Technological advances in digital communication and a generation of learners comfortable with studying virtually have fueled national growth in online learning. At FIU, the number of new fully online students for academic year 2018-2019, increased 29 percent above the previous year. This fall, online enrollments grew 18 percent when compared to fall 2018, outpacing the 15 percent national average.
Growing reputation with R1 status
As the university continues to build its reputation as a Carnegie classified top (R1) research institution, and only public research university in Miami, enrollments in online degree programs have grown in lockstep. Additionally, the university increased the number of online programs by more than 50 percent in the past year to more than 100 fully online degrees and program tracks, including degrees in the Florida Board of Governors strategic emphasis areas such as engineering, hospitality and education.
“When I decided to apply to FIU, I was even thinking of moving to Miami. Going to Miami was kind of a leap of faith for me because I didn’t want to leave my job or Puerto Rico so soon, so once I saw the online program, I knew it was perfect for me,” explained graduate student Erika Rivera Hurel. “I chose FIU Online because I fell in love with the program and curriculum while I was searching for master’s degree programs.” Hurel lives in Puerto Rico and plans study time while she juggles other obligations.
Commitment to quality
Learners new to studying online quickly realize that the mode of study is not easier or a lesser quality than face-to-face. FIU Online leads the nation in Quality Matters (QM) certified courses among state universities. QM certification is a nationally recognized, exhaustive process for online and blended course evaluation, which ensures academic rigor and effective course design. The certification program validates that online courses mirror the high standards of those face-to-face.
“My experience overall, especially my learning one, has been very rich,” stated Hurel, who is in the middle of her online master’s degree program. She specifically selected FIU because of its reputation and because she works full-time. Hurel’s days are measured in increments.
“I know I will graduate with avant-garde knowledge in the field,” she said of her mass communication program.
FIU Online currently has three rankings by US News & World Report, including best online graduate education, best online bachelor’s degrees and best online programs for veterans. It also spearheaded the Affordability Counts initiative, now endorsed by the state, to encourage faculty to adopt textbooks and resource material that cost no more than $60.
Filling knowledge gaps
While flexibility, convenience and portability remain key factors for choosing the online mode of education, innovative FIU Online program launches that close the knowledge and skills gaps in the labor force are also driving enrollments. In-demand degrees have been added and programs tweaked to stay applicable to global organizational needs and to appeal to international students like Hurel. This is the case with mass communication, which moves at a breakneck pace, and hospitality. The university’s master’s degree in hospitality management that features a specialization in mega-event planning, for example, fills a specific industry gap that is crucial given the security and planning needs of larger events—more than 10,000 attendees—that are becoming more common worldwide.
“We’re providing tools and knowledge from faculty who have 10 to 15 years of industry experience—not just textbook knowledge,” said Dan Cormany, assistant professor of meeting, trade show and event management for FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.
The addition of new online graduate programs in engineering have also fueled substantial overall growth in online programs for the College of Engineering & Computing for the academic year. Enrollments in online programs for the College of Engineering & Computing have increased 133 percent, comparing fall 2018 to fall 2019, and when measuring growth over the last academic year (2017-2018 to 2018-2019), by 136 percent.
“We always have to adjust to stay relevant,” said Director and Professor Chin-Sheng Chen of the College of Engineering & Computing. The need for knowledge is great, he explained.
Students like Stephanie Estrada, who live in Miami, take advantage of online courses so they don’t have to leave home to continue their education. Estrada chose FIU’s online master’s degree in special education to add to her knowledge and to be eligible for the state’s Autism Endorsement certificate, she said.
“The strategies always change,” Estrada explained. New studies continually update what’s accepted and produce new insight on influences. Estrada knows she’s getting the best information with FIU because of its constant research and hands-on studies in the Miami community, she said.
In 2020, FIU Online will make an additional 30 programs available fully online, growing the number of degrees and program tracks to more than 130, with more than 1,300 courses for students to choose from.