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UMass Lowell’s Pioneering Online Program Continues to Grow

Enrollment, Degrees, Classes Climb in 15 Years

UMass Lowell Graduate Jessica Huizenga
Jessica Huizenga, who received a doctorate from the Graduate School of Education in May, says UMass Lowell’s online program made it possible for her to pursue an advanced degree.

By Jill Gambon

In 1996, America was going online. Although Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were still years away, more people were booting up and dialing in every day. Just as the digital revolution was starting to transform everything from buying a car to booking airplane tickets, UMass Lowell launched its online and continuing education program, one of the first of its kind in the country.
The idea was to serve an increasingly mobile, technologically driven population of adult learners who could log in anytime, anywhere to courses that would help them acquire the skills and background they needed for professional advancement, recalls Jacqueline Moloney, UMass Lowell’s executive vice chancellor and the driving force behind the launch of the online program.
“We were undergoing a sea change,” Moloney says. “It really was the first time we had an opportunity to create a new model for education.”

The program started with seven information technology classes and a total of 87 enrollments. It has grown steadily ever since, now boasting about 900 courses across a range of disciplines, from biochemistry to international law, with more than 20,000 enrollments during the past academic year.  Students can now earn seven different undergraduate degrees, 10 graduate degrees, 15 graduate-level certificates and 11 undergraduate certificates – all without ever stepping foot on campus.

“Online and Continuing Education has grown enrollment by 45 percent over the past five years, giving students – from around the nation and the world – more flexibility in how they receive a high-quality education at UMass Lowell,” says Chancellor Marty Meehan. 

Breaking Down Barriers to Access

For Jessica Huizenga, enrolling in an online master’s program was her only option to earn an advanced degree. Back in 2003, she was a single parent of two young children, living in Plymouth and working full-time as a teacher.
“I needed to get my master’s but I couldn’t find time to get to campus,” recalls Huizenga, who earned her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education (GSE) in May. “It was a perfect opportunity for me. I had my master’s in a year and a half.”

Huizenga, who had never taken an online class before enrolling in the GSE’s master’s program, had some trepidation when she started. However, she soon discovered that contrary to her expectations, there was much interactivity among the faculty and students. Because students have to post their assignments and participate in discussions online, a unique community developed.

“You open up your thinking to others and expose yourself to a greater diversity of ideas. Online education breaks down the traditional barriers and expands the boundaries of learning,” says Huizenga, who was recently named interim school superintendent in the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District.

Watch Jessica tell her story as the graduate commencement speaker: