E-Presence: Improving Higher Education Access and Lowering Costs
Like many EKU students who live and work in Eastern's service region, Mersaides Hasul has a part-time job that she enjoys and that provides her income while she is in college. As a senior EKU Criminal Justice major, Hasul works part-time as a pharmacy technician to pay for her tuition. She has been able to stretch that income to cover her housing costs as well because she has taken all of her classes at the EKU Danville Campus near her home. Her plan has saved her thousands of dollars in residence hall fees and many long drives to the EKU Richmond Campus. All of this is possible because of a new distance technology called E-Presence.
EKU's Department of Criminal Justice now offers even upper division classes in Hasul's major at each of EKU's regional campuses. Using E-Presence, many academic departments, such as Criminal Justice and Psychology, are able to keep students like Hasul on track toward graduation even as the students continue to live and work in their hometowns. E-Presence (http://www.epresence.eku.edu/) is an Internet-based telepresence system that delivers synchronous instruction. It is being used to deliver entire degree programs as well as supporting courses to regional campus sites. According to Dr. Ryan Wilson, Director of Regional Programming for EKU, "The primary purpose of the E-Presence system is for delivering instruction to our regional campuses, but it also impacts student success and graduation rates."
Hasul has had a good experience in taking E-Presence classes. She plans to graduate from EKU in May of 2018, and she has been very pleased with the flexible class schedules offered on E-Presence. "I can take many of my classes in late afternoon and still work during the day, and I like the smaller class size too." Hasul's greatest praise for the E-Presence system, though, is what she has learned from other students taking the Criminal Justice courses. "I have loved the diversity of the students in my classes. They are from all over the state, and many of them are already at the Police Academy or working in local law enforcement. Hearing about their work experiences has been so valuable! We are getting broader, real-world connections to people already working in criminal justice by taking classes this way. I have probably taken at least 20 classes this way, and I love it!"
Her positive experiences with EKU have spurred Hasul to plan for graduate school in Criminal Justice. "I would like to work my way into Forensics by adding more laboratory experience and end up working with DNA and toxicology. That's my dream, and EKU has helped me lay a good foundation for that career path."
This expanded technology will allow EKU's Regional Campuses to continue to increase their academic programming into the communities they serve. A primary advantage of the new system is the ease of connection to the originating classroom. Students do not have to purchase any new hardware to link into the system; new software allows a seamless connection from Richmond to a participating site. Students who have disabilities or medical problems, guest speakers, and even a professor attending a conference at a remote location can easily log in to the system and participate. The technology can also be used to provide workforce education using the same software. Simply put, E-Presence allows EKU to offer more classes to meet the educational needs of more diverse students with greatly reduced travel costs for both faculty and students.
According to Dr. Ryan Wilson, "E-Presence allows for a course to be held at a location while live-streaming that course to multiple locations. Because we do not have to hire multiple part-time instructors, we save money on travel reimbursement. There is also a significant cost-savings for each student."
The savings are not lost on former nontraditional student Troy Maddox. He is a 2014 EKU graduate with a degree in General Business. Taking classes via an earlier version of E-Presence enabled the Lincoln County native to complete his degree even though he was working full-time as a printer at a Danville newspaper. "Taking only two or three classes a semester, it took me a little over six years to finish my Bachelor's degree," Maddox noted. "But I had several classes on the video-conferencing system at the Danville Campus. I saved myself seven semesters of driving to Richmond by taking classes in this way! At 62 miles per round trip, once a week, I saved almost 7,400 miles of driving, about $2,600 in gas, and over 4 1/2 weeks of driving time!"
"Being able to take classes locally took the barriers to getting a college education way down. I didn't start college until I was 43 years old," Maddox added. "And the video-conferencing saved me tremendous time and expense." Maddox is now working as a research analyst in labor statistics for the state government in Frankfort, and he credits his EKU Business degree with giving him great career options after his printing job was moved to a facility in Winchester in 2014.
Dr. Wilson notes that these students' experiences are not unique. "Thousands of EKU students have taken classes using E-Presence. Indiana University has a very similar system, and they have seen positive impacts on student attendance when students are allowed to "remotely" attend courses. It's another tool to allow us to better serve our students, faculty, our region and beyond."
Published on January 29, 2018