Through the WVROCKS initiative launched by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, adult students at Fairmont State University have found increased success in completing a four-year degree.
WVROCKS is an acronym for West Virginia's Remote Online Collaborative Knowledge System, which offers Regents Bachelor of Arts courses online from different institutions throughout the state. The mission of WVROCKS is to provide a high quality, student-focused, engaging, eLearning higher education collaborative.
"The Regents Bachelor of Arts degree is a flexible program that provides adult learners the opportunity to turn life experience into course credit, if that experience is generally equivalent to a college course," said Pamela Stephens, coordinator of academic advising and the RBA program at Fairmont State. "For increased flexibility, RBA students also have the opportunity to enroll in online, condensed, upper-division courses offered through WVROCKS."
In the fall of 2012, Fairmont State, Bluefield State College and Marshall University participated in the pilot for WVROCKS. Each campus admits and registers students, handles financial aid, collects tuition, lists all courses in their schedule of classes and administers grades and degrees.
The eight-week, online courses include a wide variety of topics from "The Bible as Literature" to "Politics and Film" to "Advanced Digital Literacy." WVROCKS provides a standard syllabus and course template for each class, offers faculty development, coordinates the development of peer-reviewed compressed courses and equips students with a single sign-on to access classes through a web portal.
"According to the College Foundation of West Virginia, nearly a third of the college students in West Virginia are older than 25. Adults are returning to the classroom to earn a degree or to finish one they started earlier in life to secure the higher paying jobs that typically come with a college diploma," said Roxann Humbert, statewide director of Higher Education eLearning.
According to a 2012 Lumina Foundation for Education report, in 2010, more than 199,000 West Virginia working-age adults (between the ages of 25-64) or almost 20 percent of the state's adult population had some college credits but no degree. Of these adults, more than 30 percent earned more than 60 hours of college credit.
"Most of these citizens are working adults who have families and other commitments that prevent them from completing their education in a traditional format. WVROCKS was created to provide these adults with an alternative to complete their degree," Humbert said.
Upper-level courses (or 300 and 400 level courses) on the WVROCKS portal are offered in an eight-week condensed format. This allows adults to obtain 12 hours of credit a year, while taking one course at a time. Students can enroll in up to 36 hours a year, taking three classes in each eight-week period.
Fairmont State has the highest enrollment in WVROCKS across the state. Of FSU's 80 RBA students, 76 percent (61 students) are enrolled in WVROCKS courses for the spring 2014 semester. Those students are filling about 160 seats, indicating that many students are taking more than one course through the web collaborative. FSU students who register for these classes tend to successfully complete them. FSU averages an attendance rate of more than 90 percent and a course completion and pass rate of 86 percent. The number of RBA graduates jumped from 41 in 2009 to 64 in 2013.
Fairmont State offers the highest number of WVROCKS courses statewide, 11 for the spring 2014 semester, and also has the highest number of faculty members in the state. Current FSU faculty members teaching through WVROCKS are Roxann Humbert, Tim Oxley, Angela Schwer, Nancy McClure, Carolyn Richardson, Aimee Richards, Jennifer Myers, Valerie Morphew and Frank Lee.
"RBA students sometimes have had difficulty finding upper-division courses available in the right time frame to move them closer to graduation and the courses offered through WV ROCKS eliminate that barrier," Stephens said.
Viki McVaney, a program assistant II in the Teaching and Learning Commons at Fairmont State, has used the WVROCKS courses to help complete her RBA and plans to graduate in May 2014. She graduated from high school in 1978, started college and then got married and started raising a family. After her husband passed away in 2005, she said she decided it was time to finish her degree and began working toward an RBA.
"Especially with working, it's nice to be able to take classes online. WVROCKS really helps because you can do the course work any time, even after everyone goes to bed at night," McVaney said. "You have to discipline yourself to do it. If you want the grade, you have to do the work. I'm excited about finishing it and getting my degree."
For details about the RBA Program at Fairmont State, call (304) 367-4709. Other resources for adult learners can be found at the state's free college and career-planning web site at www.cfwv.com.