By Kevin Warnecke / Special to the University of Nebraska at Omaha
A Massachusetts man had options when he decided to earn a college degree in hopes of one day working for the federal government.
Sean knew he had to continue working — he and his wife were expecting their first child — while he pursued his bachelor’s degree. He needed a program that offered flexibility, and after exploring his options, he chose the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Sean earned his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, with an emphasis in nonprofit management, in 2019.
He earned his degree by taking all of his courses online.
More than anything else, UNO students look for flexibility not only when they take classes, but also in how they are taken.
“They want the ability to manage their lives — their jobs and their studies — from semester to semester,” said Jaci Lindberg, associate vice chancellor of the UN office. “We know this because we regularly ask our students what they need and then adapt what we offer to meet those needs.”
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Sean’s story doesn’t end here. He and his family headed to Nebraska so Sean could participate in UNO’s commencement ceremony. He and his family returned to Omaha three years later for him to earn a master’s degree in public administration.
There’s also Jackie’s story. She was on active duty at Offutt AFB and attending on-campus courses at UNO when she received orders to be stationed elsewhere. Instead of giving up on her dream of earning a college degree, she decided to take the remainder of her courses online. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in May.
For students like Sean and Jackie, providing them with a mix of on-campus, online and hybrid (part online, part on-campus) courses is key, Lindberg said. “Some of our students may not want to come to campus for their classes — and we know not everyone can come to campus.”
“The focus on flexibility is by design,” Lindberg said. Before 2019 and the pandemic, about a quarter of students enrolled in credit hours at UNO were online or hybrid. This percentage now stands at more than 40%, with coursework for dozens of degree programs available entirely online, including business administration, criminology, and library science.
The core program for resilience is Interdisciplinary Studies – the degree that Sean and Jackie earned. “It’s flexible in a lot of ways,” Lindberg said.
Encouraged by UN Chancellor Joan Lee to respond to students’ call for greater flexibility in courses offered, the university established the Department of Innovative and Learning-Centric Initiatives. Under Lindberg’s direction, the department supports UNH faculty in developing more online and blended courses to complement the university’s on-campus offerings.
UNO recently surveyed its students and learned that many of them are juggling multiple demands along with pursuing college, including full- or part-time jobs and family obligations. As they find their way, degree programs that allow them to set their own pace and approach are crucial. “They asked us to help them succeed and achieve their goals by providing this mix of online, blended and on-campus courses. And that’s what we’re doing.
Lindburg presented three benefits that online and hybrid classes provide to students:
• Access to information: Online courses give students greater choices about when and where they study and when they complete assignments.
• Flexibility with Accountability: Although online courses offer flexibility, they still require students to be accountable for keeping up with progress, interacting with their instructor and fellow students, and meeting deadlines.
• Savings: Many faculty no longer require students to take online courses to purchase their textbooks. Instead, they offer free and low-cost digital course content online through Open Nebraska. “Faculty adoption of these alternatives has saved UNO students $6.4 million over the years.”
For more information about UNO’s blended online course offerings, visit online.unomaha.edu.