With more options and specialization, higher education is evolving to meet the needs of students and businesses.
When about 70,000 students and 3,000 faculty members return to Jacksonville’s higher education institutions in August, they will find the classroom experience much the way it was before the pandemic, with some changes that could be described as a side effect of COVID-19.
In-person instruction will resume at all campuses and centers, but with continued online access for classes, college and university administrators say.
“We want people to know we are open for business in the fall. It’s time and we’re back with more options for students,” said John Avendano, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville.
A greater role for technology in delivering instruction and more specialized graduate courses and certificate programs are trends driving the future at FSCJ, Edward Waters University, Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida.
“More resources are available now to students. Institutions were forced to be creative when we were forced to go online because of COVID. That brought forward a lot of services, like virtual tutoring and supplemental instruction,” Avendano said.
The overnight transition to online learning in March 2020 was an arduous task that turned out to be an opportunity to improve access to education, said Jacksonville University Provost Christine Sapienza.
“It was a massive flip of the switch to go to the fully online environment. We had to redesign courses to a more modular format,” Sapienza said.
JU implemented an online tutoring program that remains available to students 24/7 and the university also expanded its graduate studies curriculum with more online options.
“Remote learning is here to stay. It’s an enhancement and we’ll use it judiciously,” Sapienza said.
The “flip of the switch” accelerated the technology program at Edward Waters University.
Founded as a college in 1866, it was accredited as a university in June when it introduced an online MBA program.
“All of our classrooms are equipped with internet access and we provide computers for all of our students,” said Provost Donna Oliver.
Another trend in higher education is a change in post-graduate curricula.
When the fall term begins, there will be several graduate study tracks offered within the Graduate and Executive Programs at UNF’s Coggin College of Business.
The portfolio comprises master’s programs in accountancy, management, business analytics and logistics and supply chain management in addition to the traditional MBA.
Associate Dean of Graduate and Executive Programs Lakshmi Goel said the enhanced curriculum at UNF was developed based on discussions with the economic development division of JAX Chamber.
“We worked with JAXUSA Partnership. That’s how the business analytics program was born,” Goel said.
The chamber works with all of the local colleges and universities to help them develop courses that ensure benefits for graduates and the market, said Anna Lebesch, senior vice president for strategy and talent at JAXUSA Partnership.
"The business community gets a workforce that aligns with what they need, " Lebesch said.
The program combines courses at the Coggin College of Business and UNF’s School of Computing, Engineering & Construction.
“Students learn to solve business problems with data analytics. Business knows what it needs to know. Computer scientists know how to use data to get the answers. Companies need people who understand those tools and employers tell us those are positions they can’t fill,” Goel said.
The new curriculum responds to how business is changing and becoming more specialized.
“Traditional MBA programs teach about all the aspects of business. Now, the trend is to really understand how a business works,” Goel said.
Graduate and executive program courses are available in-person, online or in the hybrid format, Goel said.
In-person classes at UNF’s center Downtown in The Barnett begin at 6 p.m.
“A lot of our students work Downtown, so they can walk to class from their office,” Goel said.
Jacksonville University also has new study tracks beginning this fall, including a Doctor of Business Administration in health care leadership. It is a partnership between JU’s Davis College of Business and the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences.
The program is designed to prepare business leaders to approach problems in new ways with high-level training in real-world research and analysis within the health care industry.
“We are shifting education to meet the needs of the employment market,” Sapienza said.
“We’re looking at where Florida is taking us, with an aging population and people living well longer.”
She said the university is considering a new post-graduate program in respiratory therapy, which is a response to COVID-19, and a doctoral program in physical therapy.
JU also has full enrollment in its nursing program. It is a partnership with Baptist Health that offers students clinical experience while they are working toward their undergraduate degree.
“We’ll graduate as many nurses as we can. In health care, unless someone doesn’t want a job, there is 100% career attainment after graduation,” Sapienza said.
For people who already are employed in a field and want to enhance their skills, JU offers the UpSkill Institute.
Certificate courses can be completed online or in-person in a year or sooner in fields such as lean business, e-commerce and digital sales management.
“The UpSkill Institute is not traditional continuing education. It is career-specific pillars that make a person more career enhanced,” Sapienza said.
Certificates in analytics, e-business and health care information technology are offered at UNF. Goel said those courses appeal to many students because they can be completed faster and cost less than undergraduate degree programs.
“Another advantage with certificates is it’s a good way to try out a field and see if it’s something you like,” Goel said.
At FSCJ, enrollment in certificate courses that take 12 months or less to complete is growing faster than enrollment in associate and bachelor’s degree programs, Avendano said.
“Many students don’t want to wait two years or four years to get a degree and quick-term training is yielding high-wage jobs, up to $30 an hour,” he said.
Avendano said many employers are offering to pay for their employees to continue their education and add to their job skills.
“That’s a trend I think we’ll see for quite a few years.”