We have chosen to offer the AMS Climate Studies course in an online format, rather than face-to-face for several reasons. First, it allows some of the local dually-enrolled high school students to participate in the course without having to visit campus, most of whom attend high school 25 miles from our campus. Second, the overall cost of taking this course online is, in general, reduced when taking daily travel to campus into account. This is especially beneficial in our community because NMSU Grants qualifies as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI) serving a population of 41% Native American and 37% Hispanic students, many of whom live well away from campus. Moreover, regardless of delivery modality, the diverse cultural history of our region leads to a natural connection between the geography and climate of the area, which are both essential components of the AMS Climate Studies course.
Even though the online format creates many benefits for our students, there are a number of challenges that we need to overcome. First, most of our students are first-generation college students—our service area has the lowest attainment of bachelor's level education in the state of New Mexico (10.4%). Many of these students have not seen success in themselves or their family, which can easily lead to high attrition rates, especially in an online format. Second, Internet connectivity is also an issue: very few homes in our school's service area are wired with Internet speeds greater than 1.5Mbps, if they have service at all. Finally, the NMSU-Grants campus is small, with an FTE enrollment of approximately 500, and decreasing over recent years. The small student body compounded with the fact that no degrees or certificates in campus require this course gives us a very shallow pool from which to draw students.
I plan on outlining more specifics related to our circumstances as we prepare to offer this course. I will also outline some potential solutions to the challenges presented.