Robert Ritschel, dean of Colorado Mountain College-Alpine Campus, doesn't foresee the two-year school transitioning to a four-year institution anytime in the near future, so he did the next best thing.
This fall, the Steamboat Springs community college will offer interested students a bachelor's degree program for 10 different majors through an online alliance with Franklin University, a four-year school in Columbus, Ohio.
The opportunity for students to earn a four-year degree without leaving Routt County is something community members have wanted for some time, Ritschel said.
"Being in a rural community is wonderful from the standpoint of its quality of life," Ritschel said Friday. "Here's a way for people to not have to leave town and still get a degree. Frankly, there are people in the community who have been asking for this."
The bachelor's program works through what Franklin University calls the "new ABC's of education."
Students must complete an associate's degree program -- or complete at least 60 credit hours of coursework while maintaining a 2.5 grade point average -- to be eligible for the bachelor's plan. Those students who apply to Franklin University's online program must then take 24 credit hours of approved "bridge" coursework through Alpine Campus and complete the final 40 credits of online courses through Franklin University. Course work between the two schools can be done simultaneously.
Many of the bridge courses that have been approved by Franklin University officials are electives or teach subjects that relate to the bachelor's degree sought by online students, Ritschel said.
Ritschel spent much of this spring working with Franklin University officials to articulate Alpine Campus courses and associate's degree programs with Franklin's bachelor's degree programs.
The 10 bachelor of science programs Franklin University will offer through Alpine Campus are: accounting, applied management, business administration, computer science, digital communication, health care management, information technology, management, management information sciences and public safety management.
Ritschel said he hoped Franklin University would offer Alpine Campus more degree options in the future, as well as accept more of the community college's classes as bridge courses.
Initial enrollment in the program might be low, Ritschel said, as it will require time -- maybe up to a couple years -- before many students and families learn about the program and its benefits.
He acknowledges, however, that the program isn't for everyone.
"Online courses require a tremendous amount of self-discipline," Ritschel said. "If you're driven and you'll do anything it takes to get a degree and you have the discipline, then this is for you."
"It will allow you to stay (in Routt County), continue working where you're working, continue living with friends or family and earn a degree," he continued.
Many prospective students prefer the atmosphere of a four-year school, an attraction Ritschel said he wouldn't argue against.
This program, he said, will be more for the directed, dedicated students who are concerned about rising tuition rates at higher education institutions in Colorado and across the nation.
Tuition for the Franklin University program ranges between $224 and $280 per credit hour depending on the degree program selected. Other fees are applicable, according to Franklin University's Web site.
The Alpine Campus will be the lone Colorado Mountain College campus to offer the Franklin University program, largely because many of the other campuses can work with nearby four-year schools to push their students toward a bachelor's degree.
"Frankly, we're too far away (from any four-year schools)," Ritschel said. "Rather than fighting that, we're taking another option."
The alliance could financially benefit Alpine Campus by enticing students to stay enrolled and complete the required bridge courses.
The Franklin University Community College Alliance program is offered at more than a dozen Colorado community colleges, in addition to two-year schools across the country.
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