NSU offering online degrees

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More than 20,000 University of Louisiana System students have not fulfilled their degree programs, and the system has launched the first all-online degree program designed to get them back on track.

Nicholls State University is one of nine UL System universities taking part in the program, and the university is offering a degree in organizational leadership with a concentration in foodservice strategies and operations.

“We wanted to give students another option. That was the idea behind the program, to offer more options,” said Laynie Barrilleaux, Nicholls’ vice president of academic affairs. “Once the structure is in place (the system’s first semester is in progress) and going well, it will allow for future collaborations through the University of Louisiana System, and it will allow greater access for students statewide. It will start out small and grow wider.”

“The goal is to reach out to Louisiana residents who have some college credit but no degree,” UL System President Sandra Woodley said in a statement. “There are over 545,000 in the state and about 22,000 who took classes at UL System schools in the past decade. We want to help them get their degrees. The beauty of this program is its convenience for non-traditional students. It’s possible to take classes anywhere, any time.”

Of those 22,000 students, 3,500 are former Nicholls students. According to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization that works to increase the number of Americans who have high-quality, college-level learning, the state is second to last when it comes to the number of adults aged 25-64 years old with a college degree. Currently, only 27.9 percent of those in the state have college degrees, far behind the national average of 38.7 percent.

“This program has been in the works for about a year,” Jackie Tisdell, assistant vice president for communications for the University of Louisiana System. “It took a while for the plan to develop but now we have the first, system-wide collaborative degree program. It is also the first one we have that is completely online.

“We are very excited that the program is off the ground, and we encourage more people to check it out. We are wanting this program to serve as the model for other degree programs we can host collaboratively.”

In the next few weeks, former UL System students will receive postcards regarding the program.

“We know it’s not easy to go back to college,” Woodley said. “These older students have significant responsibilities – full-time jobs and families to support. But our message to them is that it’s worth it. It’ll be the best thing they’ve ever done – for themselves and their families.”

Former students of the Nicholls dietetics or culinary programs are the pupils that the school will be targeting. Barrilleaux hopes that students who are employed in the food service business, the restaurant business or those who work with food service businesses will look into the degree program.

“While it does not teach the business and finance aspects like a business degree does, it does teach about leadership and management,” Barrilleaux said.

Other universities in the program and their respective programs include the University of New Orleans, cultural and arts institutions; Southeastern Louisiana University, disaster relief management; University of Louisiana at Monroe, financial services; the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, health and wellness; Grambling State University, human relations; Louisiana Tech University, project team leadership; Northwestern State University, public safety administration; and McNeese State University, strategic global communication.

“We would like to add more curriculums (degrees) to the program in the future,” Barrilleaux said. “We submitted other program ideas, but for now, all schools are being allowed one concentration. I would like to see something offered in the industrial safety field in the future.”

There will be five, 8-week sessions each year instead of three traditional semesters of fall, spring and summer, giving returning students a chance to enroll almost any time of the year The degrees programs, which can be completed in two years, are made up of 30 hours of courses offered by faculty from the nine universities and 30 hours of concentration and elective courses offered by each UL System college. According to the UL System, the $325 cost of each credit hour is well below the cost of other online programs.

“This was a great opportunity for the nine universities to come together,” Barrilleaux said. “There were lots of logistics involved in this. I am proud of the way it came together to meet this need.”

Returning students must be 25 or older and must have completed 60 hours of college credit, including general education courses to register for the program. Students with less than 60 hours can earn credit online or through learning assessments that determine skills learned on the job. Students can visit www.YourCALLla.org and www.ulsystem.edu/ONEdegreeNINEuniversities to sign up for the program.

There are 26 students currently enrolled in the program’s first session, one of which is pursing the degree offered by Nicholls. Tisdell is confident the number will increase as more adults learn about the offer and the totally online aspect of the program.

“We hope to have 60 students in the first year, and with the first 26 students already enrolled, we can see there is a definite need for this program,” she said. “This is a pilot program for us, and we hope it will be successful.”

Financial aid options are available for online courses.

“Many adults do not realize that they are eligible for financial aid,” she said. “Many do qualify, and offices on campus will help them make headway in that area.”

According the UL system, adults who complete their degrees will not only increase their worth, earn more money, more than $27,000 annually over those with only a high school degree, and safeguard themselves against economic downturns, but they could also provide a shot in the arm for the state’s economy.

“Based on the mean earnings of adults with bachelor’s degrees versus high school diplomas, if all 22,000 individuals with some credit from a UL System school secured a degree, it could create about $592 million in increased wages annually,” Woodley said. “Can you imagine what that might mean in a local and state economy, not to mention how it would change families? It would be tremendous.

“Our studies show most of our graduates stay in Louisiana. So the benefits would stay here, too.”