KEARNEY – For more than 40 years, the University of Nebraska at Kearney has been a leader in bringing education to students no matter where they live. UNK’s online education unit, commonly known for the last 12 years as eCampus, has seen a plethora of name changes in its four-decade history, including: Expanded Campus, Continuing Education, Continuing Education and Extended Campus, Division of Continuing Education, Extended Education, and Division of Continuing Studies.
What else has evolved in the way the university delivers education to students?
Online education first began at UNK in 1975. An outreach effort began at UNK, referred to as Expanded Campus, to bring instructional and community services to Greater Nebraska. In the early development of Expanded Campus, a mere 162 citizens were being served. A decade later, Expanded Campus grew and served more 3,600 students each academic year with major sites located in McCook, Grand Island, North Platte, Broken Bow and Columbus. The major areas of concentration during this period were in business administration and education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
By 1985, teachers and pre-service teachers began to enroll at UNK to meet their educational needs in the areas of undergraduate and graduate teacher education. Educators moving up the career ladder wanted to pursue careers as principals or superintendents, and they sought out UNK to fulfill their educational needs. These degree programs were offered at all the major learning centers. It was common for students living in rural Nebraska to travel one to two hours or even longer to take a UNK class at one of the learning centers.
As distance learning technologies evolved, more students took advantage of these opportunities. During the early 1990s, UNK began offering courses by one-way or two-way video technology through NebSat, a statewide satellite telecommunications system developed by the State of Nebraska for transmitting educational programs. With NebSat, courses originated on the UNK campus and were transmitted to various receive sites throughout Nebraska. For approximately five years, this method of delivery met the needs of Nebraskans.
In the late 1990s, online courses emerged onto the educational scene, offering busy students more convenience and flexibility. Students quickly realized they now had the option of staying in their own communities to earn a college degree on their own time, rather than driving to a site for an evening class. Therefore, the demand for NebSat courses tapered off while online education quickly emerged.
In spring 2000, UNK entered the online arena by offering four courses and enrolling 35 students. By fall 2004, UNK was offering 36 courses with enrollment growing to nearly 700 per semester. The M.A. in Instructional Technology was the first fully online degree program offered and would later spark a trend among departments within UNK wanting to allow students the opportunity to continue their education when obligations kept them in their communities. With more 90 percent of course offerings being online, it was time to change the name of the department from Continuing Education to something that was more progressive and all encompassing: eCampus.
Currently, UNK online enrollments exceed 5,000 each semester. The educational needs of Nebraskans are still being served, but UNK’s educational options are also expanding to people across the United States and world. Each semester, students are typically located in 49 states and several different countries.
With only four online courses launching in the early 2000s in comparison to 400+ online courses offered per semester in 2017, UNK has made strides in distance education. Since the early days of being referred to as the Department of Continuing Education, UNK currently offers seven online undergraduate degree programs, 30 online graduate degree programs and 25 various options including endorsements, minors and certificates.