Why LSU is building out its online learning options 

    The number of students enrolled in LSU online programs pales in comparison to that of traditional students at the university, but a new plan is underway to change that.

    Led by Sasha Thackaberry, vice provost of digital and continuing education, LSU’s goal is to have 30,000 students enrolled in online programs—a number that would match the number of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in face-to-face programs. 

    Thackaberry was hired in early 2018 from Southern New Hampshire University, where she led a seismic shift in that institution’s online enrollments. The small, private liberal arts college near Manchester, New Hampshire is now nationally known for distance learning. SNHU offers more than 200 online degree programs to about 100,000 students. 

    Only about 1,000 students are currently enrolled in online programs at LSU, but that number will rise incrementally, says Thackaberry. New undergraduate degree programs in interdisciplinary studies and construction management will be available this fall. Thackaberry says her team’s goal is to release new programs and courses every term.

    LSU’s online courses will also have the same fee structure for both in-state and out-of-state students.

    The bulk of Thackaberry’s work so far has been in building a management and technology infrastructure that didn’t previously exist. LSU has been creating a new management platform that will be operating in-house. Previously, online management was farmed out to a Texas company. 

    Thackaberry says there are two target markets for online programs, nontraditional learners and traditional students who want more flexibility. 

    The average age of nontraditional learners is 34. They are often mid-career older millennials who left traditional college without completing their degree requirements, or are working in a field they find unfulfilling. About 60% are women, and roughly half of those students have children. 

    In the case of traditional students, online courses are sometimes appealing because they allow for greater flexibility. Many students like having the option of working in the summer and taking an online course on their own time. Nationwide, there’s been 26% growth in summer online courses since many students also try to hold down jobs, says Thackaberry.

    While the idea of LSU creating robust online programs seems out of kilter with its campus trappings, it’s good business, says Thackaberry. Read the full story from Business Report. Send comments to editor@businessreport.com

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