Another college goes the distance

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With veterinary technicians in short supply, accredited distance education can create inroads that will help fill the gap.

Blue Ridge Community College, Weyers Cave, Va, recently became one of only two colleges in the nation to implement this innovative idea and the first college to do it with compressed video.

"Compressed video is a live video conferencing system," explained Dr. Stuart Porter, coordinator of the veterinary technology program at Blue Ridge. "It's transmitted on telephone lines rather than satellite, much like a conference call.

Blue Ridge began transmitting its veterinary technology program to Tidewater Community College, South Hampton Roads, Va, in fall 1997. This is a part-time program whereby the students take two night courses a week for eight semesters, augmented by extensive clinical study and laboratory coursework outside class. The program, initiated in 1997, has received provisional accreditation from the AVMA, with full accreditation possible after the first class graduates in May 2000. The AVMA recently reaccredited the college's on-campus veterinary technology program.

"The Tidewater area of Virginia has a high population and a lot of veterinary practices," Dr. Porter said. "We're able to bring the education to people who can't come to the school."

Blue Ridge will begin another group with Tidewater in fall 2000 and will expand the program to include a new group of students at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke.

"All of our community colleges in Virginia are hooked up to this high-speed connection, so we can go almost anywhere in the state," Dr. Porter said.

Dr. Porter said the grades and performance of the distance-education students are comparable to those of full-time students.

The only other accredited veterinary technician program that does distance education — a Web-based learning program — is at St Petersburg Junior College in Florida. In 1995, it became the first distance learning program accredited by the AVMA, after a decision by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. "This one [at Blue Ridge] is different because it's live," Dr. Porter said. "I'm at one site, they're 235 miles away at another. It's cutting-edge technology."