UTSA Online sees significant growth in enrollment numbers

Gauri Raje, News Editor

UTSA’s online degree program, UTSA Online, reported a significant growth in enrollment numbers for the Spring 2022 semester — a 75% increase since Spring 2021 — contributing to the university’s overall increase in enrollment.

We aren’t trying to be the biggest university … that’s important to note here. We’re really focused on quality and not quantity. And so, as we look at growth, we’re not just growing for the sake of growing,” Suzana Diaz Rosencrans, assistant vice provost for online programs, said. “It’s a collaborative environment for growth and it’s again not growth just for the sake of growth. It’s thoughtful, it’s in partnership with our faculty in regard to what will demand of our workforce here in San Antonio and beyond.”

UTSA Online is an exclusively online program designed for students who wish to pursue their degree more flexibly. The program offers degree options in areas like communication, multidisciplinary studies and cyber security. Classes required for online degree programs may include UTSA Online students only or a mix of UTSA online as well as residential students. 

Melissa Vito, vice provost for academic innovation, explained that UTSA Online is developed by internal support from the university, a quality that makes the program stand out. 

Some schools, when they do online … they will outsource it [to another company] … the other way to do that is to do it internally and to have the services and support that are here to do that work. And so, that’s what we do at UTSA and I’m a big fan of that … ,” Vito said. “I feel confident about the fact that we’re focusing on quality and we’re building the same kinds of experiences as much as possible for both students.”

Vito further explained that degree programs are developed based on interest as well as market opportunities.

“We try to make sure that we’re working with faculty or deans who have an interest in a particular program, where there is a particular reason why we would be good at it and a particular opportunity for a market, that is maybe highly San Antonio … ,” Vito said.

Rosencrans further explained that, despite the format of UTSA Online, engagement tends to be just as important for students.

[Online courses] require an extremely high level of engagement from faculty and students. Being that we track participation outside of just traditional quizzes and tests, I mean, there’s a lot of experiences, a lot of broad ranges of experiences that our students bring into the classroom, being that they’ve had a longer life than some of our traditional-age students,” Rosencrans said. “And so [students] really bring in a lot of context and a lot of room for engagement that results in a high level of engagement and rich experiences that they like to share.”

Rosencrans further emphasized that, despite common misconceptions, the growth rate for UTSA Online cannot be attributed to the pandemic.

“So we are seeing some serious growth, but really, that wasn’t as a result of the pandemic. It was the result of us adding more programs to be quite honest … the pandemic didn’t have an impact on what online students were already going to do,” Rosencrans said.

However, Rosencrans did note that the transition to online operations led to the consideration of adopting traditional classes that were being taught in an online format to students that are a part of UTSA Online. 

“It’s poised online to grow that much faster. A lot of the courses that were built during the pandemic for traditional courses were built at a very high quality and that has poised online to now think about, ‘Well, now that [these courses are offered to] traditional students in an online format, does it make sense to offer it in a 100% online format to students that are in and outside the state of Texas?’ So, it definitely poised us for that growth, which we’re excited about,” Rosencrans said.

Vito also pointed out that the pandemic accelerated student access to online resources, including tutoring, which was not available pre-pandemic. 

“One thing to know is that the population of students who are in our fully online programs tends to be not necessarily the same as our residential students. They do tend to be different; however, having said that, I think what we saw with the pandemic is, it accelerated UTSA’s response in offering 24/7 and remote types of student services,” Vito said.

According to Rosencrans, the development of online resources for UTSA Online students also benefited residential students, further expanding their access to useful and efficient resources. For example, all students can now take advantage of services like ordering an ID card online.

“[Online helps] put in place business processes, rules, regulations [and] things that are normally not thought of with the traditional student, but because of our online students, they have to be thought about and it’s usually adopted more widely and it has a very positive impact on our residential students,” Rosencrans said.

Both Vito and Rosencrans highlighted the positive impact of UTSA Online and the flexibility it offers to students. 

“In general, our students either struggled traditionally and they weren’t able to be successful for a variety of reasons [like] health, taking care of kids, having a family, needing to work, bring in income or maybe they just weren’t ready … and so [there] are multiple reasons why [a] student wasn’t successful and then to be able to come back, while maintaining their life, allows them to not only achieve the kind of lifestyle that they want, but it’s to get the job that they’ve wanted, it’s to get the promotion that they needed, it’s life-changing; it changes somebody’s feeling of self. It’s deep, it’s powerful, it’s impactful and it allows access to folks for a variety of reasons to help them accomplish [a] better quality of life,” Rosencrans said.