Over one year ago, the University of Missouri System launched Missouri Online, the systemwide resource for online education that brings programs from four campuses under a single umbrella. The concept for Missouri Online arose from the vision of President Mun Y. Choi and the Board of Curators, who set a goal in 2018 to become the premier eLearning provider in Missouri and beyond.
Matthew Gunkel, former Chief Online Learning and Technology Officer, led the effort to find ways that the university’s online programs could increase their presence throughout the Midwest and earn recognition on the national stage. In March, he accepted a new role as the University of California-Riverside’s chief information officer, passing the reins to Stephanie McClelland, then the Senior Director for Program, Course Design and Media Services.
“From the beginning, with the charge from President Mun Choi and the Board of Curators, we tried to understand where and how we can have a significant regional presence with national aspirations,” said Gunkel.
Four online university brands under one umbrella
Before the March 2021 launch, Gunkel and his team worked with the higher education consultancy Carnegie to research existing online programs and offices on each of the four university campuses — University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou), University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T), and University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL).
“On each campus, people had similar views and values about online education,” said Gunkel. “They really understood the online and digital spaces in similar ways. We concluded that pulling together everyone under a unified brand was ultimately the best direction to facilitate increased regional presence and provide clarity to the students we serve.”
Maintaining the strength of each campus brand and their unique qualities was a core tenant of coming under the Missouri Online umbrella. This concept allowed the system to increase its online offerings and drive student enrollment while furthering the values shared among the four campuses, especially the deep commitment to course quality.
“Bringing everyone together meant actively working to figure out how to represent each university, their programs, and their unique value for their students,” Gunkel said.
Unified services for online educators and students
Missouri Online has grown increasingly robust in the last year. As a one-stop resource, the website allows prospective students to explore the online offerings of all four universities in a single digital environment. A year ago, the combined catalogs on the site totaled 260 online degree and certificate programs. Since then, the online portfolio has grown to 350-plus offerings, with more than 40 additions expected within the year.
The site continues to add features that make it easier for prospective students to learn about individual programs and online education. Prospective students can explore programs, read profiles of program graduates, learn about the online education experience and more – all within a single hub.
Faculty can find everything from technology support to professional development courses under the Missouri Online umbrella. The unification has also allowed the university to introduce Quality Course Reviews, which ensure every online offering meets standards aligned with the mission of providing an outstanding online education experience for all.
Growth in scale that emphasizes online course quality
Along with an ever-growing portfolio of programs Missouri Online reported growth in several key areas at the end of AY20-21, including:
- 880,200 new users to the website
- 22,577 new course enrollments, a 22% increase from the previous year
- 7,340 increase in headcount, a 16% boost from the year before
At the start of AY21-22 online class enrollments totalled 286,581 with a headcount of 56,470. While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated growth, it was through the collaborative efforts of each Missouri Online office that more students were able to find programs within the university system that fit their needs.
In March 2022, U.S. News & World Report again recognized a host of programs from the four campuses offered through Missouri Online. Mizzou’s online education programs, Missouri S&T graduate engineering programs, and nursing degrees from UMSL and UMKC were all ranked among the nation’s finest.
The university’s online programs join the national stage
The university system has introduced many innovative programs through Missouri Online. With a $2.6 million grant, Mizzou launched the nation’s first online clinical engineer certificate program. The acclaimed psychology departments from UMSL and Mizzou are working together to offer a shared undergraduate degree under the guidance of esteemed faculty from both campuses. These are just a few highlights of how Missouri Online’s collaborative efforts are meeting President Choi’s aspirations for systemwide online education.
“Being able to engage in the national conversation allows us to at least be influential within the state of Missouri, serving the Missourians in need of additional training or credit,” said Gunkel.
Less than one-third of Missourians (29.9%) aged 25 or older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 39.7% nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Simplified access to quality higher education can help the regional labor force increase skills that bolster prosperity. Meanwhile, efforts to further the university’s national profile ensure the entire UM System remains at the forefront of higher education well into the future.
“In working nationally, we are able to take big steps forward in terms of how we were thinking about the delivery and really learn and leverage best practices but also now start to be an emerging leader – showing people where and how this kind of work can be done, where and how you can build a robust online and digital offering across a system as complex as the one here at Missouri,” said Gunkel.
Missouri Online’s new Chief Online Learning Officer, McClelland, said she looks forward to another year of growth for Missouri Online.
“I’m most excited about how further strengthening the services we provide each university will enhance the student and faculty experience,” said McClelland.
With ongoing collaboration and creativity, universities and states everywhere will begin turning to the University of Missouri as an example. Missouri Online will help the university serve as a model for how a university can offer high-quality digital learning experiences that bolster communities and serve all those seeking to improve their lives through education.