In an effort to boost student enrollment numbers, the Santa Monica Community College District board of trustees extended a contract with eCollege to provide “distance education” services through spring 2008.

Distance education offers students the ability to get an education without having to go to campus.

The $528,000 contract was approved Wednesday, September 7th.

The district paid eCollege for 11,000 seats at $48 per seat.

In the 2004-2005 academic year, more than 8,000 students enrolled in Santa Monica College classes offered over the Internet.

“We are estimating that we will have 11,000 students for this academic year,” said Jeff Shimizu, dean of academic affairs.

“I think there might be 12,000 students, based on our summer and fall enrollments.”

Some science and foreign language classes are hybrid formats in which lecture sections are taken online and laboratory sections are taken in classrooms.

“They don’t have to park,” said trustees chair Carole Currey.

Several community college districts also have contracts with eCollege.

Distance education students can take online classes from more than one college during the same semester.

The last college from which a student took his or her last online class provides transcripts and degrees.

Students around the world can take a Santa Monica College online class as long as they apply for SMC admission and pay SMC fees.

“I know other community colleges have large programs with a specific audience such as San Diego and the military, and some other community colleges have strong programs with prisons,” said trustee Rob Rader.

“Once we go to a distance education model, we are at an advantage because we have a strong reputation and at a disadvantage because all colleges are on equal footing to recruit the same student.”

Shimizu said online classes are popular with students who live in Santa Monica. Students from Santa Monica have the tendency to take all of the seats assigned to an online class.

“We are looking outwards to get students from all branches of the military and international students,” he said.

“Students with senior enrollment dates take the seats first and new incoming students have the least likelihood of getting a seat,” said Julie Yarrish, acting director of online services and support.

Services provided by eCollege include a help desk, chat rooms, tools to assist professors with designing Web pages, a program that allows students to evaluate their classes, and a program to prevent cheating on exams.

In addition, Santa Monica College has a staff cyber counselor and a cyber librarian to answer questions from all students by email.

“These are just things on paper,” said trustee Margaret Qui”ones.

“I don’t want the district to invest a lot of money and not have the adequate support mechanisms for the expenditures.”

She said the online support services that eCollege offers may result in large class sizes and faculty should be prepared.

“The staff needs to be able to step up to the plate,” Qui”ones said.

“I recently watched a class start with 200 students, and the number of students shot up to 540 and by another 20 students later on.”

Randy Lawson, district executive vice president, said the largest class size in distance education that he is aware of at Santa Monica College is 45 students.

Some district officials hope distance education students have the chance to see the campus.

“International students are a good audience because they can sign up for classes and take them in, let’s say, Japan,” said trustees vice chair Nancy Greenstein.

“As a companion to distance education, we could use our campus off-times such as the winter to bring them here for short institutes and they can experience Santa Monica.”