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UF Online: Gator Nation Has No Bounds

UF Online: Gator Nation Has No Bounds

UF Online: Proving the Gator Nation Has No Bounds

The Gator chomp echoes around the world as the boundaries of the Gator Nation extend far beyond Gainesville’s city limits. Driven by academic excellence and innovative research, the University of Florida continues to expand its global footprint and pioneer the way to creating a better tomorrow. Since launching in 2014, UF Online has gained major traction and attracted a worldwide following. For the inaugural cohort, 892 students logged on, the majority of whom hailed from Florida. The evolving landscape of educational technology and deliberate pedagogical design continues to open new opportunities for UF to deliver quality education and the UF experience no matter students’ proximity to campus.

At the outset, UF Online was a great way for working parents to return to college, but since its inception, it has grown to serve a diverse demographic with a wide array of needs. Students of all ages and backgrounds appreciate its flexibility and accessibility while maintaining high educational standards.The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the many benefits of online education. When in-person students were sent home to attend the remainder of the academic year remotely with platforms like Zoom, UF Online students were able to continue the semester with no disruption to their normal learning environment. UF Online’s expertly devised course platform allowed students to pause and work at their own pace as they made adjustments to everyday life throughout the pandemic. In the 2020 fall semester, UF Online’s application numbers grew by more than 30%. That percentage climbed further for the subsequent semesters as degree seekers saw the benefits and convenience of online education.UF Online continues to expand and find innovative ways to provide educational experiences to those who meet UF’s high standards but cannot attend classes on UF’s campus or simply rather complete their coursework remotely. UF Online has made it possible for students outside the boundaries of Greater Gainesville to fulfill their dream of becoming a Gator.

UF Online delivers the same rigorous education and awards the same prestigious credentials as its on-campus counterpart. The same faculty that can be found on campus also teach students in UF Online’s various programs, and online applicants must meet the same high standards as if they were attending classes in person. As a preeminent public research university, UF fosters curiosity and intellect with an expansive collection of resources both in person and online. Library access is available to all students, whether walking through the library in-person or searching the library’s website. During quarantine, UF increased its online catalog. If something isn’t available digitally, or at UF’s library, students can request materials to be mailed to their house via Interlibrary loan.

With majors ranging from advertising to nursing, UF Online offers 25 bachelor’s degree programs and various undergraduate certificates, as well as nine minors. OnlineU named UF Online the Best Online Bachelor’s in Computer Science Degrees for Return on Investment and Best Online Bachelor’s in Graphic Design Degrees for ROI in 2021. U.S. News and World Report ranked UF Online third for Best Online Bachelor’s Program in 2021, and first and second for its Online Bachelor’s in Business and Psychology, respectively. Accredited Schools Online placed UF at the top of their list in the 10 Best Online Colleges and Universities 2021. Each year, the University strives to improve the quality of classes by developing new course offerings and modern ways to increase student engagement. With more than 500 classes currently offered throughout the year, the number of opportunities at UF Online continues to grow. A dedicated and experienced team of instructional designers at the UF Center for Online Innovation and Production creates online courses with students in mind. With over 500 courses developed, the team collaborates with instructors throughout the life of the course, from planning and design to ongoing support and evaluation. These expertly designed courses use unique technologies to bring the lectures to life.

Lightboard technology allows the professor to virtually write on the board and explain material in a forward-facing fashion, simulating the classroom experience. This is particularly beneficial for STEM courses, as instructors are able to break down formulas, equations, and other complex materials for students to easily follow using this lightboard technology. With in-studio recording, professors can use imagery, videos and animated texts on screen to keep students interested and engaged. Homepages for each course offer easily accessible information, including syllabus, lectures, grades, announcements and more. Interactive maps such as Storyline give students a visual of the course outline and guides them through each module. These are just a few of the work examples the team has developed to immerse and engage students in their online learning.

UF Online is ranked No. 2 online program for veterans

Active and retired military members and their families have found the convenience and accessibility of the online program is perfect in meeting their continued education needs. UF proudly supports military students of any branch through specialized departments, such as the Collegiate Veteran Success Center, the Office of Veteran Services and the Collegiate Veterans Society.Military students benefit from several programs, including the potential to receive elective credit for military experience, Florida residency classification and the out-of-state fee waiver. Certain financial aid packages are available for military students, and in some cases, 100% of fees may be covered. As of fall 2020, eligible participants in the Post 9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program receive assistance with out-of-state tuition.Former Air Force firefighter and recent UF Online graduate, Xavier Leal, shared how his sport management academic advisor, Paul Higgerson, made all the difference in his continued education endeavors.

“Paul was so engaging, and we already had a kind of rapport because Paul also served in the Air Force. It was easy to go to him with questions, and along with my professors, they made it easy and seamless to do online education. It made me want to work even harder because they were doing so much to support me.” — XAVIER LEAL, Air Force Veteran and UF Online graduate, B.S. Sport Management

UF’s College of Health and Human Performance awarded Higgerson as Academic Advisor of the Year for 2021. His dedication and guidance continue to support and encourage students along their journey to completing their degrees.

