Howard University this month announced a new comprehensive initiative to expand the institution’s array of online/blended courses and programs.

“Howard University Online” (HU-Online) is being created in partnership with Pearson, one of the world’s leading providers of online services to higher education. Beginning in the fall 2014-2015 academic year, Howard will offer select online degree programs with the goal of creating up to 25 online programs over the next few years.

“This new initiative directly supports the University’s strategic priority to enhance teaching, learning and research,” said Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, in a statement. “It builds faculty capacity to enhance our instruction delivery to meet the needs of the 21st century learner as well as our reach beyond our Washington-based campus to the world through our new partnership with Pearson.”

HU-Online is designed to enable the university, one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the country, to expand its reach beyond the campus to students around the world. Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students can pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

“We are honored to be working with Howard University to expand the institution’s online program offerings and reach both non-traditional and international students,” said Don Kilburn, vice chairman of Pearson Higher Education. “To remain competitive in today’s environment, institutions increasingly need to offer high-quality online degree programs to reach students who need flexibility. This HU-Online, partnership will do just that.”

Howard’s announcement reflects a growing trend among institutions of higher learning across the United States as they respond to a changing student body that is more technologically savvy.

The 2012 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and released earlier this year in a report, “Changing the Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” revealed that 70 percent of administrators surveyed said that online education was critical to the future of their institution. In 2002, that number was less than half.

Additionally, the number of students who enrolled for at least one online course in the fall of 2011 surpassed 6.7 million, an increase of about 570,000 over the previous year.

“The rate of growth in online enrollments remains extremely robust, even as overall higher education enrollments have shown a decline,” said study co-author Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group.

The trend is reflected among HBCUs, among whom the growth of online courses and degrees is moving at a “moderate and sensible” pace, said Dr. Roy L. Beasley, manager of Howard University’s Digital Learning Lab and author of a series of studies, “HBCU Online & Blended Degree Programs,” in which he analyzes the progress of the nation’s 105 HBCUs in the use of web-based education programs.

According to Beasley’s report, as reported by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, in June 2012, there were 24 online or blended degree programs being offered by HBCUs, up from 19 such programs in November 2011.

Hampton University leads all HBCUs in this area with 17 online courses. But, in his forecast for 2013, Beasley noted that “a few are offering online programs for the first time, and I see that some other HBCUs have expanded the number of programs that they offer.”

Among the first-timers is Xavier University in New Orleans, who is now offering eight programs. And Beasley said that with the launch of HU-Online—which he had a hand in creating—Howard University could surpass Hampton in the digital education area within the next seven years.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO