University Without Walls experiences highest enrollment in 40 Years

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

In the 2010-11 academic year, the University of Massachusetts’ University Without Walls program reported its largest enrollment of its 40-year history. According to a press release, 344 students enrolled this year, which brought the total number of UWW students to 613.

Samantha Webber/Collegian
Samantha Webber/Collegian

The program accepts people of varying ages and geographical locations, with the youngest student being 22-years-old and the oldest, 75-years-old, according to the release. Sixty-eight percent of the people accepted to the program this year are from Mass., while a third hail from across the U.S. and one percent are international students.

University Without Walls is a program offered by UMass for adults who wish to complete their education and receive their bachelor’s degree. UWW provides its students with the opportunity to design their own degree and take classes online. The program also allows students to earn credit for prior learning. Online classes allow students to earn their degree from anywhere at their own convenience.

“Students can complete their degrees 100 percent online,” said Melanie DeSilva, Marketing and Recruitment Manager for UWW in an e-mail. “We also offer blended courses [some online and some in a classroom] or students can take their courses on-campus. Adult students need options, flexibility and support to be successful. We offer all three.”

According to the release, there are a numerous reasons for the increased amount of applicants this year. “A difficult economy and competitive employment market are driving many adults back to school. With a longtime record of success in helping adults complete their bachelor’s degrees, UWW is well positioned to meet the growing demand for degree programs that understand the real challenges faced by working adults,” said Ingrid Bracey, the director of the program, in the release.

“This program is convenient for adults who are looking for a degree to help them become more marketable in employment,” said DeSilva. “UWW is an outstanding program known for its academic excellence, flexibility, choices, hands-on student support and guidance, and our ability to grant college credit for the learning gained through life and work experience.”

UMass was named by “Military Times Edge” as one of the best military-friendly schools in the United States in 2010. Out of 100 schools, the University ranked at number 27. UMass earned four and a half out of five stars for support services and three and a half stars for both financial assistance and academic services.

UMass is also involved with the Yellow Ribbon program, which assists members of the National Guard and Reserve in getting on track before, during and after their deployment, according to the program’s official website.

Adults enrolled in University Without Walls have described their positive experiences with the program. Deborah Sprague is a current student who lives in New York and is completing her degree through UWW with a concentration in business studies.

“So many positive things have come out of this experience. First, the instructors are top-notch [and] really [push] us to think deeper and [they provide] information that is timely and relevant in today’s world. I particularly have enjoyed taking the ‘reflections’ course work, which is a requirement. These courses use critical thinking skills as the foundation to learning,” Sprague said in an e-mail.

University Without Walls began in 1971 and, according to DeSilva, “the program really understands the unique challenges faced by adult students as they balance work, family, children, community commitments and taking classes.”

“College was originally only for traditional age students who came to college right after high school. Now, more and more colleges and universities have programs for adult students to help them complete their degrees on campus and online. UWW is one of many programs at UMass Amherst that is well-suited to adult students,” DeSilva said in an e-mail.

According to the release, Business Studies and Health and Human Services are the two most popular concentrations among students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The two industry sectors expected to have the largest employment growth are professional and business services and health care and social assistance.”

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected] Haleigh Finch can be reached at [email protected]