Enrollment in state’s online program increased 400% this fall

Updated: Oct. 22, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - More than 75,000 students in South Carolina are enrolled in the free, state-sponsored online program, VirtualSC.

According to their website, VirtualSC is a free state-sponsored online program serving students currently attending public, private, and home schools in grades 7-12 and adult education programs.

Director Bradley Mitchell said they saw a 400% increase in enrollment compared to this time last year. In fall 2019, there were 15,033 students enrolled in a VirtualSC course. In 2020, there were 75,064.

Mitchell said they hired an additional 43 part-time teachers to keep up with demand.

“Most of our courses range between 25 to 45 students total. The teachers have anywhere from 150 to 180 students depending on the course they are teaching,” Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, there are 55,563 student enrollments in franchise programs across the state. These programs are set up with the help of VirtualSC but run by the school districts using their own teachers.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA) and the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA) said this jump in enrollment shows students and parents are interested in virtual learning.

They said some of their members in school districts across the state have had to deal with some of the downside of this interest.

Patrick Kelly with PSTA said some members have reported large individual class sizes and large class rosters. Kelly said 180 is the recommended cap, but some teachers have more than 200 students on their rosters.

“Ultimately, the number of desks and chairs have limited class sizes for districts, but you don’t have that in a virtual environment,” Kelly said.

SCEA President Sherry East said these large class sizes and rosters could lead to more teacher burnout.

“You’re really setting people up for failure because they’re trying to do the best they can. That’s just a lot of volume they have to keep up with,” she said.

Kelly and East both agree one solution is to hire more teachers, but it is very difficult with the ongoing teacher shortage.

Mitchell said they will be piloting a full middle school program tailored towards students in 6-8th grade starting in 2021.

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