Throughout the literature on higher education, it has been shown that few minorities complete an undergraduate degree; even fewer complete master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees (American Society for Higher Education, 2005; Jackson, & Moore, 2006; McClellan, Tippeconnic Fox, M. J., & Lowe, 2005; Sequist, 2005; Shabazz, A., 2004; Tierney, 1992; Ward, 2006). Many reasons for lack of participation exist, particularly in areas of acculturation (Ibarra, 2001). College and university environments often represent a homogenous environment that results in cultural gaps between the minority student and the institution. Campuses that follow in this tradition often create a conflict for students between their specific ethnic and cultural values and the dominant values of academe (Hall, 1993). The roots of the modern American university can be traced to the great German universities of the late 1800s (Rudolph, 1990). The online university provides a bridge between academe and students from diverse cultures.
In the new environment, of course, on-campus mores are absent. Students are not expected to leave their own communities to participate in higher education. Their initiation into higher learning is based on their ability and willingness to engage in a world of ideas through reading, writing, discussion, practice, and dialogue. The online learning environment is inclusive, and celebrates the diverse nature of its students. Limitations of a geographic and cultural nature do not pertain, because students participate from all areas of the world, without leaving home. For the most part, cultural adjustments are unnecessary. The distance between faculty, student, and the learning infrastructure is minimized:
The primary focus for distance education is based on technological frameworks to reduce the gap between student and teacher. For quality distance education in developing indigenous communities, the primary focus must begin with different frameworks: The “distance” between one culture and another, the distance between one language construct and another, and the distance between one conceptual framework and another within the same education system. (Valadian, 1999, p. 231)
Much of the literature on attrition in higher education is drawn from Tinto’s (1987) theory, which recognizes that students who feel isolated are more likely to end their college careers than students who feel connected and comfortable in the college environment. Students who do not participate in college extracurricular activities or create meaningful relationships with faculty or peers during their college experience are more likely to leave college. In the online environment, students do not require extracurricular activities in order to connect to college culture. In the online environment, students interact in a one-on-one dialogue with faculty and peers through assignments, e-mail, and discussion boards. Indeed, one might say that advances in technology have brought us back to Western civilization’s earliest educational models.Top
Main Focus: Current Thinking
The primary adjustment for our learners may not be cultural at all, but rather, technological. Still, online learning is a social process that allows human beings to connect with each other despite barriers of culture and distance.