Policy Recommendations IX
Virginia Tech Cyberschools
"Rethinking Residency Requirements"
Hatfield and Timothy W.
November 24, 1997
The Cyberschool faculty discussed
several issues during its first meeting of the Fall 1997 semester,
including the large number of institutional barriers standing in the
way of attempts to offer more courses on-line (see Administrative
Barriers). Once more courses are given in an
entirely on-line format, the University must think about providing
entire degree programs on-line from start to finish. This move,
however, raises the central issue of residency requirements.
Residency requirements currently
dictate that undergraduate students must have 27 hours of the last 45
hours of credit in residence for the B.A. or B.S. degree, and
graduate students in Ph.D. programs must have 24 hours of credit with
no less than 15 hours of course work in residence at Virginia Tech.
These rules are in place to guarantee the quality of Virginia Tech
degrees by requiring that students reside in Blacksburg and attend
classes at Virginia Tech to take a significant percent of their hours
of instruction with University instructors.
In the on-line environment,
however, some of the assumptions underpinning these practices no
longer hold true. On-line courses, like those provided by the
Virginia Tech Cyberschool, are now available anytime and anywhere
that prospective students can access these classes from
NET.WORK.VIRGINIA sites or via the Internet. In these cases, the
physical plant of the University is either supplemented or supplanted
by the informational plant of on-line University resources.
Consequently, the University can establish its contacts remotely
on-line through information structures rather than directly through
physical co-location in physical structures. In turn, the residency
requirement needs to be rethought as hours of contact in various
University instructional sites--virtual and physical--rather than
hours in residence at one specific geographical location.
Plainly, residence worked when the
physical plant of a university provided the only means of providing
credit-for-contact through actual co-location, and physical residence
may also be important for certain aspects of some degree programs.
But in many cases, virtual interactions through on-line courses over
the Internet, video courses on NET.WORK.VIRGINIA, or any other means
of delivering instruction at a distance now can make residency
requirements a problematic barrier against adapting to the digital
Modifying the current residency
requirements, then, would have some beneficial effects on future
University efforts. These would include:
1) Recruiting Benefits: Residency requirements constrict the pool of
prospective Virginia Tech students to those who can devote two, four,
six or eight years of their lives to living in Blacksburg and taking
a degree. Putting in place an hours of contact requirement instead of
a residency requirement would lift this barrier against finding
larger recruitment pools in those programs where it would be
2) Student Retention/Success: Residency requirements often prevent the University
from keeping current students who must leave school for personal or
work reasons. An hours of contact requirement would allow these
students, potentially a growing segment of our student population, to
complete their Virginia Tech degrees without penalty through on-line
instruction. In addition, by establishing continuing on-line
relationships with such students, we may be able to foster life-long
learning connections when they become alumni (see "Providing
Internet Services to Alumni" and "Building
Cyber Hostel Courses"
for further consideration of these
3) Instructional Flexibility: Residency requirements force everyone who wishes to
take a Virginia Tech degree to reside in Blacksburg and complete a
very conventional course of study. Moving to an hours of contact
model would permit departments and colleges to experiment more boldly
with new and different paths for students to achieve their degrees,
potentially opening further markets while also retaining our existing
base student population.
4) Teaching Innovations: Residency requirements often are enforced to insure
the quality of instruction. On-line education, while not appropriate
in all cases, can have very high levels of quality. Moreover,
especially for graduate programs, the integration of on-line teaching
requirements for graduate students could advance many different kinds
of teaching innovations by training graduate students in the use of
these methods of instruction. Some intense on-campus experience could
supplement on-line courses, but current residency rules might be too
These are only some of the anticipated benefits of our recommendation. The Cyberschool faculty recognize that many students will continue to complete their studies in a traditional fashion. Yet, the institution of these minor modifications in residency could do much for making the University more competitive in the current student recruitment pools as well as more innovative in the on-going improvement of its own programs.