Courtesy of Wilkes.edu
At the end of the spring semester, Wilkes University will end face-to-face classes at its Mesa, Ariz. campus while offering the same curriculum online. Wilkes joined Mesa in 2012 as part of an effort to increase college opportunities and spur economic growth in the area.
Currently, there are 77 students enrolled at the satellite campus, including 34 undergraduate students taking both face-to-face and online classes. The conversion to a completely online program will impact 30 undergraduate and 10 graduate students. The rest of the students are either already completely enrolled online or will be graduating in May.
Provost Dr. Anne Skleder explained that, “we are not closing” and the change is a response to what the students at the Mesa campus needed.
Over the course of last year, university administration and faculty involved in the Mesa program came to the conclusion that it would better serve the needs of those students to go to an online offering.
The university moved to Arizona as another higher education option for people in that region. With larger universities such as Arizona State and for profits and larger community colleges being the few options for students looking to complete their degrees, Wilkes offered another avenue.
Students at the main campus in Wilkes-Barre also had a chance to study for a semester at the Mesa location. Susan Gerencser, a senior business management major studied in Mesa during the spring 2016 semester and found her experience to be taxing.
“I enjoyed spending time in Arizona. The area was gorgeous, and I had never been to that area of the countryside before. I was grateful to have the chance to go,” Gerencser said. “The campus was very nice, if somewhat austere. However, the actual SiMesa program (the exchange of Wilkes students from the main campus going to Arizona to spend a semester at the Mesa campus) was disappointing and massively disorganized.”
Gerencser explained that students involved had expectations that were not met and, at times, there weren’t activities or assistance offered for those students.
Ian Ralston, a junior mechanical and electrical engineering student who studied at the Mesa campus during the same semester as Gerencser explained that he too had both positive and negative experiences.
“I enjoyed the opportunities around the campus. Not only the cultural and scenic appeals, which were considerable, but also the potential job openings at very large and expanding companies like Boeing and ON Semi. I also enjoyed the people of the area as they were laid back and seemed to be able to just enjoy the moment they were in,” Ralston said. “ Personally, I am neither here nor there on the campus closing. I am very disappointed that only a very small handful of majors would be able to continue at a location that held so much promise as far as future engineers go.”
Skleder explained that student dissatisfaction is understandable, as it is a different environment and experience to the main campus.
“It is not a full campus,” Skleder explained. “It’s understandable because if you’re expecting to go to a campus for a semester… it’s a beautiful building but it’s not a campus.”
However, it was never the intention of Wilkes to replicate the main campus into Arizona. Dr. Marianne Rexer, who serves as the interim executive director of the Mesa campus, explained that Wilkes formulated a program based on the needs of those students in Mesa.
“Demographics showed there was a large group of local students who wanted to finish their degrees but did not want to go to Arizona State University,” Rexer explained. “These students were full-time students who attended day classes. Wilkes didn’t plan on being a campus like Wilkes-Barre with sports teams and dorms. Our plan was to have a location for students to complete their degrees and with few gen ed classes offered on site; the students would need to take gen ed classes online.”
Rexer added that, “Our first year of recruiting showed a group of students that didn’t want to attend school full-time after completing their associate degree. These students wanted to finish their degrees but had family needs that required them to have full-time jobs. Even our inaugural group (fall 2015) of full-time undergrad students began to take full-time jobs to meet their family needs. Interest changed significantly from requesting evening classes to requesting online classes in only the last 18 months.”
After assessing the needs of the students enrolled, the switch to online was obvious.
“In making this change, we’re responding to a very different student body (than the main campus),” Skleder said.
In a March 10 Citizen’s Voice article, the claim was made that the change to an online curriculum would reduce costs. However, Skleder explained that finances were not the determining factor.
“We’re not doing this to save money, “ Skleder said. “We’re doing this because we’re responding to student preference…we won’t be spending less on instruction.” She added that the funds saved will be in terms of moving all recruitment to the main campus and that less of the building in Mesa will be used.
While there will no longer be an exchange program between the two sites, main campus students can still enroll into the online courses which will “enrich” their experience and connect with students all over the country, according to Skleder.
Rexer agreed, saying, “The Mesa students are slightly different from the ones in Wilkes-Barre because their job and life experiences are so different. Both groups can enrich the other’s education in an online classes involving discussion boards or group projects, etc.”
While the Mesa location will not have face-to-face courses, Rexer will still be on site to assist students which is not typical of online programs. Also, graduation celebrations will still occur for graduating students. All Mesa students are invited to attend commencement at the Wilkes-Barre campus.
According to Skleder, this change “opens up our thinking beyond Mesa to other places in the country we may not have thought of… (this is) evidence of a great deal of commitment by our faculty.” She added, “We at the university always have to think about serving students better.”