By Kate Whitney
The University of Vermont has long advocated for and provided opportunities to nontraditional students seeking to earn credentials and enhance their career prospects. Through Continuing and Distance Education (CDE), thousands of students have been able to access courses and programs designed for their growth and development, both personally and professionally.
However, UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences has never offered a pathway to a bachelor’s degree in arts without the residential component.
That’s about to change.
Starting this fall, UVM will launch its new, 60-credit Online Degree Completion Program, providing a flexible, affordable and convenient pathway to a B.A. with a major in Anthropology and a minor in English or Writing for the many students across the region who, for whatever reason, left college before graduation or never advanced beyond their associate degree.
UVM CDE recently caught up with Bill Falls, Dean of UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences, to discuss how this idea was born, what it means for nontraditional students, and how the university plans to foster and support its online students.
“[The program] was launched a couple years ago in a conversation with the Dean of Continuing and Distance Education, Cynthia Belliveau, and she brought it to my attention—that this is something we really should be thinking about,” Falls explained. “It was an idea that my team, particularly Kathy Fox, my Associate Dean, picked up and ran with. And we were lucky to have a willing partner in Emily Manetta, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, and Dan Fogel, the Chair of English, who agreed to present this idea to their faculty and really shepherded it through.”
With access at the forefront of its design, UVM’s Online Degree Completion program provides a solution to the strong demand for skilled and educated college graduates needed to enter the workforce in a virtually countless variety of occupations and workplaces, while allowing participants to balance the demands of work, family and education.
“We’ve thought a lot about who the students are and what their particular needs might be in returning to college, so I think the pacing of the degree is really important,” said Falls. “These are online courses, students will take 1-2 at a time. Online courses require students to stay focused and engaged and I think that keeps students on track. We’re going to pay particular attention to the advising piece, making sure that how we introduce students to this curriculum is tailored for that student.”
UVM’s Online Degree Completion program, Falls stressed, “is not something we simply crafted to serve this particular market or to achieve a certain goal. This is the exact same program, the exact same instruction—except in a different modality—that students who are on campus get. It is a very, very high quality, rigorous degree.”
Students will fulfill the major requirements for Anthropology, a social science that seeks to understand human behavior and examines how culture influences the individual and shapes who we are as human beings—a compelling field of study with invaluable career benefits and transferrable skills.
In Time magazine’s recent article, “Why We Need the Liberal Arts Now More Than Ever,” Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose stated that “competence comes through a rigorous education—one that builds and sharpens the skills of critical thinking and analysis; the ability to understand the political, social, natural, ethical, cultural and economic aspects of the world we inhabit; the ability to continue to learn; and the disposition to be intellectually nimble, to exercise judgment and to communicate effectively.”
And Falls is in agreement.
“We have CEOs and folks high up in tech companies saying: We don’t need more coders. We don’t need more computer programmers. We need people who can create, who can work as part of teams, who can think independently,” Falls said. “And those are the skills we’ve always delivered in liberal arts majors.”
The development of this program translates into incredible benefits for students across the region, and though the courses will be online, Falls and the instructors involved want students to know that their experience will mirror that of residential students, from the courses they take to their ability to communicate with their instructors, engage in peer-to-peer relationships, and attend graduation ceremonies on the Burlington campus.
“I think it’s critical that students feel connected to this program. Our goal is to make sure that they get the same instructional experience, the same advising experience that students who are residential get here at UVM.”
Opportunities to learn and excel shouldn’t be limited by age, income, distance, or any other factor that can adversely influence the trajectory of an individual’s personal and career ambitions—something that Falls can relate to on a personal level.
“I myself am a first-generation student, who, as a result of some luck—and some folks who saw something in me—was able to get access to a high-quality education. So giving that back, making sure that we at UVM are doing the same, was really important.”