5 keys to reaching adult students online

A look at how the University of Memphis is making its LiFE program successful

In a public-private partnership that could signal the future of higher education, the University of Memphis has teamed up with FedEx Express on a new initiative that will give more than 11,000 FedEx employees the opportunity to earn a tuition-free degree from UofM Global, the university’s online learning program.

All employees who work at the FedEx Memphis World Hub are eligible to participate in the “Learning inspired by FedEx” (LiFE) program as long as they remain in good academic standing. Employees can choose from among more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered by UofM Global, and FedEx will pay the full cost of tuition.

The program is a “win-win-win” for everyone involved, advocates say. Employees have an opportunity to advance their education (and possibly their careers), while the company inspires loyalty among its workers, which should result in higher retention—and the university adds a major new source of tuition revenue.

Richard Irwin, dean of UofM Global, says he believes the future of higher education depends on how well colleges and universities can serve adult students who are returning to school. Toward this end, UofM Global offers a number of resources designed specifically to support returning adult students and ensure their success—and the LiFE program can serve as a model for other institutions to follow.

Here are five key lessons that higher-ed leaders can take from the program as they aim to serve returning adults students at their own institutions more effectively online.

1. Assess students’ readiness for online learning.
Before adult students begin their courses, UofM Global measures their readiness for online learning through an initiative called Smart Start. It’s a home-grown assessment that takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and it asks students about their technical knowledge, what type of device they’ll be using, whether they have Wi-Fi access at home, and when they plan to complete their course work, among other questions.

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