Start When You’re Ready!: Flexibility Key as Southeast Online Expands Entry Dates

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Southeast Missouri State University is making the on-ramp to higher education more flexible this fall with online programs available to new students to begin when they are ready and when it best suits the demands of their personal and professional lives.

Southeast Online is offering more than 14 different session terms to enhance convenience and degree completion for undergraduate students.

Beginning this fall, Southeast Online has expanded its schedule to include two eight-week sessions during the fall and spring semesters; a four-week session during the winter session; and three four-week sessions, two six-week sessions, one eight-week session and one 12-week session during the summer. These sessions are in addition to the traditional 16-week fall and spring semesters, and 12-week summer semester offerings.

The expansion is part of the University’s commitment to provide a flexible learning framework and environment that allows students to achieve their higher education goals, said Chelsea McNeely, director of Southeast Online Programs.

“We are excited to now offer multiple entry point options for students to begin their journey at Southeast,” she said. “A flexible learning environment provides online student learning options at their own pace, place and mode of study. These opportunities enhance access to higher education for non-traditional students and provide more options for all students to complete their degrees.”

McNeely said Southeast Online adopted the “pace, place and mode of study” definition based on the research of Dr. Neil Gordon, senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Hull. He has done extensive work in technology-enhanced learning in the flexible learning space, and Southeast Online is modeling its new schedule based on these concepts.

Offering more sessions with varying lengths allows online students to begin their education and select courses that work with their personal schedules and pursue a degree when they’re ready, McNeely said.

“To put this in perspective, if I decide to buy a car and I research it for months to make sure I find the best fit, once I finally decide which car I want, I want it pretty quickly after my decision is made.  Online students are the same about pursuing a degree – once they’ve selected a school, they don’t want to wait six months for the first course to begin.”

Until now, online students were admitted with options to begin programs of study in August for the 16-week fall semester, in January for the 16-week spring semester, or in May for the summer term. However, more and more students’ personal lives and schedules aren’t tied to this traditional academic calendar, said Dr. Jim Caldwell, associate professor of management at Southeast.

Online students are often employed full time and have family and personal obligations and responsibilities that can impact their ability to pursue and complete their degree, Caldwell added. Southeast recognizes the importance of providing online students convenience to begin an academic program when it meets their schedule.

“Now, students can launch into a program or course as their needs require and can adapt the intensity of how they engage with the University depending on their work and family demands,” he said. “We’re finding students like to have compressed courses and can get through their courses faster. They’re engaging more deeply in the material, and anecdotal evidence suggests that overall student learning outcomes are increasing.”

It’s about recognizing that every student is unique and needs unique class options that still provide strong academics, said Dr. Julie Ray, chair of Southeast’s Department of Elementary, Early and Special Education

“Our graduate education programs are becoming increasingly flexible for busy teachers who may have more time during the summer to do course work or may be busier in certain times of the school year,” Ray said. “We offered our first four-week class in summer 2019 and will be offering more eight-week courses in the upcoming spring and fall semesters. We recognize that teachers may need to take courses to satisfy certification requirements or a new position, and we want to be responsive to their needs and schedules.”

Creating flexible options is an important part of making higher education accessible for all students and professionals who still want a quality program and experience, said Dr. Desma Reno, director of Southeast’s RN-BSN online program and assistant professor of nursing.

“Southeast offers one of the most flexible and affordable RN-BSN Online Programs in the region, and students graduate from a quality program that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education,” she said. “This program was designed for working registered nurses (RN) who are ready to advance their education and are seeking opportunities for employment and graduate education. One of the key benefits of an online RN-BSN program is the ability to work at your own pace from the comfort of home.”

Providing students with eight- and 16-week sessions with the option to take courses in the winter and summer sessions gives students the control to choose the pace at which they want to complete the program, which, if they choose, could be as little as two semesters once their pre-requisites and general education requirements are met, Reno added.

The flexibility that comes with expanded entry dates allows students who are taking their courses completely online or partially online to find a schedule and program that supports their success, said Dr. Judy Wiles, chair of Southeast’s Department of Marketing.

“For example, in the fall, rather than starting in August, students can start in mid-October, and this also allows a student to take eight weeks off and then restart in mid-March,” Wiles said. “Another bonus is that if a student needed to drop a course started in August, then they could have another opportunity to take the course a few weeks later rather than months later, thereby helping them progress more rapidly toward graduation.”

The eight-week course curriculum has had excellent response from students and faculty, added Wiles.

As the University continues to explore flexible learning initiatives, Southeast Online will also examine options for expanding entry points for online graduate students to take advantage of flexible start dates, McNeely said.

The next Southeast Online entry point is in October for undergraduate and graduate students to begin an eight-week session this fall. Students can apply online at http://www.semo.edu/apply.

For more information about Southeast Online, visit http://www.semo.edu/online.

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