Growth in University of Nebraska distance learning initiative expands access

October 14, 2015

The University of Nebraska’s distance learning initiative continued its significant growth in the past year, resulting in expanded access and opportunities for students to help them stay on the path to a degree, earn a valued credential and meet critical workforce needs in Nebraska.

The number of online credit hours generated by distance-only students at the university grew 16 percent in 2014-15, to more than 66,000, according to new figures reported to the Board of Regents at its October meeting. That included a 21 percent increase in online credit hours generated by distance-only students in Nebraska, exceeding the Board’s growth goal. Each campus saw growth in distance-only credit hour production.

More than two-thirds of distance-only credit hours were generated by students who are Nebraska residents, indicating the university is expanding access to students in the state who might not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Total online credit hour production grew 19 percent, to more than 207,000, last year, a sign that on-campus students are also taking advantage of the flexibility and quality that NU’s online programs provide in order to balance their schedules and stay on the path to graduation.

“One of the most important priorities for the University of Nebraska is making sure that every student who wants to pursue a university education has the opportunity to do so,” said President Hank Bounds. “Growing our online programs is a critical part of achieving that goal. Technology offers us incredible opportunities to expand access to education for students in Nebraska and beyond and I am excited about our progress. By continuing to draw on the talents and resources of all four campuses, we can expand access even further, advancing our goals for enrollment growth and workforce development and helping more students change their lives through the power of education.”

Mary Niemiec, NU associate vice president for distance education and director of the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide, reported to the Board of Regents that the university’s strategy for continuing to grow its online initiatives will include a focus on key groups for whom online learning is an especially good fit.

These include the nearly 300,000 Nebraskans who have completed some college but have not earned a degree. Helping these Nebraskans – many of whom are balancing full-time jobs, families and other obligations – earn credentials will be critical to meeting workforce needs in the state, Niemiec said. More than 70 percent of all jobs in Nebraska will soon require postsecondary education.

The university also will focus on outreach to military learners. Niemiec noted that NU campuses already earn national recognition for meeting the needs of military students. Military Times magazine has named the University of Nebraska at Omaha the nation’s No. 1 institution in serving veterans, and U.S. News & World Report ranks University of Nebraska-Lincoln programs in business, education and engineering, University of Nebraska at Kearney programs in education, and UNL and UNO bachelor’s degree programs among the nation’s best for veterans. A continued focus on meeting the unique needs of military learners and their families will be a priority, Niemiec said.

Niemiec also highlighted the university’s partnership with Coursera, a national provider of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The partnership allows NU faculty to share their research and expertise with a global audience. The university’s first MOOC, a course on health literacy and communications led by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, debuted successfully last year and is being offered for a second time this fall. Another UNMC-led MOOC, “Ebola and Beyond: High-Level Biocontainment for Healthcare Facilities,” focusing on an area in which UNMC has earned international acclaim, is set to launch in 2016.

Finally, Niemiec noted growth at the University of Nebraska High School, which provides accredited core, advanced and elective courses to high school students in the state and beyond. The high school served almost 3,000 in the last year and is working to grow enrollment among Nebraska students in order to supplement the work of local schools by providing access to additional coursework to increase college and career readiness in the state.

The University of Nebraska Online Worldwide leverages the collective strength in online education of the campuses to provide choice and access for student success.  More than 100 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificates and endorsements, are offered by the University of Nebraska campuses. Programs include those in high-demand areas such as business, education, agriculture, information science and technology, health professions and others.


Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for distance education and director of the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide, describes the range of online programs that are available through the university’s distance education platform.

Niemiec describes the university’s goal to expand access and opportunity for students through online education, both for those studying on campus and at a distance.

Niemiec talks about the ways online education can serve students by providing them with flexible options to help them stay on the path to a degree.

Niemiec discusses the way online learning can accommodate the lifestyles of working adults, who are balancing other responsibilities along with their education, so that they can earn their credentials.”

Media Contact
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications, University of Nebraska