A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
December 8, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 4


Short History of Distance Education

In the Up Front piece “Grant Increases Degree Program Offerings in Redding” (Nov. 10, 2005), it is stated that CSU, Chico has offered a number of classes at Shasta College, including MBA classes since 1997. MBA classes were first offered in 1995, and the first students of the program graduated in 1997. However, CSU, Chico has a long history of offering distance education to constituents in Northern California.

The very first distance education classes at Chico were the summer school courses offered at Mt. Shasta in the early 1900s.

Chico made its name in distance education in the 1970s. Ralph Meuter, retired dean of Regional and Continuing Education writes, “The very first external degree programs in the state of California were launched in 1972 in Redding at Shasta College. This was a groundbreaking development and set the tone for CSU, Chico to evolve into a state, national, and international leader in the offering of degree programs in a wide variety of distance education formats utilizing live and interactive technologies. For over 25 years, since the mid-1970s, CSU, Chico has been a recognized pioneer in distance education. I am delighted that The McConnell Foundation has seen the wisdom to provide additional funding to continue these worthwhile programs for the people in the Redding area.”

The following article, published in the May 11, 2000 edition of Inside Chico State on the occasion of Meuter’s retirement, provides some history on distance education at CSU, Chico. http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/inside/archive/00_05_11/index.shtml

Meuter's Leaving Signals the End of an Era
Ralph Meuter helped put CSU, Chico on the map. After 30 years at Chico and 28 years as dean of Regional and Continuing Education, Meuter is retiring. His retirement coincides with the 25th anniversary of distance education at CSU, Chico.

CSU, Chico, under Meuter's leadership, has been a pioneer in distance education. From 1975, when the first leg of the microwave system was installed, to the present, with courses delivered internationally via satellite to Japan, Chico has been recognized as a leader in distance education nationally and internationally.

Meuter in no way takes sole credit for the success of the program. In fact, he credits a set of people and conditions that existed in the ’70s and continued through the '80s and into the '90s that are uniquely "Chico." Those conditions included Chico's location in rural northeastern California, the enthusiasm and optimism of the times, and the spirit of the people drawn to Chico.

"Over a thousand international visitors from Europe and Asia have come to Chico over the last 20 years, and they always ask us, 'How do you do this?' ” said Meuter. "How do you tell anyone how you do something? How do you describe the opportunity, the enthusiasm, and the cooperation that were all a part of how distance education started at Chico?"

Meuter's history, and that of long distance education, is also the story of the development of a small, relatively isolated, and provincial state college into the technologically sophisticated university it is today.

He was one of only a handful of Bay Area students who attended Chico State when he came as a 17-year-old student in 1959. He had been introduced to Chico by an English professor from his high school in Alameda who had brought him and another high school student to see the Pioneer Days spring musical.

Meuter originally planned to be a high school social science teacher. It was during his fifth year of college for a teaching credential that he took a geography class from Dave Lantis. "It was so interesting and exciting. I took other classes, and, with Lantis' encouragement, went to graduate school to study sports geography."

Meuter returned as a professor to Chico State's geography department in 1970. In 1972, he accepted the position of dean of continuing education.

Royd Weintraub, then head of the Instructional Media Center, was excited about the possibilities of microwave technology. Meuter wasn't. He wanted the distance program to be academically rigorous, and, in the beginning, imagined that a course by television would be lightweight.

At the time, distance education consisted of professors driving to sites such as Redding and Susanville. It was a taxing and sometimes dangerous endeavor, and professors were reluctant to participate. After about two years of listening to Weintraub's vision, Meuter finally saw the light. "And, like a lot of converts, once I got religion, I was a zealot."

One of the first steps in the development of the long distance system was a proposed project for an Instructional Television Fixed Service System (ITFS)/Microwave link between CSU, Chico and the University of California, Davis. Although the joint venture with UC Davis didn't materialize, Weintraub suggested that Chico create its own ITFS/microwave link to Redding. The system eventually expanded to 16 sites throughout Northern California delivering a variety of bachelor's degrees, program minors, and certificate programs. Each academic year, 50 upper-division courses generate approximately 1,200 enrollments.

A connection with Hewlett-Packard was established in the late 1970s to provide master's degrees at their new Roseville area plant for engineers who were moving from hardware engineering to software engineering. Chico offered the first MS in computer science in to Hewlett-Packard Santa Rosa and Roseville via its microwave system.

In 1984, at the urging of Hewlett-Packard, Chico launched the Satellite Education Network. Courses were beamed to their plants in Boise, Roseville, Palo Alto, Santa Rosa, and Cupertino. Plants in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado were added the second semester.

CSU, Chico was the first university in the world to have a live degree program via satellite. "We were so successful," said Meuter. "We were selling our core product, which was solid academic programs. We essentially had the first partnership with a major corporation. Now, that is the way things are done. Then it was groundbreaking,"

Although it is still extremely strong and still developing, satellite technology for distance learning may have peaked for CSU, Chico. Resources have moved away from the technology and into Web-enhanced and online courses and programs. The challenge will be for Chico to maintain its leading edge in a new and level playing field.

Meuter is leaving just as this transition is coming about. He hopes that the central values of commitment to place and a spirit of cooperation that emerged from his 25-year journey with distance education are not lost.

—Kathleen McPartland