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UMass to Expand Online Educational Opportunities for Adults

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts and Chapman University System announced their intent to form an exclusive strategic partnership between UMass Online and Brandman University to expand educational opportunities for adult learners in Massachusetts and across the nation.

This partnership, expected to be finalized later this year, will be launched as millions of adults in Massachusetts and across the U.S. need flexible, high-quality, and affordable online-education alternatives now and as they recover from the economic dislocation caused by COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color.

Based in Irvine, Calif., Brandman was established in 1958 by Chapman University, a 159-year-old private institution in Orange, Calif. Originally founded to deliver high-quality education to active-service military, Brandman has evolved into a widely recognized leader in online education, with a strong record of serving veterans and a diverse range of adult learners.

The partnership will augment UMass Online, which now supports more than 25,000 students, strengthening its technology platform and student-support services tailored to adult learners.

“As our state and national economies are rapidly shifting, we need to do more for adults who are already in the workplace and those who have been displaced to enhance their current skills and develop new ones,” said UMass President Marty Meehan, who first announced plans to scale up online programs for adult learners last year. “Quality, affordability, and flexibility in higher education are needed more than ever to address the troubling lack of economic mobility. Through this partnership, we will deliver for the citizens of the Commonwealth and for learners across the nation. Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vivid impact of racial inequality, a venture that previously seemed important to us is now nothing less than essential.”

Meehan recently cited dramatic declines in the number of high-school graduates and employers’ need for a highly skilled workforce in announcing plans to scale up online programming at UMass. He also cited the “troubling lack of economic mobility” among African-Americans and Hispanics. The economic disruption caused by COVID-19 has accelerated these challenges, and the need for new online education programs that remove the obstacles adult learners often face is now even more urgent.

A key target group for the partnership will be adult learners in underserved communities. According to a Strada Network survey of 4,000 adults, most Americans (62%) are concerned about unemployment, but African-Americans are moreso (68%), and their Latinx and Asian counterparts are even more worried (72%). The same study indicated that 53% of adult learners prefer online education opportunities.

“It is not a simple matter to accommodate adults who have to juggle children, jobs, elder care, and college attendance when the classes we offer are largely available during the work day,” said Katherine Newman, chancellor of Academic Programs fior the UMass system. “By far the best solution is to be found in rigorous, creative online education. All of us in higher education discovered how important distance learning is when the pandemic made on-campus classes impossible. But to scale up online education, we are going to need to do much more than translate our current curriculum to Zoom. We need to grow an affordable, flexible form of online education.”

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