University of Washington Higher Education Breakthrough Models

University of Washington Online Degree Completion Program application deck

Program Name: University of Washington Online Undergraduate Degree Completion Program
Targeted Degree Program: Early Childhood and Family Studies (College of Education)
First-Year Enrollment: 54
Anticipated Students Served in First Five Years: 1,500
Tuition Model: Credit hours at reduced rate of $160/credit for this program (estimated 4% yearly increase).  The program has been awarded second place in 2014-2015 national “Best Online Bachelor’s in Education: Students Before Profits” Award
Geographies Served: US students
Targeted Students: Current employees in early childhood education settings throughout the United States who have earned at least 70 transferable college credits and want to complete a baccalaureate degree. New federal legislation has required that 50% of all Head Start preschool teachers will need a baccalaureate degree in early childhood education starting September 30, 2013. The program will also serve the needs of potential employees in the field of early childhood education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for preschool teachers will grow by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations.

Like other traditional research universities, the University of Washington has historically served first-time full-time undergraduates and graduate students as core constituencies. In this Next Generation Learning Challenges program, they are breaking out of that mold to offer an opportunity to working adults with some college credit who need an undergraduate degree to advance their careers. Their numbers are substantial: nearly six million people in the western states have at least one year of college but lack a degree, and many of them also lack the resources to pay tuition at the usual rates, the time to travel to campus to attend classes, or both.

UW’s program is designed expressly to serve the needs of this target population. The selection of the specific degree offered was based on its likelihood to have the greatest economic impact, increased relevance, heightened effectiveness, and broader access to serve the needs of the community of practice in the field of early childhood and family studies. The degrees are offered at a reduced cost - approximately half the per-credit-hour cost of most competitive programs - with free versions of select courses offered on Coursera, a commercial platform on which universities offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are available to anyone worldwide.

The courses expand access to resources and learning and also give students the opportunity to sample a course before enrolling. The credit-bearing versions of the courses, offered in Moodle, are instructor-led and have additional assignments, projects, papers, and readings which augment the materials on Coursera. Online course materials have been updated with guidance from leading experts at universities around the nation and are based on the most recent evidence at practices to improve child outcomes, aligning with the national Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework and WA State Early Achieves Framework/Early Learning Guidelines. Similar to the onsite format, the curriculum engages students in several core courses. Specific content area/general development courses, an integrative capstone course and a selection of elective courses are also included in the program. Additionally, service learning along with cultural and linguistic diversity is addressed throughout the curriculum. Full-time faculty design and teach these courses, ensuring their depth and quality. The courses are designed around learning outcomes, and these outcomes are described at the beginning of each lesson to inform students explicitly of the required concepts to master and skills to develop.  

Faculty who teach in the program receive comprehensive training in online instruction to ensure their thorough familiarity with those practices which encourage retention and course completion.  In addition, specialized online advisors/coaches work with students, checking in with them at least every other week about their progress in current courses and suggesting strategies for completion. Struggling students receive particular attention.