In 1999, Northeast Mississippi Community College (NMCC) and Mississippi State University (MSU) launched the Northeast Pilot Project (NPP). The purpose behind the development of NPP was to embark on a project that combined both the talent and resources of the northeast region of the state as a means to address the critical shortage of quality teachers in public education. NPP attended to this national concern through the recruitment of rural, minority student populations that too often are underrepresented across two-year and four-year institutions. In turn, these students had the opportunity to participate in an innovative and challenging learning environment that took full advantage of non-traditional formats of instructional delivery to channel their wealth of ability, motivation and aptitude into elementary classrooms.
The sheer size of interest in the program from within the state made it immediately clear that expansion of the program to meet student demand would be necessary. In 2000, individuals, including potential students, requested such a program for their target region, which became the East Central Partnership (ECP). Research was gathered on the structure of community colleges and post-secondary education regarding the practice of establishing distance learning educational partnerships. ECP was built on the following pillars:
All partners worked closely together and decided to initially deliver the program via the Mississippi Interactive Video Network (MIVN). Courses were offered back-to-back every Saturday throughout the semester to meet the career needs of the target student population. Faculty at partnering institutions collaborated in the design of distance learning modules, linking the two curricula more closely and providing a seamless transition from a two to four-year institution. These modules were also linked to MSU’s Mitchell Memorial Library so all students had equal access to resources. External grants by the Bell-South and the Tri-State Education Foundations were procured for the development of MIVN rooms at MSU. Students entered the program as a cohort and, guided by faculty advisors, prepared a program of study that outlined personal learning goals and linked those goals to their school/school district’s strategic objectives.
Each course included content organized by MSU faculty and adhered to national accreditation standards, as well as required student exposition of goal achievement through applied research or project activities designed on improving the economic and community development of their particular counties. The students were central to the planning, creation, and evaluation of all research and project activities so as to ensure that their needs were being met and to give them ownership of their education.
Today, the program is referred to as the Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education Distance Learning Program and boasts over 250 students served. In order to meet the increasing demand for flexibility among its students and to remain competitive on a national scale, the program is now delivered exclusively online under the innovation and vision of Dr. Charlotte Burroughs, Department Head of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. In addition, online learning at MSU has received unprecedented administrative support via the encouragement and prioritization of distance learning enrollment growth housed within the Division of Academic Outreach and Continuing Education.
While undergoing many transitions over the course of its lifetime, the program is poised to meet the needs of a global population due to the meticulous transition it has undergone over the course of a decade. Students benefit not only from the convenience that online delivery affords but also by enrolling in a degree program that has extensively measured its curricula against scholarly research to ensure academic rigor and quality. In an attempt to make education as affordable as possible, tuition is set at the in-state per credit hour rate regardless of the residency of the student.
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