A new program in Oklahoma aims to supply students in rural school districts with more opportunities to earn college credit.
TEL Library, an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit educational organization, recently launched a dual-enrollment initiative to provide online courses for college credit to rural high schools throughout the state.
After two years of developing a delivery platform, TEL Library began piloting its program with Pawhuska High School and Epic Charter Schools in January.
The organization offers the schools a variety of self-paced online courses covering the core general education curriculum and partners with Excelsior College to provide transcripted, transferable credit for those classes. Excelsior is a regionally accredited nonprofit online college in New York.
TEL Library also provides students with all the course materials, as well as a strong support system, including frequent instructor interaction, said Roger Gerstenberger, the organization’s chief outreach officer.
The curriculum, Gerstenberger said, is designed to be interactive with an emphasis on “experiential learning.”
“If you boil education down to its two most simple things, it’s quality instruction and a high level of support for those students to succeed,” he said. “That’s our philosophy. Even with this online curriculum, we focus on high quality and rigorous academic expectations.”
The program was created to give students in smaller cities the same access as those in the big metro areas.
Rural districts often lack proximity to community colleges and are in short supply of educators qualified to teach college-caliber courses, Gerstenberger said.
“Even within Tulsa, it can be hard to find upper-level math teachers for some of this curriculum,” he said. “That’s even further magnified in some of these rural districts. Part of our approach, then, is to make this available to these students.”
More than half of the state’s public school students reportedly belong to rural districts. Rob Reynolds, executive director of TEL Library, said many of these districts are looking for affordable, flexible college credit options for their students.
Reynolds said low cost has been a priority for the program as a way to make college more accessible to economically disadvantaged high-schoolers. Students reportedly pay $75 to enroll in a three-hour class.
“Our goal,” he said, “is to make it truly affordable and easy for rural high school students to take their first college courses.”
TEL Library is looking to partner with other rural districts in the near future.