New phase of Virtual Scholars program to focus on meeting needs of Nebraska schools

Initiative will provide 100 scholarships for free University of Nebraska High School enrollments.

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken announced today that NU is launching a second phase of its highly successful Nebraska Virtual Scholars program. The program, initiated in 2011, will expand access to online courses to more high school students in the state and create opportunities for the university to work with school administrators – particularly those in rural Nebraska – to identify challenges that could be addressed through online education.

This year the Virtual Scholars program will provide 100 scholarships to Nebraska high schools for students to take courses from the University of Nebraska High School (UNHS) for free. Formerly known as the Independent Study High School, the University of Nebraska High School is a university-wide initiative that, in line with the goals of the state’s P-16 Initiative, is expanding access to education to more students who face barriers with traditional paths to degrees. The high school is especially focused on supplementing the education of Nebraska students by providing STEM, Advanced Placement, foreign language and other courses not offered at their schools.

Schools must apply on behalf of their students in order to be considered for the scholarships. Applications are available and will be accepted until Sept. 13, with recipients announced in early October. While the program is open to all Nebraska schools, it is especially focused on expanding opportunities for students in rural schools. The University of Nebraska High School’s full catalog of more than 100 core, elective and Advanced Placement courses will be made available.

Milliken said he hopes the scholarships will provide the catalyst for more discussions between the university and school administrators about the needs of Nebraska schools and how online education might meet those needs. In turn, those discussions should yield valuable insight for the university, schools and policymakers, Milliken said.

“The first phase of the Nebraska Virtual Scholars program was a tremendous success, providing opportunities for talented students across the state to enroll in courses that otherwise would not have been available to them,” Milliken said. “With this next round of the Virtual Scholars program, we will expand access to education to even more students, working with schools to better prepare them to succeed in college and beyond. The entire state will benefit when our students are more successful.”

Gov. Dave Heineman, who chairs the Nebraska P-16 Initiative, said: “Education is the great equalizer and that’s why it’s important for all Nebraska students to have access to a quality, rigorous high school curriculum so that they are prepared to be successful. Establishing a statewide Nebraska Virtual School for our young people and the University of Nebraska’s Virtual Scholars program are important steps forward. I hope students and schools will take advantage of this opportunity.”

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee and a co-chair of the P-16 Initiative, said: “The Virtual Scholars program is an excellent fit with the mission of our state’s P-16 Initiative to increase student success in Nebraska. This is a great opportunity for Nebraska schools and I applaud the University of Nebraska for its commitment to expanding access to education to more students across the state, particularly in rural Nebraska. On behalf of the Education Committee and full Legislature, I look forward to learning more about the unique challenges facing rural Nebraska and discussing how we can work together to solve them.”

In the first round of the Virtual Scholars program, 60 high school students around the state got the opportunity to take online courses for free – including, for example, a student in Dixon County who took Advanced Placement calculus, which his school didn’t offer; a student in Wheeler County who hopes to start his own business someday and was able to take a business communications course; and a student in Lancaster County who wanted to take French but whose small school offered only Spanish. Many of the applications sought scholarships for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses, confirming that there is a high demand across the state for more programs in these critical areas.

As a result of that initial round of scholarships, the online high school developed a number of new offerings, including career education courses focused on the STEM areas, math placement tests and several science courses.

“Now we have an opportunity to build on the initial success of Nebraska Virtual Scholars by further updating our course program based on what educators tell us they need,” said Barbara Wolf Shousha, director of the University of Nebraska High School. “I’m thrilled to be able to leverage the good work of Nebraska schools to make quality online education available to more students. It’s my hope that the Virtual Scholars program will make more Nebraskans aware of the exciting opportunities available to them through online learning.”

Currently the University of Nebraska High School serves more than 2,400 students, 250 of whom are from Nebraska. Scholarships provided through the Virtual Scholars program will cover tuition, fees and course materials. The standard cost for Nebraska residents for University of Nebraska High School courses is $194 per one-semester course.

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