Georgetown Launches Online Degree Completion Program

The university is partnering with the online course provider Coursera in a bid to reach more adult learners.
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  • Georgetown University is partnering with the online course provider Coursera to create a fully online bachelor's degree program.
  • The program is geared toward being flexible and accessible for adult learners.
  • The online degree can be completed for $22,400, depending on transferred credits.
  • Georgetown officials also underscored the importance of a liberal arts education to employers in announcing the degree program.

Andrew Gross has experienced success as a financial advisor for high-power firms on Wall Street and as a set designer for the film industry in both Vancouver and New York. But one thing has always bothered him: an unfinished bachelor's degree from decades ago.

"That degree just was something that bugged me not to have," Gross, 54, told BestColleges. "It really literally bugged the hell out of me. It just ate away at me for a long time."

As Gross, who now works a demanding job at a New York startup company, started looking for a bachelor's program to finish his education, he searched for a program that was both rigorous and flexible.

He eventually enrolled in a business and entrepreneurship program offered by the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies and is attending school online.

So far, the program's flexibility has been key, Gross told BestColleges.

"You run out of time sometimes in a week," Gross said. "You can get pretty pressure-packed pretty quick. All in all, though, you can work at 2 in the morning, if you want, on a paper. You can do your reading whenever you want. You can get up at 5 in the morning before your coffee, and you can get a lot done … There's been a good relationship there, for me personally, because I don't really have a 9-to-5 schedule."

Adult learners are key to the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies, which focuses on accessibility and helping students complete degrees. In its most recent cohort of bachelor of arts in liberal studies students, 62% were students of color, and 40% were military-connected learners, according to a release.

Now, the School of Continuing Studies is dramatically expanding that degree by partnering with the online course provider Coursera to launch the elite university's first entirely online degree program.

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The online degree program will feature asynchronous learning, allowing students to learn on their own schedule while also giving students access to Georgetown faculty and mentoring. Students will also be able to choose a concentration relevant to their field, including communications, business, and international relations.

Georgetown School of Continuing Studies Dean Kelly Otter said the fully online program is a long time coming: Georgetown began to turn its attention toward adult learners during the latter half of the 20th century as returning veterans enrolled in college.

"We're at a moment now where we're continuing to see many different kinds of models offering this flexible format, and we're seeing the relationship between the flexibility and workforce preparation," Otter said. "And so this really allows us to give a quality program and a very innovative way."

Coursera already partners with more than 175 universities and 100 businesses to offer more than 35 degrees and 5,400 courses, and Coursera Chief Content Officer Betty Vandenbosch said the platform allows for both flexibility and affordability to students.

That's particularly important to traditionally underserved adult learners, Vandenbosch said, who also need to balance work and family time with their education.

"One of the beauties about being able to come to the Coursera platform is that folks can learn on their telephones," Vandenbosch told BestColleges "So you're on the bus, you're cooking dinner, you can do a little bit of learning."

The online, self-paced format also applies to discussions with classmates, Vandenbosch said, allowing learners to take their time and participate in a comfortable way as opposed to a traditional classroom environment.

Georgetown assistant professor Michelle Ohnona, faculty director of the bachelor of arts in liberal studies at the School of Continuing Studies, said one of the keys to the program will be reaching adult learners with mentoring, advice, and meaningful discussions.

Ohnona said the program will feature a "high-quality, high-touch" model scaled into the Coursera platform.

"What we've done is we've looked at some of our larger on-campus courses, to get a sense of how we can assemble teaching teams," Ohnona told BestColleges. "So a faculty member who's the faculty of record at the helm of the class, but then also disciplinarily appropriate TAs (teaching assistants) who can help support that faculty member and offer pointed feedback, guidance, meaningful discussions … The kind of mentorship and advice that is so important for adult learners."

Amid a nationwide focus on workforce development in recent years, Georgetown and other colleges have sought to highlight the importance of a liberal arts education to professional development.

According to Coursera, 43% of graduates of Georgetown's on-campus program progress to an executive or director-level position, and alumni have held positions at key businesses and institutions like the World Bank, American Express, the National League for Nursing, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Elaina Cohen, a graduate of the program and an emigrant from Jamaica, founded two companies after graduating.

"Georgetown completely transformed my worldview and my place in it. Its innovative program equipped me with essential skills crucial in today's business and professional domain," Cohen said in a statement.

Otter said a liberal arts education in which a wide variety of disciplines are learned aids professional development and critical thinking.

"There is an alignment, not a tension, between a liberal and a professional education," Otter said.

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Previous research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that, when it comes to the long-term return on investment (ROI) of a liberal arts degree, students see hefty benefits.

Georgetown's ROI of Liberal Arts Colleges: Value Adds Up Over Time report found that the median return on investment for liberal arts colleges was almost $200,000 higher than the median for all colleges.

Georgetown isn't the only university looking to reach adult learners with a liberal arts education. Antioch University and Otterbein University announced in July that they plan to pool their resources for graduate programs and adult learning, forming a new national system.

Applications for Georgetown's new Coursera degree program are set to open this month, with classes kicking off next summer.

Students will be able to transfer up to 64 college credits, including military training, to the 120-credit degree. Each credit will cost $400, which means if students transfer 64 credits they could pay $22,400 for the Georgetown degree.

According to Georgetown, the $400-per-credit cost is 22% more affordable than an average online credit from privately ranked colleges.

For Gross, earning a degree is about personal growth as well as professional development.

"If they're in careers for a long time, and they see upward mobility, and it's possible, and it's plausible, but the only thing that they don't have that's holding them back is a degree, then hell yes, do it." Gross said. "It's a no-brainer to me."