SUNY campuses resume online course pilot program

A SUNY program that began just before the pandemic has been shut down, a victim of its own success.

SUNY-wide online degrees will be phased out over the next five months, but students will still be able to take college courses online. The seven campuses involved in the program will now support online offerings from their own campuses, rather than having SUNY run a centralized operation.

SUNY Online was developed to help seven SUNY campuses, including Saratoga-based Empire State College, deliver fully online courses to adult learners.

Empire State is well known for its flexible programs, which include in-person learning centers and online courses, but SUNY Online’s goal was to further expand online options.

“This was a pilot program to help campuses grow their online offerings,” spokeswoman Holly Liapis said.

It was a huge success. It started in 2019 with 144 students. It now has nearly 5,000 students.

Each student was assigned a “success coach” to help them get started. They provided one-on-one help with apps and taught students how to use online school systems, Blackboard, and Brightspace. Since most people don’t use these systems outside of a school setting, assuring them that they would benefit from one-on-one help was a persuasive incentive for them to enroll.

The help desk is available seven days a week. But at this point, coaches have set up webinars and YouTube videos showing how to use the systems.

Now, students will receive help at their specific campus, rather than from a success coach.

“Coaching also takes place at the campus level. That’s where all the services are going to be,” Liapis said.

Coaches will not be fired. They will be given other missions.

“They’re going to move to registration for all SUNY campuses, instead of just focusing on this online piece” for seven campuses, Liapis said. The seven pilot program campuses were: Alfred State, SUNY Canton, Empire State College, Finger Lakes Community College, Monroe Community College, SUNY Oswego and SUNY Plattsburgh.

She noted that coaches have found ways to recruit a large and diverse student body, especially adult learners, a skill that is necessary for all enrollments. And they’re adept at teaching people how to use technology, another essential skill for new students.

“There are no job cuts. We need them to stay,” she said.

The pilot programs are considered a success, she added.

“Online offers are up 50%,” she said. “The scale has increased, so now campuses can do it themselves.”