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University Business, December 2018

An online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree made its debut in UPenn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies.

While many of the Ivies have digital advanced learning programs, this is the first time one has created an online option for undergrads.

The university had been offering a part-time bachelor’s option for working adults in the Philadelphia area, and a periodic review of the program determined there might be a better way to serve this busy population.

“Adult students are increasingly turning to online, hybrid and compressed course formats to complete their degrees quickly and affordably,” says Nora Lewis, vice dean for professional and liberal education.

“We wanted to leverage what we have learned to broaden access to the LPS degree program.”

The online program offers two paths for qualified applicants, much like the part-time program. Students who have some college credits and a record of academic achievement can apply via the standard admissions process.

Applicants without higher ed experience must pass four online gateway courses.

The announcement did result in some online debate about whether the program was cheapening the Ivy League academic experience.

“Offering a program tailored to these adult students in no way diminishes the quality of the Penn experience for any of our students,” says Lewis.

An advisory board of management executives from 20 regional, national and global employers contributed to the curriculum, encouraging better professional outcomes for students.

First and only?

Online courses are ubiquitous, but UPenn’s online undergrad degree doesn’t mean all similar institutions will begin offering online bachelor’s degrees.

“It would be easy to imagine that the other six Ivy League institutions will certainly watch Penn’s move closely to see how it pans out,” says Tom Green, associate executive director for consulting and strategic enrollment management with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

“Few institutions would enter into the online space solely to meet a mission objective if those programs cost more than they earned in terms of net revenue.”

Market research and a realistic business plan would be useful for institutions considering an online-only bachelor’s.

As Green notes, officials can compare the costs of launching and maintaining an online program to better understand how to justify online degree costs to students who have access to less expensive online options.