Originally published in UTEP Magazine, Winter 2015
By Daniel Perez Photography by Laura Trejo
fter long days of training with his troops at McGregor Range, Army Capt. Matthew Graham would hunker down with his laptop computer to work on a presentation about the National Security Council for an online intelligence course.
Graham, an assistant logistics officer with the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, is pursuing his master’s degree in Intelligence and National Security Studies through a hybrid degree plan offered through The University of Texas at El Paso. Starting in May 2015, most online degree plans will consolidate under UTEP’s Extended University, an administrative umbrella organization that oversees the institution’s nontraditional academic offerings.
The Army officer praised the University and his course faculty for easing his transition to online learning.
“My instructors were phenomenal,” said Graham, who used an unclassified military network to connect to his coursework during downtime in the New Mexico desert. “When I had a question, their responses were quick and helpful. I told them when I would be in the field to keep them in the loop, so it was not an issue.”
Extended University, in partnership with Pearson Online Learning Services, recently began to roll out a multimedia advertising campaign to promote UTEP Connect, home to the University’s growing portfolio of online undergraduate and graduate degree plans aimed at students like Graham, adults who want a quality education but cannot always attend scheduled classes in a brick-and-mortar setting.
UTEP is responsible for the local and regional campaign components, such as billboards, newspapers, radio, television and social media to advance the University’s overarching message of access, support and excellence, regardless of a student’s location. There also will be a concentrated effort to get the message out at military posts around the region. The campaign should hit full stride in early 2015.
Pearson, one of the world’s premier education service providers, will focus on the national online marketing such as pay-per-click and online educational directory listings.
Prospective students will be encouraged to visit the UTEP Connect website –
online.utep.edu – to learn more about the new and existing programs. They can fill out an inquiry form and request to be contacted by a representative from a campus-based UTEP Connect call center. The initial contact will be for enrollment counseling that involves applications and admission. Subsequent calls will be fielded by student success advisers who will serve as advocates, motivators and conduits to campus information as the students progress through their degree plans.
This effort capitalizes on the growing trend toward online education. A 2014 U.S. Department of Education study stated that almost 26 percent of the nation’s 21.2 million college students took all or part of their courses online. On a related note, a 2011 survey by the Babson Survey Research Group of chief academic officers at more than 2,500 U.S. colleges and universities found that 65 percent considered online education “critical” to their long-term strategy. Academic experts believe those numbers will increase because of cost and convenience.
The most recent UTEP numbers confirm a growing interest in online courses. Data from the University’s Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research and Planning (CIERP) show the campus offered 630 fully online courses that were taken by 9,219 students during the 2013-14 academic year, compared to 319 such courses taken by 4,419 students four years earlier.
Mike Smith, J.D., Ph.D., dean of Extended University, said 25 percent of UTEP’s undergraduates – about 5,000 students – are enrolled in online courses. He added that students fill those available courses and demand more.
The courses, most of which were developed by UTEP’s School of Nursing and colleges of Education and Liberal Arts, have resonated with UTEP Connect’s target audience: self-directed adults with jobs and families, those in the military and law enforcement, and people who want to finish degrees, enhance their skills in the workplace, or transition to new careers as companies downsize.
The Extended University dean called online learning efficient and well aligned with the University’s mission of access and excellence.
“Online is an important part of the future of higher education,” Smith said. “UTEP Connect is a terrific addition to the University’s legacy of what it has provided to the men and women of this region. This is part of the next evolution and that is very exciting.”
The UTEP Connect course offerings are made up of graduate degrees in nursing, bilingual and early childhood education, and defense and strategic studies. UTEP Connect also offers undergraduate degrees in criminal justice, health promotion, security studies, organizational and corporate communication, multidisciplinary studies and pre-business. A graduate certificate in technical and professional writing also is available. Additional programs are in the works.
Whitney Teeluck, managing director of Pearson’s Academic Partnerships, said the affiliation aligns well with Pearson’s charter of increasing access to high-quality online degree programs for nontraditional students and underserved markets. Pearson will provide UTEP Connect with technology solutions, course development, marketing services, delivery of digital content, and online tutoring to support growth and student success.
“(These) will allow UTEP to drive student achievement and track learning outcomes,” Teeluck said.
The UTEP-Pearson collaboration is strengthened by the services provided by UTEP’s Academic Technologies (AT), which provides instructional technology and development services to faculty interested in teaching technology-enhanced, hybrid and fully online courses. AT plays a key role in working with faculty to implement best practices and innovative technologies for online instruction.
Extended University officials stressed that UTEP Connect works in conjunction with the mission of the main campus that promotes hands-on research and the college experience to undergraduates. Their shared goal is to enhance the opportunities for higher education for people around the region and the nation.
“We’re just expanding opportunities for those who cannot be here,” said Arathi Kylasam, Extended University marketing director.
Among those who have benefited from UTEP’s online courses is Glenn Barnes, a retired Navy lieutenant commander who earned his Master of Science in Nursing in 2010 while working as a civilian in northern Iraq for the U.S. Department of State. The registered nurse continues to serve in a medical support role in Iraq.
Barnes said he enrolled in UTEP’s online program because it allowed him to work and go to school. The first-generation college student said he enjoyed the experience and praised the University for providing the necessary infrastructure and technology.
“If I can earn my master’s while working in Iraq, what’s your excuse?” he asked rhetorically.
The School of Nursing is at the forefront of the University’s online degree offerings. Its first totally online program was the R.N.-B.S.N. that was offered in fall 2004. In 2013, the school enrolled 117 R.N.-B.S.N. students and 299 graduate students, said Debbie Sikes, R.N.-B.S.N. director.
Sikes, who earned her Master of Science in Nursing degree from UTEP in 2009, marvels at the diversity of the students in the online classes as they participate in discussions about patient care. She recalled one student in Germany who took his final on Skype. He evaluated an actor posing as a patient while the faculty observed.
“The School of Nursing is fully invested with Extended University,” Sikes said. “They keep us up with technology and guide us on the necessary license restrictions. That’s very important. The whole relationship is highly effective.”
Smith, the Extended University dean, is confident of the future success of UTEP Connect. He showed a rollout calendar of additional degree plans that stretches to the end of the decade. It includes offerings from the colleges of Engineering and Business Administration and a doctorate from the College of Education. Just as important are the last two words on his calendar: “… and beyond.”
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