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Bismarck State College adds 4-year degree, eliminates distance fee for online education

Bismarck State College adds 4-year degree, eliminates distance fee for online education

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Bismarck State College is eliminating its distance learning fee and adding another bachelor’s degree to its offerings, moves that illustrate the way the winds are blowing for the future of the college.

The State Board of Higher Education on Friday approved BSC to begin offering a bachelor’s of applied science degree in automation management starting in 2021. Separately, the college will eliminate a distance fee for online students and incorporate that cost into base tuition rates starting this fall.

The addition of another four-year degree at BSC is the most recent step to advance the college’s polytechnic mission change that was mandated by the State Board of Higher Education nearly two years ago. A polytechnic college or university specializes in technology, engineering and science fields.

BSC President Larry Skogen, who is retiring on June 30, said the addition of another four-year degree at BSC is good for the local community and will help support the manufacturing industry in North Dakota.

“What this does is it takes folks at a technician level to the next level … so they can move into managerial positions,” Skogen said. “It’s wonderful. Bismarck State is moving forward. This is our third bachelor’s degree and we’re doing exactly what the state board directed us to do.”

BSC also offers four-year bachelor of applied science degrees in energy management and cybersecurity and information technology. Both are relatively recent additions, but Skogen said the response to the programs so far has been “positive.”

The elimination of the distance fee from BSC's tuition model comes as the college considers how to offer courses safely in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. The State Board of Higher Education recently signaled its intent for colleges and universities to offer on-campus, in-person classes this fall, after online learning became the norm mid–March as the pandemic shut down schools across the county.

Skogen said the college decided to ditch the distance fee because "it just doesn’t make sense when we're in a position where we ended up offering everything online."

"In effect, were eliminating a fee and it's being spread out across all of the tuition categories. And it really makes it hugely transparent," Skogen said.

Students will see their base tuition rate rise a result of this change. The college will not collect any additional revenue.

BSC in March was forced to convert all of its on-campus classes into online courses for the remainder of the semester due to the pandemic.

However, students who had enrolled in an online-only course at the beginning of the spring semester had paid a $45 distance fee per credit hour, whereas the remainder of students did not. 

Distance fees are imposed to help pay for the higher technology costs needed to administer an online course, including specialized hardware and software. BSC implemented a tuition model that included distance fees in the fall of 2018. 

Moving forward, the college plans to offer “hybrid courses” that have both an on-campus and online component.

“I’ve said this for years, and that is: at some point we’ll quit talking about on-campus and online education. It’ll just be education,” Skogen said. “The elimination of this fee allows us to move into this environment where education is education, doesn’t matter if it’s delivered online or on campus.”

Reach Bilal Suleiman at 701-250-8261 or Bilal.Suleiman@bismarcktribune.com

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