From a classroom in Redwood Falls, college students can take classes from teachers across Minnesota — and the program is still growing.
Seated in a classroom, a group of college students watch a fellow student in an Introduction to Speech class at a site miles away make a presentation.
Through interactive television, the students are able to communicate with each other. Even though in this case the instructor is actually in Redwood Falls for this course, opportunities exist for them to learn under the tutelage of instructors across the region earning college credits along the way.
All of this is taking place at the Minnesota West Community & Technical College center in Redwood Falls.
Starting in August 2009, the local post-secondary education center offers students a chance to earn a degree closer to home.
“We started with 2.6 full-time students, and today we have around 50 full-time students,” said Michael VanKeulen, director of the Redwood Falls center, adding, however, most students are not full-time – meaning there are actually more like 85-90 people who are taking courses through the center located on the south side of the Redwood County Government Center.
Although there is a physical center site, VanKeulen said many of the students enrolled in a degree program don’t set foot in the facility.
“Many of the students are doing their work online,” said VanKeulen, adding that online option continues to gain interest with students.
While not every program offered through the school is available online (getting a de-gree in auto body work would be pretty difficult, said VanKeulen with a smile), other degrees, certificates and diplomas can be completely earned that way.
VanKeulen said online education is not for everyone, as it requires someone who is self-motivated, who has access to the technology required and who has those necessary computer skills needed to do it.
A lot of the students who are interested in taking courses through the Redwood Falls center are looking for nursing degrees, and even though the local center does not offer a nursing degree, one may earn an LPN online through the center, said VanKeulen.
He also said there are many who are seeking administrative assistant roles, with business and accounting degrees also high on the interest level.
VanKeulen has been promoting the transfer degree program in the area, adding a student who graduates from high school or who has a GED equivalent can get their general education requirements through the local center before moving on to another school to finish their degree.
That, he said, helps to cut down on expenses for those students who are able to stay at home and get a couple of years of schooling done before moving.
He said the credits transfer to every Minnesota public college and university, adding most of the private colleges accept the credits, too.
Another valuable program, said VanKeulen is the post-secondary education option (PSEO) which allows students still in high school to earn college credits while working toward their high school diploma – helping again to cut down on those college costs.
“The PSEO program is a great way to get students started toward their college degree without it costing them anything,” he said.
A new program also allows high school sophomores to take some tech courses through PSEO, too.
For students who are thinking of going to college but who have not been in school for a while, VanKeulen said there are grants available through which they can take one college level class for free.
“You have to have been out of school for at least seven years and not have a bachelors degree,” he said, adding this grant program, known as the Alliss Education Grant, is a great way for people to get their feet wet and see if the idea is a good one for them.
VanKeuelen said there are a variety of options for people in the community to take advantage of through the local center, and he encouraged the public to come and visit the school to see what they have to offer.
More about the learning center in Red-wood Falls can be ob-tained by calling (507) 637-6007 or online at www.mnwest.edu.