The University of Rhode Island will expand its online program, offering additional graduate programs that are 100 percent online as early as spring 2020.

According to Diane Goldsmith, the director of the Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, there will be two new online programs launched by URI next semester: a communication studies degree completion program, which is expected to start in January, and a master’s degree in healthcare management, which is expected to start in March.

Jeannette Riley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that even more online graduate programs will be coming in later years and that the University is looking to add master’s degrees in oceanography, environmental science and management, business analytics and many others. 

URI currently offers four online graduate programs: RN to BS, which, according to Goldsmith, is a program for licensed nurses who do not have a bachelor’s degree. The University also currently offers online masters in dietetics, cybersecurity and teaching English as a second language.

It should be noted that the new programs are “directed at non-residential students,” according to Riley. This means they are not open to regular URI undergraduate students. There are over 200 online undergraduate courses that students can register for via ecampus, but these are completely separate from the new graduate programs.

“We’re offering very select targeted programs for a particular reason,” Riley said.

 Riley explained that with the undergrad degree completion program, the University is trying to cater more towards people who dropped out or have an associate degree and want to earn a bachelor’s degree. With the grad programs, the University is working to attract people who want to add new skills or make a career change by earning a graduate certificate or a master’s degree.

“The way we talk about it is we’re trying to diversify the pipelines for student access to the University,” Riley said. “The more that URI can be part of creating that access, particularly for working adults in the state of Rhode Island who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree, the better it is for our state economy, and the better it is for each individual.”

Riley said that providing more opportunities for working adults by offering more online options will allow more people to earn their degrees while still having a full life with a job and family obligations.

She also mentioned that the University is hoping to somewhat solve issues occurring in society that are connected to academics, such as the constantly changing economy. 

“We live in a world where you’re going to work a long time,” Riley said. “You’re looking at careers of 40-50 years. How do you adapt and change and keep yourself engaged in that work?” 

Goldsmith said that when it comes to taking online courses in general, students like both the convenience and the fact that they get to hear from every person taking the same course. 

“Almost all of our online courses are offered asynchronously, which means although there are deadlines, you can work on the course at your own convenience,” Goldsmith said. This means that it is easier for students to have a job while taking courses.

“Unlike a classroom, where not everybody participates, people are forced to participate in an online class,” Goldsmith went on to explain. “Students like that because what they say is they get to hear everybody’s voice, not just the people that are the loudest or most frequently raise their hand.”

Riley assured that although they are shifting their online focus towards graduate students, undergraduate students will not be left behind. 

“We want them on campus, it’s valuable for them, I think it helps people mature, experience things, and really think about who they’re going to be as an adult,” Riley said. “But we also want the other avenues for people who are already adults who want to have access to educational opportunities as well. So URI is there for them for their own life fulfillment and for their own career advancement.”