April 29, 2019

Online education is a hot topic.

From digital badging to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, chatter regarding the synergies of higher education and the digital sphere is commonplace. And the University of Colorado is taking the helm.

Scot Chadwick, vice chancellor for Enterprise Development, and Sheana Bull, PhD, professor and assistant vice chancellor of Digital Education, tackled this topic in the latest Campus Conversation, revealing what work is underway for the Office of Digital Education (ODE) and what is to come in the near future.

The April 21 discussion – “A Transformational Time for Digital Education” – was well-attended, as roughly 75 individuals from all areas of campus showed up to listen to the duo’s presentation, following up with back-to-back questions right up until the 5 p.m. mark.

Woman holding a microphone asking a question.
Questions from the audience went right up until the 5 p.m. mark.

What does a ‘typical’ student look like?

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell kicked off the discussion by posing to the audience the question, “Who are the students of the future for universities?”

While a typical “student” may have historically been characterized as a fresh high school graduate rocking headphones and a ball cap, most of us now know that those obtaining a post-secondary degree come in all shapes and sizes and that traditional stereotype doesn’t always apply.

“I’ve begun to think of the people we serve as ‘learners’ and how we can best serve these individuals, ensuring they are graduating, receiving the coursework that meets their needs and more,” Horrell said.

She stated that CU Denver’s role is “expanding in terms of the vision of who we serve, and digital education allows us to extend our reach and impact a broader range of people across Colorado.”

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell speaking in front of a microphone.
Chancellor Dorothy Horrell kicked off the discussion by posing the question to the audience, “Who are the students of the future for universities?”

Online education: A timely trend

According to Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from 2016, roughly 77,000 students in Colorado are already pursuing a post-secondary degree completely online. That’s an eye-catching trend, especially when coupled with the fact that individuals in Colorado are primarily looking to attend an in-state institution for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, as Bull and Chadwick explained.

“[Colorado] is above the national average for students taking at least one online course,” Chadwick said. Nationwide across higher education, the percentage of students taking courses online has steadily grown to 31%, whereas we see it at a whopping 48% at CU Denver.

“We are looking to focus on the people here in Colorado, first and foremost,” he said. “There is a tremendous opportunity for us to reach more adult learners in our state and make a generational impact in their lives.”

Although there has been an almost 4% decrease in both undergraduate and graduate enrollment throughout the nation, online education has seen quite the opposite effect, with an enrollment increase of 17% from 2012 to 2016. The Office of Digital Education recognizes this opportunity and is partnering with our schools and colleges to meet this demand collaboratively.

The sky’s the limit for the Office of Digital Education

The opportunity is titanic, but where do you start?

Bull and Chadwick outlined four primary goals that ODE is most concerned with:

  1. Production of high-quality programs
  2. Exceptional student support
  3. Rich partnerships with faculty, schools and colleges
  4. A thought leadership mentality

“Ultimately, what we are hoping is that we will become an industry model and that we will be seen as people who are committed to providing the highest-quality-possible education in a way that benefits everyone, in person and online as well,” Bull said.

Woman standing in front of a PowerPoint talking to the audience.
Bull and Chadwick outlined four primary goals of the Office of Digital Education: the production of high-quality programs; exceptional student support; rich partnerships with faculty, schools and colleges; and a thought leadership mentality.

She went on to emphasize that working in tandem with schools and colleges will grant them the ability to “leverage all of the great ideas and enthusiasm people have for digital education, across the board.”

“We are here to partner with you,” Chadwick said. “Our role is to be an extension of your team and help you be successful with your program.” He stated it is imperative to have complementary efforts in order to achieve the growth and student success goals our schools and colleges have established.

“Among other areas, we recognize the need to provide our programs with additional support across marketing, enrollment management and student success, and we are dedicated to providing assistance anywhere the schools and colleges need us,” Chadwick said.

Student expectations are high

Understanding what the online student desires and requires is at the forefront of ODE’s strategy. The office works to provide clarity, relevance and support to all students, while serving three major groups of individuals:

  • Working professionals
  • Geographically restricted learners
  • Transfer students

Students care about getting the skills and credentials that align with employer demand – they want to receive industry-relevant curricula,” Bull said. “Employers will be contacted across the state to ensure we are meeting the needs of the students, as well as the needs of the workforce.”

The fully-online student needs a high-touch set of opportunities that can enhance the services already available on campus, including peer-support, peer-mentoring and more, Bull explained. “There will be a growing team of student success navigators to ensure they have the best experience possible.”

Members of the audience sitting and looking at the presenters.
Understanding what the online student desires and requires is at the forefront of the Office of Digital Education’s strategy. The office works to provide clarity, relevance and support to all students.

Looking ahead: A roadshow, revamped website and $15K undergraduate degree

This spring, 15 programs across campus have responded to a formal request for partnership with ODE to reach more students and make a larger impact by launching new online programs or through fine-tuning existing online programs for working adult learners.

Additional efforts on the horizon include a marketing and recruitment roadshow starting in May to discuss partnership opportunities with schools and colleges, a revamped website for CU Online and ODE, and the development of a $15,000 undergraduate degree by fall of 2022. “In terms of who has been advising us, we have 54 active participants from across the campus on our task force,” Bull said.

“They are providing recommendations for the must-haves for this type of degree, including what students and faculty need, what programs should be considered for this and more.”

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