CROWNPOINT, NM – Navajo Technical University will continue its hybrid learning environment this spring while also extending its 50 percent tuition assistance program to help alleviate financial burdens associated with the pandemic on students. The decision to continue hybrid learning comes after the university completed a semester delivering both face-to-face and online instruction.
COVID-19 cases have been rising on the Navajo Nation in recent weeks causing NTU administrators to plan around state, federal, and tribal mandates. As of Nov. 2, the Navajo Nation has surpassed 11,800 positive cases and over 580 deaths. Under a hybrid learning environment, NTU is hoping its courses can be flexible enough to meet social distancing standards while meeting the safety needs of students, faculty members, and staff.
“Many of our students can’t afford to delay their education,” explained NTU Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Casmir I. Agbaraji. “It’s important for us to get creative in how we keep our services open so students can stay on course to graduate and get a job. Offering hybrid courses allows our students to complete their degree at a pace that’s right for them, but also in an environment that’s right for them.”
Over 94 percent of NTU’s fall courses required an online component, while the rest of the courses were offered strictly face-to-face or through independent study. Of the 470 courses offered in the fall, 51 percent were offered solely online, which was made possible by a special waiver from NTU’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC’s waiver is set to expire in December, so NTU is preparing for more hybrid courses. Currently, the university’s Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems is the only program to be approved 100 percent online by the HLC.
All other programs at NTU were approved under the condition of face-to-face instruction; however, there is wiggle room under HLC guidelines, which requires that no more than 49 percent of a degree can be obtained online. This allows for many of NTU’s general education courses to be offered completely online, as well as program specific courses that don’t exceed the 50 percent threshold. The guideline also allows faculty members to teach their classes both in-person and online, often in a rotating basis.
In addition to class scheduling being used to help prevent the spread of the virus, NTU has pushed back its spring academic schedule to help limit exposure to the virus during the winter season. Instead of instruction beginning on Jan. 19, 2021, the semester will begin on Jan. 25. The adjustment required NTU to eliminate its spring break.
“We’re not out of this pandemic yet and our students are feeling the impact,” Dr. Agbaraji stated as NTU’s fall to fall retention rate dropped from 58 percent to 42 percent. “Offering our tuition assistance program and adjusting our academic schedules are strategies to help students’ persist, but it’s equally important that our services match our efforts, so our students succeed in our new learning environment.”
Dr. Agbaraji noted that data is being collected to understand student success rates in courses with face-to-face instruction versus courses offered solely online. The data is being used to inform NTU’s spring course scheduling in addition to student and faculty surveys that were issued in October. NTU is also offering a winter intersession from Dec. 14, 2020 to Jan. 5, 2021. Intersession courses help students who need one course to graduate or want to complete a course in-between spring, summer, and fall semesters. Students are only able to take up to 4 credit hours, or one class, during the intersession.
For more information about NTU’s spring semester, visit www.navajotech.edu.