Starting in spring term 2013, a new program will give Klamath Community College graduates an opportunity to work toward an Oregon State University online bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences – and receive on-the-ground mentorship and support during their studies.
OSU and KCC will formalize the new program at a public signing ceremony on March 29 at 10 a.m. at KCC's campus in Klamath Falls.
"There is a great need in our community for students to be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in agriculture without relocating out of the Klamath Basin," said KCC's president, Roberto Gutierrez. "For many of these individuals working on family farms in the region, leaving for two or four years while they pursue an education is not an option."
OSU and Oregon Open Campus officials worked with stakeholders in Klamath Falls to develop the program. Oregon Open Campus is an OSU initiative based on the OSU Extension Service model to provide Oregonians with educational opportunities tailored to local needs.
"Some students are place-bound for a number of reasons," said Beth Emshoff, Oregon Open Campus' director. "They can’t afford the costs of living on a campus or have family responsibilities and employment that make moving impossible to complete their degree. Continuing their degree work online will be less expensive because they can save on relocation costs and on-campus fees and still get a quality OSU education."
Although they'll be taking classes online through OSU's Ecampus program, students will also meet as a cohort on the KCC campus and get face-to-face support from classmates as well as faculty at KCC and OSU's Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.
"This support is key to student success," Gutierrez said. "Having those support systems in place will create a better learning experience and make the students more likely to persist and succeed."
The online students will be able to customize their curriculum, emphasizing fields like animal science, crop and soil science or agricultural business management.
Some students will be able to intern at the center, said Willie Riggs, a regional Extension administrator. For example, they might help researchers with their work on potatoes, wheat and barley, he said. Local Extension staff will mentor all of the students.
"Students will do most of the work through online courses, and we will serve as advisers and mentors to help push them along," Riggs said. "As we move forward, there will be an opportunity for us to be in the classroom on a regular basis, like every other Monday or once a month, to discuss any issues they are having and to give them a support group."
Home to cattle, hay and forage, Klamath County's farmers and ranchers reported $284 million in gross sales in 2011, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. Riggs hopes the new partnership will further boost the local economy by keeping an educated workforce close to home.
In the future, OSU may look into developing similar online-degree partnerships at other community colleges around the state, Emshoff said.
By Denise Ruttan, Oregon State University