Since being established as the newest member of the University of Arkansas System in 2014, eVersity endured trials related to growing out of the shadow of the state’s more established institutions of higher learning. But those days are gone.
“So many schools are now embracing online learning that had strongly opposed it in the past,” said Dr. Michael Moore, eVersity chief academic and operating officer. “We’ve been online from the beginning. We were online before it was cool.”
These days, the state’s first all-online university has taken equal footing among Arkansas’s brick-and-mortar institutions in terms of enrollment growth, innovation and outcomes. And with so many unknowns swirling around the coronavirus’s impact on the fall semester, eVersity is primed for whatever comes next.
“eVersity wasn’t designed for a pandemic, but I would argue there are aspects of what eVersity is designed for that sit very nicely within what is happening with the pandemic,” said Moore. “An institution may throw its doors open and say they’re holding classes face-to-face, but Mom and Dad may be reluctant to send their freshman to live on campus. If a student has lost their job and been out of work for weeks and campus opens, they may not have the financial means to go to school.”
“I think if students choose not to return to a brick-and-mortar for whatever reason, those who are motivated enough to continue their education will look for a way to do that through a fully online university. They will look for an experience with high-quality instructors, access to a degree that has value, a good price and flexibility. And that’s the essence of what we provide.”
Moore is quick to give credit to the state’s traditional institutions for how quickly they developed remote learning solutions after the coronavirus scrapped the last months of the school year. In fact, he’s part of an administrative cabinet that provides input and direction to these efforts.
“I want to applaud the faculty on the campuses, first and foremost, and also the academic leadership and the IT folks that quickly worked with faculty to pivot these classes to the online learning environment, he said. “It truly is remarkable how seamlessly it has happened.”
That said, Moore underscored important distinctions between eVersity’s time-proven learning experience and the work–arounds other institutions crafted in response to the coronavirus.
“Most institutions are hoping to use remote learning as a bridge to get to the other side (of COVID-19), so they can return to the business they were in, which is delivering education face–to–face,” he said. “I’m not saying this to disparage the work that has been done, it’s been Herculean work to provide continuity for students to finish out their term. It’s just that it’s very difficult to do both fully online and face-to-face instruction well and that’s the reason eVersity exists as a standalone institution in the first place.”
Moore said eVersity’s programs have been specifically developed to deliver a fully immersive online experience, something that takes time and expertise to deliver.
“The biggest difference between what we do in an online environment versus what is happening with (traditional schools’) remote learning, is ours is a complete soup to nuts learning experience,” he said. “eVersity classes are far more robust and far richer because they were designed to be online courses. Our courses have won national awards because of the way the material is presented, with built-in interaction with other students and with faculty that creates a sense of community.”
“Our faculty complete a training course before we ever put them in an online classroom, because teaching online is different than teaching face–to–face. If a student needs learning assistance, we have that available and our academic advising is designed to interact with students in an online environment.”
Moore said eVersity also distinguishes itself among peer online schools, despite being far smaller and newer than many competing organizations. Enrollment continues to climb, even mid-pandemic, while tuition costs have remained exceptionally low. Since classes launched in 2016 through January 2020, the school’s business model has saved students $5.7 million compared to a conservative national average of tuition, books and fees, per eVersity’s 2019 annual report.
“There are obviously some well–known brands out in the marketplace that have been online for a long time, largely in the for-profit space,” he said. “They are very robust, but they also tend to be quite a bit more expensive than we are, charging upwards of $1,500 a class, not including books and fees. Our classes are $525 a class; you can take at least two classes and a lot of times three classes with us for the price of one of theirs.”
“We’re also one of the only ones I know of that makes use of faculty currently teaching at brick-and-mortar institutions. Almost all other schools rely on part-time faculty or backup faculty. We take the 15 institutions of the UA System and we pull faculty members from those institutions. The student gets the best of both worlds: the quality control expected from the UA System, trained specifically to teach online through eVersity.”
Moore said a fundamental distinction between eVersity and other schools – online or otherwise – is how the online university has adhered to its commitment to serve its core constituency.
“We do think we’ve got something pretty special here in terms of educating working adults leading busy lives and providing an optimal level of support and high-quality teachers at an affordable price,” he said. “Coming out of this pandemic, one thing we can all agree on is the economy is going to be in dire straits for a period of time and there will be people whose financial futures have been drastically altered. Being able to provide an affordable alternative to finish one’s degree in that environment sets us apart in the marketplace.”