The University of Wisconsin-Superior launched a set of online graduate education programs aimed at working students in January 2017. Since then, enrollment has jumped from 25 to over 300, with 10 more expected to begin classes this week, according to MaryJane Burdge, associate professor of special education.

The goal of the online program was to meet a growing need for special education teachers and administrators in rural areas.

"It's taken off from there," Burdge said, and plans are underway to add a school psychologist graduate degree in the fall.

U.S. News & World Report recently named UWS among its 2019 best online graduate education programs.

UWS ranked high in student satisfaction and instructor responsiveness, according to the news publisher. U.S. World & News Report also noted the school's small class sizes and the personal touch students received from advisors and supervisors in the field.

"By keeping a balance of UWS faculty and practicing professionals who teach courses, the program offers both foundational best practices and every day application of theory and knowledge," said Cindy Magnuson, interim director of education at UWS.

The program's intensive seven-week classes were crafted for students with full-time jobs.

"The students in our classes tend to be working educators who have taken on school leadership roles, either in response to an immediate need or preparing for a future need," said Magnuson, a graduate of the program who now teaches some of the courses."The format of the courses allow them to continue to work while deepening their understanding and growing professionally."

Although the program is available anywhere in the world - Burdge said one student takes classes in Thailand - the majority of students live in Wisconsin. The educational administration graduate degree is the most popular.

The online graduate education program employs five full time and taps into at least 12 adjunct professors. Advisors have been added to handle the numbers. UWS also added an online master's program that helps educators improve their craft without leading to a certificate.

UWS traces its teacher preparation programs back to 1893, Magnuson said, and educating teachers is one of the core foundations of the school. That legacy is carried on through the new online options.

"What we have really held onto is the quality of the programming," Burdge said. "We're not selling degrees; we're sharing our knowledge."

Online programming is one tool the university uses to meet student demand, but Burdge said it isn't a good fit for everyone.

"Just as our K-12 schools are preparing students for careers and jobs that don't even exist yet, we must be prepared to meet the needs of tomorrow's educators," Magnuson said. "New degrees in online teaching, STEM teaching, and instructional coaching didn't exist in the recent past and are now in demand. In order to make sure K-12 students are prepared with the best education we must be sure to prepare our educators with the skills and knowledge to respond to their needs."

Visit uwsuper.edu to learn more about online education programs at UWS.