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The Gator Nation is Everywhere

Online education has become ever-present in our society especially at the collegiate level, but the University of Florida is not new to online education. Since 2014, in accordance with Chapter 2013-27, the state legislature required the establishment of the Preeminent State Research University UF Online to offer “high quality, fully online baccalaureate degree programs at an affordable cost” to students who are either first time in college or transfer, in-state or out of state students.

Now ranked number 4 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, UF Online is also the most affordably ranked online pathway to a university degree in the country. The best part about UF Online is that it provides the same high-quality educational experience that on-campus students receive with courses specifically designed for the online learner.

“A really great class has a great teacher,” said Evangeline Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online. “UF Online students benefit from the same faculty as on-campus students but with the flexibility and personalized attention that online courses allow. Our program has been designed and refined for many years. It’s now the gold standard among online programs.”

UF Online offers 25 majors, from business administration to microbiology and cell science. Undergraduate students can also supplement their education with one of nine minors like event management and health promotion. Each student works one-on-one with a dedicated advisor from admissions to graduation. That advisor and the student chart a customized path for each student.

For sports management major and Air Force soldier Xavier Leal, the relationship with his personalized academic advisor was one of the greatest parts of his UF online education experience.

In fact, Xavier had special praise for his academic advisor, Paul Higgerson. “[Paul] was so engaging, and we already had a kind of rapport because Paul also served in the Air Force.” Xavier went on to say that “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.”

That path can prepare students for a career jump or a leap into further academic studies. Opportunities like internships allow students to receive more hands-on experience, or research opportunities in coursework or individually with faculty to build academic skills for graduate studies.

Who makes up the online student population? A decade ago, it may have been the typical nontraditional student— older, with a family and holding down a full-time job. While this segment of students still seek online degrees, UF Online students now come from all walks of life.

While many online schools first began to offer more accessible courses for students who need flexibility, more and more first-time college students are also opting for an online pathway right after high school. For some students, moving away from their home to go to a university is impossible. Thankfully, online programs like UF Online make studying from anywhere a real possibility. This can be a huge benefit to students who are otherwise unable to relocate to a university, plus the flexibility provides all students, regardless of their location, with a whole range of new options.

The flexibility of attending college online means students can choose a city that offers more internships or job opportunities than a college town, save money by living with family, taking care of children or other family members, enjoying travel, joining a spouse on deployment, and staying in a community they love.

“I was living in California for a month with my aunt. I was able to watch lectures on the beach in California. Having the flexibility to remotely do your coursework gives you the advantage of creating your own environment,” said Jasmyn Nguyen, business administration major.

For students like Peggy Carroll, a stay-at-home mom with four children ranging from 8 to 17 years old, UF Online has been an ideal educational experience. A second-year sociology major, Carroll knew she always wanted to be a Gator, and UF Online provided her the opportunity to do so without having to move or travel and disrupt her family’s life.

“The program is phenomenal. Everyone, from faculty to the advisors, is so dedicated to the students,” Carroll said. “I actually prefer online courses to in-person classes. I can work at my own pace. I can stop what I am doing if the children need something from me; I can pause and play my classes back. The online platform has been phenomenal. I can access my classes in am or pm, morning or night. I feel like I am receiving the best quality education.”

A customized path for education is not just a set of buzz words at UF Online. Students can opt to take a light course load of 3 to 6 credits or a full load of 15-18 credits. The relationship that students form with their advisors allow them to talk through issues they may be having that may affect their charted path. Students can also take off a semester without penalty.

Students only need to make one phone call to register for classes, determine financial aid eligibility or pay tuition. UF Online has streamlined these services into one convenient department – UF Online OneStop. The OneStop team is available by phone or email to answer questions and host extended hours Monday through Thursday.

UF Online is not just a valuable resource for their students, but for all of UF and for the state of Florida.

“As a true land grant university, UF Online provides a service to the entire state of Florida and the world by making an affordable and quality education available to so many people,” Cummings said. “UF Online is a gateway for students. It gives students front-row access to these amazing faculty and educational experiences instead of being a nameless person in a 1000-person lecture hall. It puts the soul back into education.”

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Outside of the virtual classroom, UF Online students have access to the UF Online student plaza, a virtual campus to connect and network with fellow classmates, advisors, faculty and staff. The plaza is open 24/7 and is a gathering place for online students. Students can organize study groups, plan outings in their local area and chat with their academic advisor.

Besides the plaza, UF Online hosts a variety of activities to engage and connect with online students. They host regular events in Gainesville, like a tailgate at Homecoming, and events, like networking receptions, outside of Gainesville. Online students get a special rate for membership in more than 100 Gator Clubs which host events and sports viewing parties in regional areas. There’s even an optional fee package for students who live near or frequent Gainesville that gives UF Online students access to the UF fitness center, the health center, transportation around Gainesville, and student prices to athletic events.

“UF Online students are mobile and they are seeking new ways to connect and collaborate as part of our UF learning community,” says Cummings. “This optional fee package is just one of several new initiatives we have launched to enhance our online student experience and provide more avenues for engagement and connection.”

UF Online has allowed UF to expand its campus and also help its other students gain perspectives from these non-traditional students varied experiences. Cummings recounts an example where a veteran law enforcement officer was enrolled in an online criminology course with younger oncampus students. The young students were able to interact with someone who actually works in the criminology field, enriching the discussion and experience for all.

“UF is better off because of our UF Online students,” Cummings said.

UF Online prioritizes providing a high-quality education with plenty of one-on-one attention at an affordable price, one that is set at 75 percent of the Florida resident tuition.

“I feel like this is great for students like me—you can just open your laptop or tablet and you can be anywhere and still be a UF student. You are a Gator regardless,” said Shevauna Dumay, UF Online public relations major.

Microbiology and cell science graduate Kennedy Musembi can attest to the quality of the UF Online education.

“The fact that the programs at the University of Florida are available online—you have a lot of flexibility.” Kennedy continues to say that “it’s a quality education, not just something that’s put together to say they are offering something that’s online. The University of Florida definitely exceeded my expectations. I really did feel that I was getting an Ivy League education.”

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