University System of Georgia Receives $1 Million Grant for Effort at Columbus State
COLUMBUS, Ga. — Education agencies working to boost Georgia’s college completion rates received good news this week in the form of a $1 million start-up grant to develop an accelerated, primarily online bachelor’s degree. The degree also will allow students to be credited for the experience and skills they already hold.
The grant, from Next Generation Learning Challenges, a national initiative to improve college readiness and completion, led by Educause and principally funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been awarded to the University System of Georgia.
Columbus State University will develop the degree program scheduled to launch in the fall of 2013. University System officials said that the program should improve Georgia’s ability to provide access for those historically not as well served by higher education, especially low-income students and the young adult military population.
“As we work to meet the goals of Complete College Georgia, we must assure that college is designed to fit into the lives of students and not the other way round,” said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “This national recognition acknowledges that the University System and Columbus State are capable of succeeding in the challenge to dramatically improve access and graduation, while maintaining the high level of academic quality and excellence expected.”
Part of the challenge will be to evaluate the program and to quickly expand those elements that work, with a goal of enrolling 5,000 students in the program within five years of the launch date.
The overall approach is a first for Georgia. The project is designed to integrate a number of important elements that all work together to help a student successfully earn the degree.
Officials indicate it is a very different approach from the typical online degree offered in the University System. The new degree will use an approach that allows students to work at their own pace, will shorten the time to earn the degree and recognize the existing skills and experience of the student. It will also allow students to take advantage of a very flexible schedule.
The program gives students a number of avenues that complement each other and are flexible to meet the unique needs of each student, such as on-line eight week courses, opportunities to create portfolios for credit, service learning and work that is self-paced to a student’s knowledge.
Students will advance through a series of key achievements, awarding a certificate credential within the first year, an associate’s degree before the end of year two, and the bachelor’s degree upon completion.
Columbus State officials said that this approach reinforces an individual’s motivation to progress through the complete program, increases the individual’s ability to find a position in the job market should they leave the program, and increases the ease of return and timely graduation should a student take a break from the program.
In addition to being able to enroll in a degree program without having to incur the expense of room and board at college, the degree will use technology to streamline the program, make it more cost-effective and provide an individualized learning experience.
For example, the degree will use an existing USG partnership with learning management provider Desire2Learn to provide faculty with tools to support students in real time. Personalized student support services also will be provided, based on successful models in the University System’s current online core curriculum, called eCore.
Finally, the USG will use educational open resources as a cost-saving tool. Columbus State will provide additional resources for low-income students, including notebooks in order for them to be able to access courses and supplementary materials at no cost.
“This work will provide a strong model for use throughout the University System and the rest of the country as we involve faculty in seeking to change how we deliver higher education while ensuring high quality programs,” said Columbus State University President Timothy Mescon.
“We simply have to work in a different way if we are going to give more Georgians access to the college degree programs that work for individuals and help them be competitive in this global economy in which some level of college completion is a necessity,” Mescon said.
Individuals who enroll in the degree will be students of Columbus State University and earn the degree from CSU.
The academic program builds on the growing success of CSU’s Department of Communication. A 2010 survey by the American Management Association found that employers highly value and evaluate staff based on “4C’s” — communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.
Students graduating from the CSU program, as with graduates from other USG institutions, will be specially prepared to succeed in an increasingly unpredictable economy where those that can learn and adapt quickly in a variety of roles are more employable.
Columbus State graduates from the university’s current communication degree program have gone on to successful careers in sales and marketing, private, public and nonprofit management, public relations and other leadership positions.
For more information on the new degree program or NGLC, visit: http://nextgenlearning.org/grantee/board-regents-university-system-georgia.
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