Meet Me in the Quad

Delivering more than just online classes, the Virtual Campus lets students meet with instructors, access financial aid, participate in clubs and more.

Colleges and universities are like any other service providers: They must have online capabilities if they want to compete.

The stakes in education are high. Approximately 2.1 million students were enrolled in online programs last fall, according to Eduventures Inc., a Boston-based research and consulting firm. In addition, another 2 million people have taken at least one online course in the past year.

"If you're going to be in the growth game in education, you'd better be involved online," says Wallace Pond, CEO of Colorado Technical University, part of Career Education Corp.

To better serve its online students, CEC built a system called the Virtual Campus that's designed to raise distance education to a whole new level. The Virtual Campus provides students with much more than a platform for taking a class. It gives them an online community that mirrors a brick-and-mortar campus.

In recognition of its Virtual Campus initiative, CEC was chosen as the 2009 Computerworld Honors award recipient in the Education and Academia category.

"Most online students elsewhere just go into a Web site, but they don't have the campus at their fingertips. Ours is so much more comprehensive. When you go into the Virtual Campus, you have access to an actual university," Pond says.

Gerry DiGiusto, a senior analyst at Eduventures, agrees, saying that most online programs have had "e-mail, chat rooms, material online, but nothing that extended too far beyond the pedestrian user's experience."

"Virtual Campus has taken it beyond that. You can feel that sense of community. It's a fuller experience," says DiGiusto.

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