Las Cruces – The only online Master of Arts in Spanish program in the country, based at New Mexico State University, saw an impressive growth in applicants due to nationwide exposure at the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese conference this summer.
The program saw an 87 percent increase in enrollment over the last year, which according to NMSU Spanish faculty was largely thanks to the collaborative relationship with the AATSP at a conference that sees high school teachers as its main attendees. This platform, a national cross-section of active professionals, proved to be a good one.
"We have so many students for whom leaving home to pursue a master's degree was really difficult, for one reason or another," said Beth Pollack, Spanish professor and instructor of the 20th Century Spanish American Theatre course. "It shows there is a real need for this."
A specific method for the initial part of the program is the Quick Start, a "test drive" of the program that enables students to take classes to determine if they are qualified or if they would like to pursue the program further. Students can take up to nine credit hours before having to declare an area of interest, either linguistics or literature.
"It is 21st century NMSU; a customer-oriented program that maintains the quality of a traditional academic program," said Languages and Linguistics Department Head Richard Rundell.
Jeff Longwell, college professor and Technical Translation instructor, sets up his course with a peer-reviewing concept called Round Robin Readings. These readings, according to Longwell, result in more interaction between students than a classroom setting. In addition to the readings, Longwell does podcasts, chat sessions and recordings of his own recommendations to students on self-editing and translation work.
A video chat session will serve as the oral component for online course final exams.
The instructors are designing this procedure now so it will be ready for the first program graduate in 2011.
James Hillstead of Cortez, Colo. is a high school teacher and has completed the most courses in the program. Being the furthest along, Hillstead said he doesn't believe he would have been able to complete an advanced degree in Spanish if NMSU did not have its master's program totally online.
"Most schools that I looked at only offered partial online master's, or on campus-only programs. For the other schools I would have had to travel to a satellite campus or their regular campus to complete some of the course work (while completing some courses online)," Hillstead said. "NMSU was the only school that I found that offered a program that I was interested in and would meet my needs in course work and being online."
Hillstead went on to say these courses make it so that he can work full-time as a teacher and not have to travel to a campus several hours away or only take courses during the summer.
"I live and work in the four corners area so when I saw that NMSU offered an online program it immediately swayed me toward NMSU," Hillstead said.
Colorado is just one among 38 states that houses students in the NMSU online Spanish master's degree program. The program is seeing students from other countries as well, including Guam, Argentina, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil and Colombia.
The online Master of Arts in Spanish is the only program of its kind to be certified by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), an inter-university consortium that allows out-of-state or international students to take courses at near state-tuition rates, another major selling point for the program.
"At first, I wondered how rigorous the course work would be online, but I've been challenged and have been pleased with the program and all that I'm learning," Hillstead said. "I know that I am receiving a quality education."