Howard University Expands Online Offerings

Aug 19, 2013 (07:08 AM EDT)

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Howard University, the largest historically black college and university (HBCU), announced earlier this month plans to launch an online university that will offer degree and certificate programs.

The effort, called Howard University Online, or HU-Online, will expand existing online learning programs offered at Howard, a celebrated 146-year-old teaching and research institution comprised of 13 schools and colleges.

"This is part of our overall strategy," Dr. Wayne Frederick, provost and chief academic officer at Howard University, told InformationWeek/Education in a phone call. "This meets our changing student demographic, our mission and our international activities."

Howard already offers some online courses, including a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) for registered nurses and a doctorate degree in pharmacy.

[ Advocates push for higher education to be truly open -- not just free. Read In Shadow Of MOOCs, Open Education Makes Progress. ]

Frederick was quick to say Howard is not offering a massive open online course (MOOC), but it will be using the Pearson platform to extend degree and certificate programs.

While MOOCs have garnered much press for the scale of their open platforms, traditional players like Pearson, the world's largest education publisher, have been embracing the digital reality. The company says more than half of its revenues last year came from digital products and service.

Frederick said he was keen to work with Pearson on tailoring solutions for Howard, noting that this work will include assessments and upgrades to the university's current technical infrastructure and talent pool.

Indeed, one benefit of the online courses, which will start in the 2014-2015 academic year, will be to increase faculty ability and aptitude with online instruction and methods, Frederick said.

"To remain competitive in today's environment, institutions increasingly need to offer high-quality online degree programs to reach students who need flexibility," Don Kilburn, vice chairman of Pearson Higher Education, said in a statement. "This HU-Online partnership will do just that."

But these investments should open up new possibilities, including new revenue opportunities, for Howard, Frederick said. He specifically mentioned the possibilities around degree and certificate programs that expand the reach of Howard's faculty "beyond the campus to students around the world."

"We have a lot of strategic partnerships internationally, and offering online degrees is one way to expand those partnerships," he said.

Faculty Onboard

Perhaps because it has not embarked on a MOOC program, Howard has sidestepped concerns raised elsewhere by faculty.

"We've not had faculty pushback," Frederick said. "They're very engaged in the process." He said he was committed to working with faculty about things they want addressed, such as intellectual property protection and job assessments for online work.

"We want to make absolutely sure with respect to this [that the Pearson program] is in line with Howard's overall mission, and that this initiative is part of a bigger initiative to enhance the instructional environment and the learning environment for students."

How will Howard determine success for the expanded online program? Along with getting Howard into more markets, notably international ones, Frederick said, "It will be overall retention, graduation and job-placement rates."