“I’m continually inspired by our online students as I witness their ability to overcome obstacles, to adapt, to take on the academic responsibilities in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities in many instances, to excel at a top 10 pub-lic institution and ultimately achieve the goals they set for themselves.”— PAUL HIGGERSON, UF Online Academic Advisor, Sport Management

Fostering personal connection

UF Online provides students a strong support system of dedicated online advisors. In 2019, the program increased its investment for advising, to reduce the ratio of students per advisor while also serving a growing student population. Each advisor works with students throughout their academic journey, from their enrollment to graduation. The leadership behind UF Online understands the importance of academic advising and plans to continue increasing the number of advisors and lower the student-to-advisor ratio.For many students, access to an academic advisor was a major driving force behind their success. Advisors offer encouragement and guidance throughout the duration of the program.Although students do not attend classes in person, human interaction is not compromised. The UF Online Student Plaza was created to connect students with their peers, advisors and faculty members 24/7. The platform enables users to post questions, start chats, follow various interest groups, find other students near them, discover virtual events, and learn about resources available to them. In 2020, UF Online launched its mobile app, making connectivity even more accessible. With customizable push notifications, students can stay up-to-date with new events, discussions and research opportunities. Faculty and advisors are easily accessible through the app and are available to answer questions and provide mentoring.

“Sometimes the greatest Gators don’t live in ‘the Swamp,’ but they swim just as fast and are equally important in Florida’s ecosystem.”— DR. TIFFANY JENSON, Lecturer and Online Undergraduate Advisor, Criminology & Law

UF Online understands the importance of personal connections. Throughout the year, UF Online hosts several in-person events for students and their families to come to UF’s Gainesville campus. While for many UF Online students have never visited UF’s campus before, coming to campus for an event or football game allows them to experience the traditions and take pride in being part of the Gator Nation. UF Online brings students on campus with events such as the Fall Welcome, Homecoming Tailgate, and Graduation Receptions. These events give online students the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments with their families and to meet and engage with faculty, advisors, and other students face-to-face.

UF Online serves students with diverse array of needs

For two-time Olympic track and field champion Christian Taylor, UF was the perfect marriage of top-ranking athletics and excellent academics. With athletic pursuits sending him overseas for several months at a time, staying in Gainesville to complete his degree was not an option. Taylor discovered that through UF Online, he could still pursue his academic goals while representing the Gator Nation around the world.

“UF Online was an absolute blessing. I would not have been able to finish my degree without it.”— CHRISTIAN TAYLOR, UF Online graduate, B.S. Sport Management

The flexibility of online learning was perfect for Taylor’s demanding athletic regimen, and through virtual interaction, he was still able to get face-to-face time with students and faculty. Having always been on the performance side of athletics, his sport management degree gave him a new perspective and a greater purpose. Taylor “finished the mission,” he said, and added a UF diploma to his collection of accomplishments.

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“I felt like walking across that stage and finalizing that degree made me becoming a Gator complete,” Taylor said.UF Online’s expertly designed programs and 24/7 accessibility has made it the perfect option for working parents who cannot attend classes in person. Such is the case for Julie Cochran, a working mother of three.

“You can do the program without being tied down to a specific time for a class. I could watch my lectures at night after the kids were in bed.” — JULIE COCHRAN, UF Online graduate, B.S. Criminology and Law

When Cochran’s three children were in high school, she constantly stressed the importance of college but realized she would have a greater impact by serving as an example. She had always wanted to be a Gator and many years prior was accepted to UF, but as a busy mom working full time for a circuit judge, that dream was put on hold. There was no time left to attend in-person classes between her career, attending drama performances, and dance recitals.

When her employer retired, Cochran took a year off from work. She quickly became restless and started substituting in public schools. After a one-year hiatus from legal work, she went to work for a private law firm and decided it was time to go back to college.Cochran knew she wanted to go to UF and investigated its online program. The flexibility and convenience of logging on whenever or wherever she had a spare moment was paramount. She discovered the online program met her specific needs and was convenient to access with her demanding schedule. She remembers sitting in her car outside of her daughter’s dance practice with her laptop and cell phone hotspot to watch lectures and the many late nights after the kids were fed and asleep.

As she neared the end of her program, all three of Cochran’s children were attending college with one of her daughters in UF’s Criminology program. For Cochran, her children were a major driving force for her to go back to school, and she wanted to graduate college with them. After three years of part-time enrollment in UF Online, she increased her course load so that she could graduate at the same time as her Gator daughter. Her daughter would say to her, “We have to do this mom, we’re doing it.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic kept her from walking across the stage in the fall of 2020, Cochran attended the make-up graduation in spring 2021 and graduated with her daughter at the same time, from the same school, with the same degree. Cochran knew all her hard work paid off and it had all been worth it when she heard the call from the audience, “Go, Mama!”

For busy moms, active military, dedicated athletes and countless others, UF Online is the bridge between dream and possibility. The program brings opportunity to dedicated students worldwide without sacrificing academic excellence or personal connections.Looking forward, UF Online seeks innovative opportunities to further increase accessibility and engagement. The dedicated online advising departments continue to grow and support students despite the miles between them, while the imaginative team of instructional designers and renowned UF faculty will expand the boundaries on what is possible for online education.As UF Online continues to pioneer across the online learning landscape, the geographical limits of the Swamp disappear, and neither circumstance nor distance stand in the way of aspiring Gators.

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