Pawlenty announces new online learning initiative

A single mom at the time with two boys, Gina Drellack turned to Bemidji State University's online elementary education program to advance her career.

Praises program
Bemidji State University graduate Gina Drellack shares what online learning has meant to her Thursday at BSU's American Indian Resource Center. Listening at right are Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Pawlenty and Heegaard visited BSU Thursday as part of a one-day tour of Minnesota campuses to announce a new online learning initiative. (Monte Draper / Bemidji Pioneer)

A single mom at the time with two boys, Gina Drellack turned to Bemidji State University's online elementary education program to advance her career.

"Quite frankly, online education has been the vehicle that has ... transformed my life," Drellack said Thursday at BSU.

During visits to BSU and other Minnesota campuses Thursday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced a new initiative that will expand online learning in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

While speaking at BSU, Pawlenty said the goal of the initiative is to have 25 percent of all MnSCU credits earned through online courses by 2015.

One of the most significant transformations in higher education "in our lifetime," he said, is the move toward more online courses and programs. "There's no doubt that this is going to happen," Pawlenty said. "There's no doubt it already is happening. The only question is whether Minnesota is going to lead or whether Minnesota is going to follow. And we're here today to say that Minnesota and Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College are going to continue to lead in this area."


As MnSCU's No. 1 leader in online learning with 27 percent of all registered credits online, NTC is seven years ahead of the new initiative's goal, he said.

At BSU, he said, 13 percent of all registered credits are online.

"Right now, the MnSCU system has 9.2 percent of its credits being delivered online," he said. "So between now and 2015, we hope to just about triple that."

David Olson, chairman of the MnSCU Board of Trustees, said in a news release Thursday that "there's a growing demand for online learning opportunities.

"Our board is committed to making this goal a reality in the MnSCU system," he said.

Minnesota Office of Higher Education Director Susan Heegaard, who joined Pawlenty for the announcement at BSU, said online learning is sweeping the nation.

"What an opportunity," she said of the new initiative.

Drellack, who graduated about a year ago after completing BSU's online elementary education program, now works as the district media specialist for the Bagley School District.


"Because of the online education, I was able to keep my family as my top priority, maintain employment and experience personal growth," she said.

Robin Gullickson, who never completed her bachelor's degree as a student in the 1980s, has also turned to BSU's online learning courses.

"I've always had the dream to finish my degree," she said. "The online courses allowed me to fulfill my dream."

Gullickson said she plans to graduate with her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration next year.

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