About five years after it became fully operational, the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide, the system-wide platform that promotes online programs offered by the four NU campuses, is continuing its impressive growth in expanding access for students and producing skilled graduates to meet Nebraska’s workforce needs.
New figures reported to the Board of Regents Friday show unduplicated headcount enrollment of distance-only students – that is, students enrolled exclusively in NU online programs – rose from 4,000 in fall 2014 to 4,805 the following year, a 20 percent increase. Each campus saw an increase, and growth among both resident and nonresident distance-only students far outpaced the national average among public four-year institutions.
Enrollment of distance-only students is a key metric reported to the Board each year because it is a measure of the university’s success in reaching students who, for geographic, family, job, military or other obligations, may not otherwise have access to a University of Nebraska education.
Among other highlights: The number of credit hours generated by distance-only students has grown 6.6 percent in the past year, to 64,522. Additionally, since 2011-12, when the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide became fully operational, the university has experienced a 92 percent increase in Nebraska undergraduates who are studying exclusively at a distance – a strong indication that NU’s online programs are a key platform for access and opportunity for Nebraskans.
“With online learning, students can access a University of Nebraska education anytime, anywhere. Our online programs are taught by the same outstanding faculty who teach on campus and they provide students the quality and flexibility they need to advance their skills and become more competitive in the workforce,” said NU President Hank Bounds. “Online education is a vital part of our growth agenda. We’ll continue to take advantage of the opportunities technology provides to reach even more students who want to change their lives through education.”
Bounds noted that almost 300,000 Nebraskans have completed some college but have not earned a degree. Given that almost all of the jobs of the future will require postsecondary education, the university must lead the way in increasing educational attainment among Nebraskans, Bounds said – and online learning is one strategy for doing so.
The NU Online Worldwide website now provides access to more than 100 fully online programs offered by the campuses, including those in the health professions, information technology, education, agriculture, business and other areas important to the workforce. New programs available include University of Nebraska College of Law certificates in cyber and cybersecurity law, cyber and telecommunications law, and space law.
New collaborative programs have also emerged in recent years, combining the strengths of multiple campuses to better serve students. Collaborative programs include those in criminal justice (UNK/UNO), journalism (UNK/UNL), child, youth and family studies (UNL/UNO), gerontology (UNL/UNO), and public health (UNMC/UNL).
Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for digital education and director of NU Online Worldwide, noted that the quality and rigor of NU’s online programs is nationally recognized. New U.S. News & World Report rankings of the country’s best online programs include a number of NU offerings:
“Our faculty are doing great work to make their courses available to more students in Nebraska and beyond,” Niemiec said. “NU Online Worldwide is all about access, and I’m proud that we are achieving that goal on behalf of students and the state.”