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Strategic Plan Spotlight: Goal 3 team develops road map for expansion of online opportunities

DeAnna Miller
UND has its eyes set on substantial online growth, but the same goal is shared by many other universities across the country. A recent national survey of 66 university chancellors, presidents and provosts found that the expansion of online learning fell among their collective top five priorities for 2017. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

The landscape of learners is changing.

In 2017, more than ever, these learners are movers and shakers who take risks. They’re switching careers at a higher rate, temporarily halting their education for other incredible opportunities or circling the world in service to our country.

And UND wants to provide the mobile education they need to become Leaders in Action.

“A strong online presence is essential for UND to provide the opportunity of higher education to every corner of our state, especially for mid-career students,” said UND President Mark Kennedy. “With a deliberate focus and collaborative effort, UND could not just be the top online program destination in the state, but amongst the top in the nation as well.”

Jeff Holm
Jeff Holm, UND Psychology chair and One UND Strategic Plan Goal 3 project manager

That target is wrapped into the mission of One UND Strategic Plan Goal 3 – delivering more educational opportunities online and on campus. The implementation team focused on growing UND’s online offerings by at least 10 percent by 2022 already has a solid foundation of roughly 60 successful online programs.

“Many may not realize it, but we’re offering online content at a much greater volume than most universities,” said UND Psychology Chair and Goal 3 Project Manager Jeff Holm.

Holm and the rest of the Virtual Online Learning Team – electrically referred to as VOLT, comprising representatives from all of UND’s Colleges/Schools – are starting their work by assessing what UND’s online strengths already are and what degrees are needed both within the state and nationally.

“There’s so much more that can be done,” explained Lynette Krenelka, director of the Office of Extended Learning and VOLT co-coordinator. “We’ve started talking with the deans and department chairs about what the market says, but also what UND could offer as far as additional online programs – not only degree programs, but certificate programs or nanodegrees.”

Meeting the need

Substantial online growth is not a goal exclusive to UND. A recent national survey of 66 university chancellors, presidents and provosts found that the expansion of online learning fell among their collective top five priorities for 2017.

“It’s critical that we take a look at all of the great work that’s already been done by Lynette and her team, and the Colleges and their departments, and we move it forward and advance it,” VOLT co-coordinator Margot McGimpsey said. “We must establish ourselves as online leaders, as others are racing to do the same.”

Beyond creating a more flexible experience for the standard college student, UND aims to support two growing pools of online degree-seekers: the 30 million Americans who have taken some classes and want to complete their degree and active-duty military personnel.

UND Provost and Strategic Plan Goal 6 (meet the educational needs of the military) Captain Tom DiLorenzo said his implementation team has been approached directly by representatives of the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB).

“Servicemen and women move so often,” he said. “They asked if there was a way they could enroll at UND, knowing that they could move in a couple of years and still finish their degree. The way to do that is to create as many online opportunities as possible.”

Online Program Management

To stay ahead of the flock, UND is considering some outside help.

VOLT – along with administrators, faculty representatives and campus support unit stakeholders – have been talking with Online Program Management (OPM) companies. OPMs provide resources and support in a number of areas, such as market analysis, online program marketing, instructional design, student support and enrollment services.

“Partnering with an Online Program Management company is a proven model that has allowed peer institutions to significantly expand their online programs,” President Kennedy said.

“They are a potential partner in delivering educational content – not creating that content, but delivering that content,” Holm explained. “They’re focused on everything a university is focused on – reaching out to the right people, getting them to enroll in the programs and helping them to be successful in those programs.”

UND is in the early stages of talking through partnership potential with two companies, including considering the appropriate type of  investment model and the areas in which the company would extend support.

VOLT member and Master’s of Social Work (MSW) Distance Coordinator Carol Schneweis saw firsthand what a partnership could mean for the online MSW program during presentations from potential OPMs.

“Quite frankly, I had quite a lot of trepidation,” Schneweis said. “I didn’t expect to get excited about the potential for our program, which I really did.”

Schneweis noted that the presenting companies emphasized student-focused care, and that course development would be faculty-driven.

“One of my fears was that they would make us do it a certain way and take away some of our autonomy,” she said. “But I really came out thinking about what this could do for the University as a whole.”

Ideas like these are only the start.

“What we’re trying to do is to grow online educational opportunities, and we’re looking at a variety of ways to do that,” Holm said. “Looking for a partner that has the resources to do things that we can’t do is one option. It isn’t going to be the only option.”

Krenelka said UND’s goal for online growth will take some time – but she can’t hide her optimism.

“I think we can get there. Absolutely,” she grinned. “It’s exciting.”