OU to shift offerings to meet work force needs

·3 min read

Jul. 26—Staff report

ATHENS — This month, Ohio University is launching a process to invest in high-demand degrees that meet market needs in communities served by its regional campuses including Ironton and Chillicothe. The commitment to new degree offerings is part of a multi-prong investment across the University's regional commuter campuses, all focused on increasing degree attainment to meet workforce demand across the region in fields such as health care, education and business leadership.

"One of Ohio University's greatest strengths is our deep commitment to meeting needs across the regions we serve, especially in rural and Appalachian Ohio, and our Regional Higher Education campuses are a big part of that," said OU President Hugh Sherman. "The needs of the communities we serve are ever changing, and we need to keep pace with and be responsive to those demands."

Sherman said part of that response is doubling down on the University's commitment to affordability through its regional campuses. This spring, the University launched its OU Regional Promise Award, which ensures incoming freshmen who earned a 3.0 high school GPA and are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant can attend OU for free on a four-year renewable regional campus scholarship. Plus, students who successfully complete one year at a regional campus can qualify for a renewable $5,000 scholarship to transfer and complete their degree in Athens. OU is now working to expand high school partnerships to offer more College Credit Plus courses, which can lower the total cost of a degree for families.

At the same time the University has launched new programming at regional campuses. This spring, OU began accepting applications for its accredited Bachelor of Science in Business, now offered at each of its five regional campuses in a convenient hybrid format.

OU is now investing in additional market research to further identify degrees needed in each market. As OU works to identify and build new programs, it will phase out a small number of degree programs with historically low interest from students. Students enrolled in programs identified for phase out will continue to have access to courses needed to complete their degree.

"Our regional campuses have always been innovative in programming," OU executive vice president and provost Elizabeth Sayrs said. "What's different now is that we're thinking more broadly across the system, and we have invested in market research tools to help us validate assumptions about what prospective students and employers in each of our communities need."

This fall, class times will be aligned on Tuesdays and Thursday to allow OU to meet student demand more efficiently. The new process will allow students access to more course options — including online, hybrid and face-to-face options, delivered on and through multiple campus locations.

Course alignment also will assist as the University works across the regional system to build "meta major" pathways for students to complete general coursework in fields such as pre-biology, pre-STEM or pre-social sciences with clear pathways into a wide variety of bachelor's degree programs at a variety of campuses, including OHIO's Athens campus. These new meta majors will be available to incoming students beginning in Fall 2023.

At a virtual open forum on July 13, Sherman and Sayrs shared additional details with RHE faculty and staff. Follow-up meetings will be held on each campus in August for campus-specific questions and discussion.

"As we make changes to schedules and enhance our academic offerings, we will do it in a way that is responsive to our students and our state," Sherman said. "I'm excited about seeing the impact these changes will have on our work to educate more students, to make a degree more affordable for families, and to fuel economic progress in the regions we serve."