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Michael R. Lovell

Building online quantity and quality
February 2013

In my Plenary Address last month, I considered the many ways our university is helping define the future of higher education. One extremely distinctive way we are doing this is through considerable attention to online education. While this is a relatively new area of emphasis for many established universities, UWM has been exploring and expanding its areas of online education for more than a decade.

The online enrollment results are outstanding, as shown in the tables that accompany this article. To consider this information, however, we first need to understand what has happened with overall enrollment over the past decade. It peaked in 2010 at 30,502 and has since decreased somewhat to 29,145 in fall 2012. Compared to a fall 2003 enrollment of 25,850, we’ve seen a total enrollment increase of about 13 percent.

The first interesting comparison, then, is that there has been no peak and decrease in online enrollment. As seen in Table 1, UWM students taking only online courses have gone from 361 in fall 2003 to 1,705 in fall 2012 – an increase of 372 percent.

Even more dramatic are the totals in Table 2, UWM students taking at least one online course. That total has gone from 710 in fall 2003 to 7,649 in fall 2012 – a huge jump of 977 percent.

Finally, Table 3 shows us the commitment made by faculty and staff to respond to the desire for online learning. In fall 2003, there were 86 course sections available in an online format. By fall 2012 they had increased to 598.

This 595 percent increase does not include a variation on the online course: the hybrid courses that have some instruction online and some in person. The number of hybrid course sections over the same period increased more than 400 percent, from 21 course sections to 106.

In addition to numerical growth, the quality of UWM’s online offerings has been recognized, most notably with the 2012 Distance Education Innovation Award from the National University Telecommunications Network. Specifically, this honor was for the U-Pace online instructional approach developed by Psychology Professor Diane Reddy.

UWM also is leading the way with the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option program announced in November. The program allows students to earn credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through prior coursework, military training, on-the-job training and other learning experiences. The College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and School of Information Studies have all stepped forward with degree programs to begin in fall 2013, while the College of Letters and Science will offer a certificate program. (You can read more about the Flexible Option program in this month’s cover story.)

Like so many successful university initiatives, many divisions, departments and individuals are involved in making online education at UWM a huge and growing success. There have been hundreds of faculty and staff members involved over the past decade from our schools and colleges, and our Division of Academic Affairs, Division of Student Affairs, UWM Libraries, Learning Technology Center and University Information Technology Services. In recent years, they have been guided and informed by Provost Johannes Britz’s Digital Future planning project.

The proof is in the quantity and quality, and I thank you all for making online education a growing and vital element of our university.


Michael R. Lovell