Case Study: Empire State College & NFA Partnership If you have spent any time around the fire service, you have heard how we resist change. It has to do with our traditions, the way we have always done things. The unknown is always worse than the known. However, the fire service is slowly...
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Case Study: Empire State College & NFA Partnership
If you have spent any time around the fire service, you have heard how we resist change. It has to do with our traditions, the way we have always done things. The unknown is always worse than the known. However, the fire service is slowly changing; and online education is making a name for itself in the community.
This article will examine a pilot online education program at the National Fire Academy. It is not my intent to debate whether online education is better than traditional classroom education. This debate has been around for some time and no clear-cut answer is available. What is known is that more and more colleges and universities are offering online education. The most recent research by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, reported that during the 2000-2001 academic year, 56% (2,320) of all two-year and four-year colleges offered "distance education" courses to students at any level. In addition, 12% of the institutions planned to offer distance education in the following three years. The research included 4,130 degree-granting institutions.
History of Distance Education
The first generation of distance education consisted of a course outline, objectives, textbook and written assignments. The student would sign up for a distance education class and the institution would send the student the course in the mail. The student did not have to attend classes and could reside in anywhere in the world. This was considered "a classroom without walls."
Empire State College (www.esc.edu) is part of the State University of New York (SUNY). Its Center for Distance Learning was founded in 1979. It is a fully accredited college dedicated to enabling adults, regardless of where they live or their life circumstances, to manage and master a rigorous academic program and earn a degree. One of my former students, FDNY Battalion Chief Peter J. Gannon, said, "I chose to pursue my degree in order to be eligible for a promotion within the FDNY...It allowed me the flexibility I needed to accomplish my degree plans."
Empire State College is a founding member of the SUNY Learning Network, which developed the first online degree program in university. It offers approximately 450 "online" courses reaching more than 16,000 students via the Center for Distance Learning or through seven regional centers across the state. Empire State College has degree programs in the arts, business, management and economics, community and human services, cultural studies, educational studies, historical studies, human development, interdisciplinary studies, labor studies, science, math and technology, social theory, social structure and change. The college currently offers education in emergency management, homeland security and fire service administration leading to a bachelor of science or bachelor of professional studies degree.
In addition, Empire State College's Center for Graduate Programs offers five master of arts degrees and a master of business administration (MBA) that are designed to be relevant to the student's work and intellectual interests. These programs involve weekend residencies for each of the core courses. Between residencies, the students communicate with the instructor via telephone, mail, e-mail and the Internet.
Degrees at a Distance Program
The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) initiative seeks to strengthen the meaning and value of a higher education degree. The FESHE National Fire Science Curriculum Committee represents more than 100 two-year and four-year degree-granting intuitions. The goal of FESHE is to develop a National Professional Development Model and a Model Fire-Related associate and baccalaureate curricula. FESHE does not want to take any control or oversight away from any of the institutions; rather, it is looking to standardize mismatched fire science-related degree programs across the country. This change has not been embraced by all: again this is change and many do not like change. In the past, if someone had a "fire science" degree, it meant that the requirements for that degree would be different depending on the college or university. Students had difficulties transferring credits into a new college because of the lack of a standardized course name and outline.