100 YEARS AGO AT KENT STATE: Distance Learning Comes to Kent State Normal College

Correspondence Courses Helped Students Earn Degrees Remotely.

Kent State University’s first president, John McGilvrey, was a passionate innovator who was always looking for ways to improve the educational experience at Kent State.

In 1922, he introduced what could be considered the great-grandmother of our current distance-learning programs at Kent State: correspondence courses. 

These courses carried full college credit. By the early 1920s, thousands of students had taken classes on the Kent Campus and at the numerous extension centers established by the college outside of Kent. However, many students had special circumstances that prevented them from taking these classes. Some required special subjects that were not in widespread demand. Others lived in remote areas where it would have been difficult to establish an extension. It was for these students that McGilvrey established correspondence courses.

The slate of courses began with just a handful, but eventually expanded to more than 120. The most popular, naturally, were those classes that were required for diplomas or degrees. The program was still problematic for some, however, as many rural communities did not have adequate library facilities. The lack of close contact between instructor and student could also be an issue, along with what was identified as “an absence of impelling motive to get the work done quickly.” 

However, McGilvrey continued to expand the correspondence course program. In 1922, these early correspondence courses were among the ongoing efforts by McGilvrey that helped Kent State Normal College earn the designation “the fastest growing college in America” in The College Blue Book of 1923.

Distance Education at Kent State in 2022

Today, distance learning is a regular part of the university experience. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, millions of students nationwide were learning remotely out of necessity and caution. 

Kent State’s more recent history as an innovator in distance learning goes back more than three decades. The roots of Kent State’s Office of Continuing and Distance Education reach back to 1972 with the founding of the Division of Continuing Education. 

Kent State’s early adoption of technology, facilitated innovation and strategic planning have given the university a significant advantage over others that had resisted online education. 

Valerie Kelly is the associate vice president of the Office of Continuing and Distance Education at Kent State. She said, “Kent State, from its very inception, was dedicated to increasing access to quality education. The Kent State Online vision is one of innovation and inclusion that helps the community by providing access to quality education to a more diverse group of learners.”
Image of Valerie Kelly
Valerie Kelly, associate vice president, Office of Continuing and Distance Education

Over the years, thanks to the efforts of dedicated administrators, faculty and staff, Kent State’s online learning programs continued to evolve until the university began to offer degree programs fully online. 

Evolving Distance Education for the Future

The university drew on the experience of the Office of Continuing and Distance Education as it quickly pivoted in spring 2020 to successfully move more than 8,000 in-person classes to digital learning platforms for Kent State students – in just six days. 

Through research, Kent State has built upon its experience in delivering distance education to create innovation that benefits current students as well as future generations.

“We are on the cusp of tremendous leaps forward in education as we understand more about how our brains work and how learning can be nurtured,” Kelly said. “Now, the merging of advances in technology along with our increased understanding of how learning occurs creates an outstanding opportunity for universities to transform education for the continuing benefit of society.”



POSTED: Wednesday, August 10, 2022 - 9:55am
UPDATED: Thursday, August 25, 2022 - 11:08am
Phil B. Soencksen