Expanding online outreach

Last Updated 20 October, 2015

There are few things as exciting as seeing the faces of new students starting classes each fall. However, there are few things as disappointing as hearing the stories of the eager student who had a family emergency at the last minute and had to stay at home or the one for whom job or financial responsibilities proved too heavy to leave behind. NNU has a heart for students like these that due to family commitments, distance or other circumstances simply cannot participate in a traditional educational experience.

For the first time, these students have another way to become part of the NNU community—one that is more flexible and accessible than NNU has ever been able to offer before. This fall marked the launch of NNU’s first fully online bachelor’s degree for traditional students. This new degree in liberal studies offers an emphasis in humanities or social sciences and is joined by online associate degree programs.

Introducing NNU Online
Dr. Eric Werth, director of the new Center for Online and Blended Learning at NNU, is committed to expanding NNU’s accessibility to new communities in Idaho and beyond. Speaking of the new undergraduate online program, he says, “NNU education has all these academic and spiritual development benefits. There’s a whole group of students who might not be able to take advantage of these opportunities who probably would like to. Offering this program also prepares us for the growth of online programs that we’re seeing at higher education institutions around the country.”

The Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies joins a cadre of existing online programs in adult and graduate studies that have been combined to form a new arm of the university called NNU Online. Through NNU Online, the university is reaching out to new populations and opening access to an array of students for whom traditional on-campus instruction is not possible. The delivery method may be different, but the academically rigorous, distinctly Christian, relationally focused education is the same.

Creating Community
An online delivery method has already proven successful in several existing graduate degree programs at NNU. In the online Master of Science in nursing program, for example, students work through one course at a time, each of which lasts five to six weeks. This program intentionally makes space for family holidays and provides students—many of whom are also working full time and caring for families—with a great deal of flexibility as they move through the program.

Dr. Barbara Lester, chair of the Department of Nursing, says she and the other nursing professors work hard to create a sense of community through the cohort model, where students are placed in a small group, their cohort, and remain with that group through all their nursing courses.

Students in a cohort are encouraged to pray for each other and share their lives with one another, providing important emotional and spiritual support during their time in the program. When the first nursing cohort had five pregnancies during their course of study, the students supported one another through all five births, including a premature birth and a baby who spent time in intensive care. Through it all, the new mothers were able to continue their education and achieve their goals.

“What’s the winning formula?” says Lester. “I think it’s faculty. I think it’s the nature of nurses’ being relational. I think it’s been the cohort model and the flexibility that when life does happen—and it does—that faculty look at new ways of managing it.”

Building diversity
Creating a strong sense of community is just one way NNU Online brings the university’s values to this delivery method. Online education also facilitates interaction with a much more diverse group of students than one often finds on campus, and these diverse experiences and perspectives add a great deal to the spiritual atmosphere online.

Dr. Jay Akkerman, professor of preaching and pastoral theology, appreciates the connections his Master of Divinity students are able to make around the globe. “I have friends all over the world now because I’ve had them in class. Those doors are open.” He has seen American ministers in cohorts with indigenous leaders in Africa and Asia who built partnerships that have continued well beyond their studies at NNU.

NNU Online is poised to take NNU to more students than ever before. Whether it is a first-generation college student who never dreamed a private Christian education would be possible or a pastor in Ghana achieving a graduate degree while continuing to serve his flock, as Akkerman puts it, “We really are reaching the globe with what we’re doing here on these 88 acres.”