When Chris Motz joined University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) as vice president for academic outreach and corporate alliances in 2020, online learning was taking over education at all levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, the number of people enrolled in at least one distance learning course rose 97 percent over the previous year.1
The large shift to online learning created partnership opportunities for UMGC, employers, and third-party education providers to offer employees access to college programs that are built from the ground up as an online experience, rather than being adapted to an online format out of necessity. Substantial growth of these partnerships followed.
“The most significant change that I’ve seen during my time [at UMGC],” said Motz, “has been the explosive growth of our partnerships, both academic and corporate alliances, which have added hundreds of students to UMGC.”
Allies on a Mission
Many organizations offer their employees education assistance programs aimed at developing their existing workforce and attracting new talent. To provide that assistance, employers often form strategic partnerships with colleges and universities to offer tuition discounts on academic programs. Some institutions also offer programs developed specifically to fit the employer’s needs.
UMGC has spent many years building alliances with corporate and government organizations in support of our core mission to offer respected online programs from an accredited state university to working professionals and military servicemembers around the world. We’ve established strategic alliances with a long list of private corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits that enable employees from these organizations to gain the skills and credentials they need to advance their careers.
"It is our adopted philosophy, said Motz, "to partner with those who are doing things well, leverage the collaboration to access more learners, and help those learners be successful."
Partnering with Third-Party Providers
UMGC has also begun developing alliances with select third-party education providers that offer a range of services that allow schools to accomplish more with fewer resources. These providers primarily serve as intermediaries between employers and the academic institutions with whom they’ve established alliances.
“We want to partner with any organization that will allow us to serve students” said Motz. “If we have the opportunity to provide a quality product that has rigorous requirements, produces really good outcomes, and has been successful with other partners, why wouldn’t we want to join forces and work together?"
UMGC’s partnerships with Guild Education, Springboard, Outlier, and VictoryXR, expand our ability to serve the educational needs of working adults. Through these partnerships UMGC is able to reach a broader, global audience of prospective students with access to quality, affordable higher education.
Guild Education: "Education and Upskilling"
Denver, Colorado-based Guild Education describes itself as "an education and upskilling platform" and connects employees of some of the nation's largest companies with universities. Often, these employees are first-generation college students. Through the relationship with Guild, UMGC courses are now available to employees of Guild partner companies such as Bon Secours Mercy Health, Discover, Herschend Enterprises, and UCHealth, with those companies covering the costs of tuition.
Said UMGC President Gregory W. Fowler, PhD, when announcing the partnership, "We are proud . . . to provide new avenues for employees to earn credentials or degrees that help them achieve their career goals. We share a vision with Guild to unlock life-changing opportunities through education that is accessible no matter where students are"
Outlier: "Alternative Pathways” to Education
Based in New York, Outlier bills itself as the "world's best online education," providing “alternative pathways for accessing academic courses.” The company caters particularly to students who, for any number of reasons, have not found their way to a university, and that often includes high school students.
A partnership with an organization like Outlier can strengthen other partnerships, as well. For example, UMGC might encourage students from its Amazon partnership who might not feel ready for UMGC courses to first complete Outlier's College Pathway Certificate. This would allow them to earn some credit and develop skills that will help them succeed later on the college level.
Springboard: “Future-Proof Your Career"
Springboard is a San Francisco-based company that provides “online courses to future-proof your career.” The company offers high-quality, intensive, noncredit information technology boot camp experiences for all sorts of learners—including those with no prior technology background—to help students transition to new careers in IT. While the courses are not for credit, UMGC grants transfer credits to those who complete the program, should they wish to pursue a degree or certificate from UMGC.
VictoryXR: "A Synchronous Virtual Environment."
VictoryXR offers "immersive classrooms and campuses through virtual reality," which allow for interaction "in a synchronous yet virtual environment." It is collaborating with Meta (formerly FaceBook) to create digital twin replica university campuses. Through its virtual spaces, the company has seen student grades, focus and enjoyment increase. UMGC is partnering with VictoryXR in a pilot program that will offer a range of UMGC courses in virtual reality. Meta will provide the VR headsets at no charge.
"It's new ground for UMGC," said Motz, "but it's also paving the way for us and helping inform our subject matter experts on what learning is going to be like in the future. “UMGC’s 75-year history has been about expanding access to learners needing nontraditional ways to achieve an education. It’s been a pioneer in adapting the delivery of learning to meet students where they are.”
University of Maryland Global Campus was founded more than 75 years ago specifically to serve the higher education needs of working adults and military servicemembers. Today, UMGC is the largest provider of postsecondary education in Maryland and continues its global tradition with online and hybrid courses, more than 175 classroom and service locations worldwide, and more than 125 degrees and certificates backed by the reputation of a state university and the University System of Maryland.