AASCU Innovations Exchange
Your Source for Innovations in Public Higher Education

University of Southern Missisippi logo
Project Title:Online at Southern Mississippi—e-learning InitiativeInstitution Name:University of Southern Mississippi Innovation Category:Program Design and Delivery Project Director:Sheri Rawls, Director, Learning Enhancement CenterContact Information:(601) 266-5518, sheri.rawls@usm.eduWebsite:https://online.usm.edu
Project Description:

The University of Southern Mississippi began the eLearning Initiative, now known as Online at Southern Miss, in the spring of 2009. In 2009, The University of Southern Mississippi focused on developing a more strategic approach toward online learning. This initiative originally focused on increasing additional fully online degree programs, however; we have extended the focus to include increasing the number of general education core courses available to our online students.  Also, we aimed to improve student satisfaction, raise retention and graduation rates, and increase enrollment at Southern Miss. A strategic plan was developed to focus on delivery methods of online instruction, as well as on marketing and recruiting efforts geared toward fully online degree programs that would draw a very specific targeted audience. With a growing number of online degree programs and only a few resources to support marketing efforts for online learning, it was imperative to utilize a solution that would enhance our ability to reach prospective leads in a timely manner. 

In 2009 the university contracted with Hobsons, formerly known as Intelliworks, to help us do just that. Through the implementation of Radius, we are now able to customize email campaigns to reflect specific program and faculty information regarding the university's online degree programs. Radius can also systematically deliver communication pieces on a strategic timeline defined by the university requirements. Therefore, the system now contains much historical data, and Radius provides a multitude of reporting functionalities to help sort both historical and current data. Through our reports, we can identify specific trends and track our progression within the workflow process.  

  • Increase and improve student services for online students
  • Increase retention rates
  • Increase graduation rates
  • Ultimately increase enrollment
  • Increase available online programs by 2 each year
  • Increase student enrollment by 10% each year
  • Continue to improve quality of online courses
  • Increase number of general education core courses

With improved recruitment efforts and a more streamlined approach within the university Learning Management System (Blackboard), we have drastically increased our enrollment rates. In spring 2009, Southern Miss had 732 exclusively online students, and by spring 2014, that number had almost doubled to 1,261 exclusively online students. This represents a 42% growth over five years. 

Radius has been an effective and efficient solution to our ever-changing needs, and the customer support and outreach from the client services team and technical support providers has been instrumental to our success. 

Challenges/Problems Encountered:

A couple of challenges we faced in our initiative were budget and monetary concerns and overall campus acceptance of online learning.  At the start of this project there was no budget for online learning at the university, but with high-level management support, we were eventually able to establish a budget to support online learning. We achieved support from our top-level administration, which provided the resources needed to move forward with our collaborative efforts with Blackboard.  Over the last 2-3 years, our goal was to integrate online learning into the academic culture of the university. Through intensive training programs offered by the university’s Learning Enhancement Center, our faculty has come to accept the value of online learning.

Prior to working with faculty to develop general education core courses, we established a relationship with the Mississippi Virtual Community College to offer general education courses to those students enrolled in our fully online degree programs.

Evaluation Approach:With measurable outcomes identified, we are able to track enrollment, retention rates and graduation rates. 
Potential for Replication:Jackson State University, Mississippi University for Women and Alcorn State University have all been to the Hattiesburg campus and met with our director to identify ways they could replicate our model for online delivery.  
Additional Resources:Ed Joseph, Marketing Director
Arlington, VA
(703) 859-7351
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Dr. Rodney D. Bennett , Presidentrodney.bennett@usm.edu
(601) 266-5001
Date Published: Thursday, October 9, 2014