Perfect partners for online growth

UND-Pearson agreement will deliver more online education opportunities in North Dakota and beyond

UND-Pearson agreement 2018

UND already has a strong online foundation in a myriad academic disciplines. Now, under a new agreement with online education giant Pearson, UND can quickly build a presence in other areas with explosive growth potential and do it in a way that promotes both existing and new programs. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

A new relationship is blooming at the University of North Dakota.

After a long courtship, the documents have been signed and two families have come together – UND and Pearson Online Learning Services.

This partnership agreement is a significant milestone for Goal Three of the One UND Strategic Plan in delivering more educational opportunities online and on-campus. Jeff Holm, Goal Three project manager and UND Psychology chair, likens it to a romantic milestone.

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

“How do couples who just get married feel?” Holm asked. “You’re imagining this future. And when you just get married, you’re thinking there are a lot of great possibilities in this future. The excitement is just electric.”

The possibilities of a UND-Pearson marriage have a solid start. Pearson has already agreed to support UND’s launch of two fully-online graduate programs next year – Cyber Security and Accounting.

As the partnership continues, Pearson will work with UND to introduce two to three more graduate programs later in 2019. They are currently crafting an agreement to build a suite of six to 12 online bachelor’s programs that would launch in the summer or fall of next year.

Pearson’s assistance will focus on programs that are high-demand nationwide and have a lot of opportunity for growth.

“When we were thinking about the right places for us to partner with Pearson, we assessed what employers are looking for now and will be seeking in the future,” said Goal Three team co-coordinator Margot McGimpsey. “That led us to think in terms of academic suites, or areas of expertise that are needed across the country, and even globally – health, human and public services, technology and engineering, education and business programs.”

The University already has a strong online foundation in some of these suites.  But, with Pearson’s assistance, UND can quickly build a presence in areas with explosive growth potential and do it in a way that promotes both existing and new programs.

“Partnering with Pearson, as a leading online program manager, will allow us to extend the reach of our high-quality teaching beyond UND’s classrooms,” said UND President and interim Goal Three Captain Mark Kennedy. “This will allow UND to serve every corner of our state and beyond, while also opening up opportunities to collaborate with other North Dakota schools.”

Bigger is best

On Feb. 22, Holm stood in front of the State Board of Higher Education to outline why Goal Three and a UND-Pearson alliance will not only benefit UND, but the entire state.

He cited data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center indicating declining college enrollments across the country. Last fall, nationwide enrollment was down 1 percent – in North Dakota, it was down 3.1 percent.

However, the growth potential is online, where many working adults and military members are looking for ways to complete a degree. And to remain relevant in the now-booming online realm, UND needs some help.

“Pearson should, in three to four years, help us to quadruple our exclusively online student headcount,” Holm said, adding that there are currently only three public universities in the top 20 schools in terms of exclusively online enrollments. ““Within five years, I think we can be one of those top 20 schools. It will require substantial growth, but this partnership with Pearson can help us achieve that goal.”

Holm also described to the board how a UND-Pearson pairing could potentially advantage the entire North Dakota University System (NDUS), allowing more availability and flexibility for students system-wide to take online courses, fostering opportunities for faculty to cross-teach or share instructional resources, and creating staircases from two-year schools to four-year schools.

“This UND-Pearson partnership is not just a win for UND – it could be a huge benefit for all of the NDUS,” Holm said.

Jeff Holm

Jeff Holm

Pearson’s part

In its initial partnership terms, Pearson will provide market research to determine which UND programs are in greatest demand by prospective students. They will then help strategically market the program and lead students through the application and enrollment processes (UND will retain the role of application acceptance).

Once students are enrolled, Pearson will provide them with academic success coaches, and will also establish a 6-month relationship with faculty members to support the development of top-notch UND courses.

“Pearson will provide instructional design staff to assist faculty in converting their content, knowledge and work into a digital format that makes sense for an online, asynchronous learning space, in a way that’s highly engaging to students and will meet faculty’s learning objectives,” Holm explained. “Faculty will maintain control of all academic content.”

Both UND and Pearson are investing in this revenue-sharing agreement, and both have a lot at stake at making sure the online endeavor is successful.

“Both want to put together the best possible program, that attracts, enrolls, retains and graduates satisfied students,” Holm said. “The best advertising is the successful graduate who speaks about how wonderful their experience was.”

Arrow in the quiver

A partnership with Pearson is just one “arrow in the quiver” to meet UND’s online goals. The University is already an established online education leader in the region – which Holm says attracted Pearson’s interest in a partnership – and will continue to support and enhance online programs outside of the cooperative agreement.

Extended Learning Director Lynette Krenelka, who also serves as co-coordinator for Goal Three, says UND has been successful in its online offerings by assessing educational gaps – within North Dakota and elsewhere – and identifying how it can help fill those gaps.

“It won’t make sense for every program to partner with Pearson,” Krenelka said. “So we will continue to work within the University to grow current programs and develop new online opportunities as well.”

The UND-Pearson agreement is a major step for Goal Three. But expect many more markers as the Pearson relationship moves past the honeymoon phase into its golden years.

“This helps us increase the likelihood that we will be an important part of online education in the future,” Holm affirmed. “Because I believe the Pearson partnership does that, finalizing this initial beginning with them is very satisfying.”