It took a global pandemic to push more people in accepting that online learning is a mainstay in today’s higher education landscape. In addition to convenience, it expands learning opportunities to students whose schedules do not align with traditional in-person learning schedules.
Online learning meets the needs of many students, including students with personal or professional obligations, adults with demanding work schedules, and those who want to continue their learning to better position themselves for workforce advancement.
Online, workforce-relevant degrees are flexible and attainable. And with the “nontraditional” student–someone who doesn’t complete a degree in four years directly after high school–becoming the majority in the nation, online learning programs that accommodate the needs of these students are in demand.
The University of Massachusetts Global is striving to meet the needs of these students as they seek opportunities to further their education and advance their workforce competitiveness.
UMass Global is a private, nonprofit institution accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission that offers undergraduate, graduate, credential, and certificate programs designed to be relevant to more than 90 career paths. UMass Global serves nearly 23,000 students, about 16,000 of whom are enrolled in academic credit programs.
Dr. David Andrews, chancellor of UMass Global, sees online learning opportunities as a critical part of the next iteration of higher education, particularly in several key areas. In a chat with eCampus News, he shared valuable insights and predictions.
Workforce development and relevant degrees are paramount
UMass Global students are incredibly diverse and come from all different backgrounds and experiences. Ninety-five percent of the school’s students are working full time. Most UMass Global students are at the undergraduate level and have already been to college–some students have 3-5 transcripts, 100 credit hours, but no degree, and some have a lot of debt.
“The idea is: How do you get them over the finish line–towards not only a degree, but a degree that has workforce value? The vast majority of working adults want to finish for some workforce reasons: a better job or to change jobs,” Andrews said.
“We’ve been unapologetic that our focus is on online, workforce-relevant degrees in a relatively open access environment. We’re taking the friction out of that process so they can enroll, go back to school, not accrue more debt, and finish in a way that has a value proposition around a better workforce opportunity.”
As Andrews sees it, his institution is helping form the next wave of learning innovation. “Online learning was moving in that direction anyway, and the institutions serving this student group have realized that it needs really flexible on-demand types of opportunities,” he said. “Can you provide an online environment that’s accessible to students in their own timeframes, that’s asynchronous, and can you make sure the synchronous interactions are precious? We need to use those in the most advantageous way, and use predictive analytics to reach out to students and get them to the next level.”
One of the biggest parts of ensuring students don’t just go to college, but complete their education, is making sure they have access to learning opportunities. This means opportunities need to suit students with various schedules and responsibilities.
“I had an interaction with a student who was doing her work at 2:30 in the morning. She has a full-time job, 3 kids, and a disabled husband, and that’s when she can do her work,” Andrews said. “She told me, ‘If I don’t finish my associate’s, I’m going to lose my job.’ That’s a powerful story, and if we offered courses only at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, even if they were offered online, it does her no good. They aren’t accessible to that population.”
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