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Online communications program earns national accolades

Kelsie Clifton, Features Writer and Columnist

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As an online student majoring in Communications, I know firsthand how great our program is here at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB). I am so fortunate to be a part of a great program and I am glad to see that other people around the world are recognizing this as well.

AffordableCollegesOnline.org (AC Online) recently named The University of Texas of the Permian Basin one of the nation’s best colleges for online learning. AC online higher education experts generated the rankings (through analyzing quality data and cost) for thousands of colleges with online degree programs in the U.S.

“We wanted to honor the colleges and universities setting the bar for online learning,” said Dan Schuessler, CEO and Founder of AffordableCollegesOnline.org, according to a press release. “These schools are going above and beyond the industry standard to help make online education programs an excellent option and more affordable.”

Amongst many rankings from UTPB, the online Communications Program was listed in the top five rankings for the school and number fourteen out of fifty recognized by AC Online. Dr. Michelle Pence, Area Coordinator and Assistant Professor of the Communications Program, believes that a big factor that separates UTPB from other online schools is tuition cost and a high-quality education.

“The University of Texas System and specifically UTPB is really dedicated to providing an affordable education of quality to students at prices that are far less than other state schools. You are getting a UT systems education at the price of some community colleges and junior colleges,” Pence stated. “I also think that the quality of the people we have teaching online really helps a lot. When I came in in 2013 we didn’t have as many people on staff but the foundation for the program was there. One of my tasks was to build it up so I had high standards when I started bringing in adjuncts. Having people that I can trust working in the department helps to make it run smoothly.

Dr. Pence shared that the foundation for the program wouldn’t be there without the hard work of Dr. William Harlow, Associate Professor and Dean of Undergraduate Success, and his wife Dr. Rachel Harlow, Basic Course Director and Assistant Professor.

On the road to hiring new staff, Pence met Dr. Terra James who later was hired on and is now Dual-Credit Coordinator and Instructor of the Communications Program. She contacted her around the time of her graduating and initially, she was hired on part time, but did so well that she is now full time and popular amongst some of her students, I being one of them.

As a professor, Dr. James is a firm believer in active communication. She makes herself available as an online instructor while utilizing tools, such as the Canvas Messenger, to connect to students on multiple devices. This way allows her to hold normal office hours, where she can conduct Skype meetings and conferences calls with her students.

“I can also communicate with students outside of my normal weekly hours. For instance, on Friday and Sunday nights when my childcare is not available, but my students have an online deadline and need instructor assistance, I work hard to answer all my student’s correspondences immediately. Online courses allow me to a have a working relationship with my students at hours outside of a customarily delegated schedule,” Dr. James informed.

Pence admitted that her classes were at times challenging but to make the student better in the area of Communications and more developed in their writing.

“Students may not always realize it, but they are creating skills that will be useful for them in the future. I feel that being able to write well and being able to cite appropriately will make them a more successful college student. Their professors in the future will be appreciative that they know how to use these resources. I want to give the students skills that will help them beyond my class,” Pence added.

The Communication Program at UTPB works as a team to ensure a user-friendly and positive learning experience in all of their online courses.

“We share ideas and work together to ensure that we are providing our students the best learning experience possible. The students are at the heart of both the on-ground and online Communication Program. I love being a part of a University that operates in the best interest of the students,” James stated.

“I work hard to ensure that a student who enters my class learns the materials for that specific course. However, I also stress that my students have a firm grasp on the fundamental soft-skills such as email etiquette, public speaking, cultural understanding, and group collaboration that will allow them to succeed in their chosen field or workforce.”

Pence has enjoyed seeing the Communications program grow but her favorite part has been teaching and creating opportunities for students who deserve it.

“If a student comes into my office and they express they want to go to grad school, I will do everything in my power to help that they go to a good grad school,” she said.

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Online communications program earns national accolades