Forward facing

Online focus can help UND succeed

Psychology faculty member Jeff Holm is serving as vice provost for online education and strategic planning. One of his goals is to grow UND's online offerings. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Psychology faculty member Jeff Holm is serving as vice provost for online education and strategic planning. One of his goals is to grow UND’s online offerings and help the University navigate changes in higher ed. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Higher education is changing.

In the nation and in the state, universities are competing for fewer students and declining resources, and more students are expected to take courses online than ever before.

Jeff Holm is focused on helping UND navigate those changes.

“I believe the data show that universities that don’t change or adapt in the next 10 years will be in trouble,” said Holm, a psychology faculty member who was recently named vice provost for online education and strategic planning.

His goals are to boost online enrollment, improve UND’s name recognition nationally and globally, and increase online retention. He will also oversee the University Analytics and Planning office (formerly the office of institutional research and effectiveness).

Holm, who is serving as a Faculty Fellow, spends half of his time focusing on online education, a quarter on University analytics and planning and the remaining 25 percent on special projects.

Understanding data

He’s a data guy.

“I think it’s critical that we understand UND’s data,” Holm said. “Data-informed decision making is critically important and will benefit our online offerings and the University as whole.”

He cites two alarming statistics: After the Great Recession of 2008, the birthrate in the U.S. plummeted, and those numbers have not recovered. That means the number of high school graduates – and college students – will also drop.

This will add to an already competitive landscape for universities in which many are already struggling and more and more are closing each year.  Since 2012, 656 colleges eligible to award financial aid have closed.

Holm is focused on making sure that doesn’t happen at UND.

He wants to make UND a national resource for high quality, affordable education, both on campus and online.

It’s part of the One UND Strategic Plan Goal 3: deliver more educational opportunity online and on campus.

“Online education and on-campus education are not competitors,” he said. “There is a place for both. To be successful on campus, you offer a different experience – living in a residence hall, attending class, taking advantage of on-campus opportunities. And, I believe that Gov. Burgum is correct that online education is critical for higher education to succeed, in the future. If we don’t do it, others will. UND needs to be national and global.”

Focus on the future

Holm is working to expand online educational opportunities. “Online education has a lot of positives for students. They don’t have to move here, quit their jobs, be full time or travel. But it often comes with a higher risk for failure. We need to build in extra services to counteract that.”

He said that our faculty understand that online courses have to be designed appropriately, and we must be prepared to teach online courses differently.

“We need excellent online programs with great courses that are easy to follow and engaging, with programs that meet students’ interests and needs,” he said. “They also must get the right kind of assistance from the University in a virtual world to be successful. Again, our faculty understand this and have risen to the challenge.”

The University has engaged Pearson Online Learning to provide services for some programs that UND is currently unable to offer.

“They have the ability to provide services we haven’t developed, such as targeted marketing and student success services meeting the unique needs of online students,” Holm said. “How do students know what we offer? Pearson can help us communicate how good our programs are and get our message out there. ”

UND can have the best programs and courses in the world, Holm said. “But if no one knows about them, no one benefits – students, UND, or North Dakota.”

Online opportunity

The first two programs using Pearson services include masters’ degrees in accountancy and cyber security, with more to come.

Holm knows that online programs can have higher dropout and lower success rates than on campus programs, and is ensuring these issues are being addressed in UND’s online programs, beginning with those using Pearson services.

In addition to marketing programs, UND has asked Pearson to provide a “success coach” to help students navigate the higher education process.

“One person is assigned to the student, and will follow them until graduation. They will help with time management and help ensure students succeed,” Holm said, adding that he wants to bring that into other programs at UND.

“I am confident that Jeff’s leadership in reaching more students through our online programs will strengthen UND,” said President Kennedy. “His efforts to deliver better information to department heads, deans and the provost will allow us to better meet the needs of on campus and online students alike.”

“Jeff is doing a fabulous job,” said Tom DiLorenzo, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “He’s a very productive faculty member and former chair, with an extensive background in statistics. He will help us make data-informed decisions.”

“We can shape what people are looking for and expecting from Higher Education,” Holm said. “The quicker we respond, the better the odds UND will be here in 30 years.”