New DU Office to Supply the Expertise for Delivering Online Education
To address rising demand for online and hybrid graduate and professional education, the University of Denver is launching its own comprehensive online program management office (OPM). That’s shorthand for a fully staffed and eventually self-sustaining service that will supply the University’s academic units with the expertise and skills for creating and delivering digital education with a DU twist.
The launch comes as high-profile universities across the country are experimenting with different ways to provide coursework and degree programs to students who either prefer the convenience of online programs or cannot come to campus for instruction, says Martin Katz, the University’s chief innovation advisor and co-chair of the campus’ Online Strategy Committee. The 10-member committee was created in fall 2018 to explore the University’s options and potential in the digital arena.
“Students today are looking for education that meets them where they live and allows them to integrate their education with the rest of their life,” Katz says. “People are looking to take their career to the next level, but don’t necessarily want to quit the job they’re in or leave the city they’re in. So online and hybrid options are increasingly important to this segment of our potential student population.”
The creation of DU’s OPM comes after the University’s academic deans informed then-provost Jeremy Haefner, who assumed DU’s chancellorship in July 2019, that the University needed increased capacity to connect with the online student population. Currently, the University offers online programs primarily through University College, which has more than 20 years of experience in this arena, and a partnership with 2U, one of the country’s leading providers of digital education. Started in 2017, the 2U partnership markets and helps deliver advanced DU degrees in social work, business administration, data science, school counseling, and library and information science.
Haefner responded to the deans’ concerns by forming the Online Strategy Committee, with representation from academic, business and student-service divisions across campus. The committee, in turn, conducted more than eight months of research and outreach, including an extensive review of the digital higher education landscape. The committee also facilitated two on-campus town hall meetings hosted by the provost and met with Faculty Senate representatives to collect information on the DU community’s challenges, needs and expectations. The committee then analyzed its findings and prepared a proposal for the provost’s office and the DU Board of Trustees’ Faculty and Educational Affairs Committee (FEAC).
According to Keith Miller, interim associate provost for graduate education, “The Online Strategy Committee’s research and recommendations confirmed what many of our own faculty active in the online education space have been hinting — specifically, the need for the University to build internal capacity to research, evaluate, design and deliver high-quality online programs. In addition, this effort directly supports a number of the chancellor’s strategic imperatives as the community works together to advance our strategic plan, DU IMPACT 2025.”
That plan calls for the institution to expand access and opportunities for students from all walks of life. “The University has nationally and internationally recognized graduate and professional programs that attract excellent students from around the world. But we can do better,” Miller explains. “Many individuals simply cannot put their lives on hold while pursuing a graduate degree. We can increase access to our outstanding faculty and programs to a larger and more diverse student population with an engaging and cost-competitive online program.”
A strong, fully staffed and funded program also offers another advantage. It allows the University to capture — and subsequently invest in the DU community — revenue and expertise that might otherwise go to third-party providers. And, Katz adds, it also ensures that the University’s reputation is protected. “We’re putting our brand and our name out there in the world, so we want to staff this so it’s designed to succeed, not just to test the waters.”
The OPM, Katz notes, is designed to help academic divisions with every aspect of developing and introducing new programs to the online marketplace. “They will help you from soup to nuts,” he explains. That includes evaluating a program’s viability in the online space, identifying target audiences, helping create and administer the program, and helping faculty members design their courses for a digital classroom.
Michael McGuire, dean of University College and co-chair of the Online Strategy Committee, notes that while the OPM will spearhead all the logistical work associated with developing and operating online programs, the academic integrity of these programs will rest with the academic programs and the professors teaching the courses. “The curriculum will still originate with and belong to the academic units and faculty,” he says.
With an executive director supported by a staff to fulfill the full spectrum of needs, the OPM will be overseen by the provost’s office and housed on campus at the Administrative Office Building. The University will fund the office for its initial years in operation, but in subsequent years the OPM is expected to generate enough revenue to become self-sustaining.
If all goes according to plan, Katz and McGuire say, the OPM should be operational by spring 2020. Candidates for the executive director’s position will be selected for interviews beginning the week of Nov. 11. Once the position is filled, Katz says, the new executive director will begin staffing the OPM, working with academic units to determine the first online programs to launch, and connecting and integrating with all the dozens of offices and services on campus that will be affected by new online enrollments.
This is no small task, McGuire says. “All of the things that you would think about for a face-to-face student have applications in the online space,” he says.
DU joins a handful of other institutions in creating its own OPM, among them Syracuse University, George Washington University and Northwestern. But DU’s approach, McGuire says, stands out for how it blends options, allowing the University to develop new online programs for the digital marketplace while ensuring that other programs can continue to take advantage of 2U’s enormous technology and marketing platform. Just as important, University College will continue to offer its many graduate and undergraduate degree options to working professionals.
As Miller notes, “The higher education landscape is rapidly changing, and online education is here to stay. So, I am proud that the University is investing in this area. I do appreciate that change can cause anxiety, but it can also create excitement and energy. The University is well-positioned to expand the reach of our talented faculty to a larger audience, and this initiative is well supported by the provost, chancellor and the board. I look forward to working together to write DU’s next chapter in online education.”