Colorado State U. Global's provost says online education is the future

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After serving in faculty and administration roles at traditional universities for 25 years, Paul Savory last week joined the fully-online Colorado State University Global as its new provost and chief academic officer. 

Online education was expanding even before the pandemic, but in an interview with EdScoop, Savory said he believes it will play a central role in higher education’s future.

Paul Savory
Paul Savory (LinkedIn)

“There’s huge potential for growth,” he said. “As we look at online education, it’s going to play a critical role to support Americans as we come out of the pandemic in terms of providing opportunities.”

Before assuming his latest role, Savory served at Doane University, a small liberal arts school outside Lincoln, Nebraska; Nebraska Methodist College, where he said about one third of the institution’s 800 students attended online; and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he served, amid other roles during his 18 years at that institution, as its associate vice chancellor for extended education, an online program.

“What excited me about CSU Global [is] we’re 100% online but we’re a public university and our focus is on creating that great online experience for our students,” Savory said. 

Traditional universities rushed last year to convert their in-person programs to online formats as they shut down their campuses and pleaded with students to stay enrolled. Some professors went all out, building semi-professional home studios and redesigning their courses for the new format, but even such early adopters often admitted that there were flaws in their new teaching models.

“As we look at the pandemic, even at my other schools, the school I just left, we always offered some [online component] and everyone has had mixed success,” Savory said. “Not every class delivered over the internet should be termed ‘online education.’”

The main distinguishing factor of “online education,” as opposed to “remote education,” he said, is that it’s designed to be asynchronous and flexible, meeting the needs of students who may be attending remotely because they have other life obligations, such as family or career. CSU Global, he said, is designed with flexibility and cost considerations in mind. 

“At my prior school, our tuition went up 3-4% at least every year and I don’t believe at CSU Global they’ve raised their tuition in the last eight years,” he said.

Leaders at CSU Global, which has nearly 20,000 students, also take great pride in the school’s  pedagogy, Savory said, drawing heavily on “cutting-edge” research and best practices to prepare students for the most in-demand career skills, like cybersecurity, business leadership, project management and IT.

To further its offerings to adult learners, CSU Global last week launched Direct Path Education, a new program centered on industry-specific education that allows students to transfer their credits toward a degree or earn certificates and professional certifications. The six-week courses add to a growing trend in the U.S. as many workers who lost their jobs following the pandemic search for new opportunities. Savory said programs this one speak to why he entered education in the first place.

“Our goal here, and my goal here is to change lives,” he said. “We’re trying to prepare students for success, to impact them personally and professionally.”

In the U.S., the percentage of undergraduate students taking at least one course online grew from 15% in 2004 to 43% in 2016, a 2018 study from the National Center for Education Statistics found. And as K-12 students who’ve been forced by the pandemic to study from home gain more experience with remote learning, Savory said those numbers could get an extra boost as norms and expectations around education shift.

“They’re going to be the next generation of college students and they’re going to expect some aspect of online as part of that college experience, at whatever school they go to,” he said. “Online education is only going to grow, and from my perspective it’s the kind of education we do want and need more of.”

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