University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan recently announced plans for the five-campus university to launch an online college intended for adult learners. He said that not only would the new school meet workforce development needs in the region and generate revenue for the overall university, but it would serve as a competitive force to counter the inroads being made by other institutions in New England. The announcement came during Meehan’s annual “state of the university address.”
He told attendees that the project has been studied for the last 18 months, and “it has become clear that our single greatest opportunity to preserve a thriving, healthy and prosperous UMass while meeting our workforce development mission is to take bold and intentional steps to make a UMass education more accessible to students we are not currently serving at scale.” Those campus-based online programs already in place will continue to operate, serving blended and full-time online students working toward their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Several factors are driving the decision to launch the online college, Meehan said. One of them is a projected decrease of between 32,000 and 54,000 college students, who are of traditional college age, due to “plunging birth rates” during the Great Recession of 2008, which is expected to affect enrollment in a big way beginning in 2026. That shortage, Meehan said, would leave schools with too much capacity, tracking along with expert predictions that portend the closing or merging of a quarter or more of colleges and universities over the next 10 to 15 years.
Another influence is coming from other institutions that have been recruiting in Massachusetts for their programs. Meehan specifically mentioned Southern New Hampshire University, which enrolls an estimated 15,000 Massachusetts residents, as well as Penn State World Campus and Purdue Global.
“The time for us to act is now,” Meehan asserted. “Over the next several years, there will be four to five major players in online education with strong regional footholds, and we intend to be one of them.”
Meehan said that the online university would generate revenue invested back into the other campuses to sustain the university’s core mission of educating those traditional undergraduate and graduate students attending campus-based and online programs.
Along with the launch of the new school, the university has already taken other steps to address financial stability; among them, creation of a shared services model for business transactions that is expected to save the university $17 million each year and an increase in the use of data analysis and predictive analytics for better decision-making.
Publisher’s Note: The New England regional education market has seen the following small colleges close, in the process of closing or re-organizing: Mount Ida (acquired by UMass), Wheelock (merged with BU), Hampshire College, Newbury College, College of St. Joseph, and Marian Court College, with others undergoing accreditation review and financial belt-tightening that may not save them in the end.