University of Nebraska Online Worldwide continues significant growth

The University of Nebraska is continuing to significantly expand its online learning initiatives, developing new strategies to meet the educational needs of more students in Nebraska and beyond, according to a report presented today to the NU Board of Regents.

The University of Nebraska is continuing to significantly expand its online learning initiatives, developing new strategies to meet the educational needs of more students in Nebraska and beyond, according to a report presented today to the NU Board of Regents.

Growth in the university’s distance education efforts spans a number of key areas:

  • Enrollment in the 130-plus programs offered by the four campuses and available through University of Nebraska Online Worldwide is up, including among distance-only students – that is, students who took all their courses online during the academic year.

  • Academic credit hours generated by distance-only students grew significantly in 2012-13, and the university is aiming for more growth as it works to expand access to education to students for whom a traditional time- and location-bound program isn’t an option.

  • In line with the goals of the Nebraska P-16 Initiative, the university is expanding online secondary education opportunities to more students in Nebraska and elsewhere by incorporating the University of Nebraska High School (formerly the Independent Study High School based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) as part of Online Worldwide, which will leverage the resources and expertise of all four campuses to better serve students and schools.

  • NU has signed a memorandum of understanding with Coursera, a leading provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs), to explore opportunities to make its course content available to many more individuals and position NU to be a part of the ongoing national conversation on distance education.

“The University of Nebraska has been engaged in distance learning for more than a century, and we are continuing to build on that rich tradition today with new strategies that are leveraging technology to serve many more students,” said NU President James B. Milliken. “This is part of our responsibility as a 21st-century land-grant university and it is what our Board, policymakers and Nebraskans expect of us. I am very pleased with our growth in distance education and look forward to continued progress in meeting the educational needs of Nebraskans and others.”

In a presentation to the Board of Regents, Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for distance education and director of University of Nebraska Online Worldwide, said that credit hours generated by distance-only students – a key metric monitored by the Board – grew 12 percent, to 57,000 in 2012-13. Each of the campuses saw growth in distance-only credit hours.

About two-thirds of distance-only credit hours are generated by Nebraskans, Niemiec said, demonstrating that Online Worldwide is meeting the needs of Nebraskans, including the approximately 290,000 individuals in the state who have completed some but have not earned a degree.

Total distance education credit hours grew 16 percent, to almost 130,000.

Niemiec noted that about half of all NU degree-seeking students took at least one course online in 2012-13 – an indication that students consider online courses an important part of their educational experience and that the university must continue to strategically integrate distance learning opportunities throughout the education continuum.

“Online learning at the University of Nebraska is all about expanding access to high-quality, flexible education to more people in our state and beyond. We’re achieving that goal with new opportunities for high school students, college students, working professionals and lifelong learners,” Niemiec said. “Ultimately our state will benefit when more individuals are able to advance their education and acquire new skills.”

The university announced its intention to partner with Coursera in May. While the partnership provides exciting opportunities for faculty to explore new technologies that benefit students and to collaborate with colleagues at other institutions, the level of the university’s participation in MOOCs – including details like what course content might be offered and when it might become available – will be determined by the campuses. Participation is voluntary for faculty.

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