When University of Massachusetts System president Marty Meehan on Monday night announced plans to launch a new online college in the state, higher education observers lit up social media with a range of reactions: excitement, curiosity, puzzlement, frustration.
Meehan revealed the news with a bold promise that the system will aim to compete with nationally successful online education brands like Southern New Hampshire University, Penn State World Campus, Purdue University Global and the University of Maryland University College. He also pledged to support a broad population of unemployed and/or underskilled adults in Massachusetts and beyond who either never attended college or dropped out before graduating. That message echoes administrators in the California community college system as they prepare to launch a separate fully online institution of their own.
UMass already has a track record of academic programs with a physical presence, which could be valuable if some programs at the new UMass college would end up benefiting from an in-person component, according to Michael Horn, senior partner at Entangled Solutions, a higher education consultancy.
“That regional plug-in where you put community and support as well as connections to employers could be the next wave of innovation in this space that helps many more students benefit from the online experience they’re accessing,” Horn said.