will be teaching one of the classes.

Michaels says in addition to learning style, the demographic of students that attend their relatively new college (which is only 15 years old), is one that may not have the means at home go online.

“Many of them don’t have access to computers off campus or have Internet; they need to be on campus anyway, so this is looking beyond our community to see what we can do to grow,” said Michaels. “We know that relatively speaking, we’re behind the game, but we’re also moving for-ward, recognizing that some of our learners are asking for that.”

Michaels says the school is moving in a slow, deliberate manner when heading into the online world to make sure their students do well with it and to ensure the school provides excellence in it as well.

Right now, the two online classes students can register for this summer (which start May 19) are creative writing and into to humanity — both liberal arts classes that a variety of students can use for their degrees or for professional development.

The two hybrid summer classes that hold 22 seats in each class will also be offered in the fall, and if all goes well, the school plans to slowly expand its online vision into other programs.

Michaels says the idea is to not just give existing WETCC students an online opportunity, but also to capture those in outlying areas who either wouldn’t otherwise go to college or are looking for online classes elsewhere.

Although the institution is a tribal college, it is also a community college that is open to anybody.

“So if somebody is going to another college but could use these particular classes, they can take them from us,” said Michaels, who points out that the school is affordable, accredited and courses transferable.

As the college begins its expansion into the online world, it also continues its growth in program offerings.

This fall, the college is adding three more programs, including business geared towards entrepreneurship and geospatial; criminal justice; and human service.

This is in addition to its existing programs of environmental sciences, native studies and humanities.

The programs are set up to provide the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, with the idea that students can then go on to four-year institutions. 

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