Do distance-learning programs affect a student’s grade point average? No,

says a vice president at Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU)

in a recent magazine article, but off-campus education can have an impact

on student satisfaction.

Richard Pumerantz, MBA, vice president of development and major gifts at

WesternU, co-authored “”Planning for Instructional Technology: What You

Thought You Knew Could Lead You Astray,”” in the July/August issue of

Change. It advised collegiate educators to exercise caution when

considering the role of instructional technology (IT) in the future of

their campus, asserting that student satisfaction rates can suffer when

the “”human factor”” is removed from the educational setting.

“”The study has a very practical application at WesternU,”” Pumerantz

said. “”The findings have helped us be more attuned to the specific issues

that information technology raises in health professions education.””

The primary data for the study came from a comparison of outcomes between

an IT-based physician assistant program track and a traditional classroom-

based physician assistant program track. Both tracks were offered through

WesternU, with students in the traditional one attending classes at the

University’s main campus in Pomona and students in the IT-based one

participating in those classes via video-conferencing technology at the

WesternU Regional Center at Chico.

Results from the study showed no significant difference between the

program tracks in grade point average, perceived quality of student life,

the ability of the institution to help graduates get better jobs and the

expected return on investment in the program. However, there were large

differences of opinion between the two student groups in terms of

satisfaction, with those in the traditional classroom setting getting much

more enjoyment from the learning process.

Pumerantz said that several changes have been made to the manner in which

WesternU utilizes distance-learning technologies because of the results of

the study.

“”Video conferencing has now been eliminated as the primary form of

delivering our first-year physician assistant curriculum, and the seats

that were available in Chico have been consolidated with those on our main

campus in Pomona,”” he said. “”Our regional center at Chico is now limited

to clinical education for the physician assistant program.””

Because of the consolidation, there are now 98 seats available–up from 60-

-for first-year students in the physican assistant program on WesternU’s

main campus in Pomona.

Change is an award-winning bimonthly magazine under the editorial

leadership of the American Association for Higher Education, a Washington,

D.C.-based group that promotes the changes higher education must make to

ensure its effectiveness.