Expanding access to education has been one of the highest priorities of Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SE) since its inception. Founded in 1909 as Southeastern State Normal School, which offered four years of high school and the first two years of college, the school’s primary purpose was to prepare students to teach in the public schools of Oklahoma.
Reaching underserved populations remains a top priority for the University. Fifty percent of Southeastern’s students are the first generation in their family to attend college, and approximately 28% of its students are of Native American descent. Located approximately two hours from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Dallas, the University began exploring online learning as a way to expand access to affordable, high-quality education and educational equity.
Initially the University used internal resources to launch and manage its online programs, but quickly realized they required outside assistance to achieve their objectives. Southeastern chose to partner with Academic Partnerships (AP) because of AP’s expertise in helping regional universities launch and expand their online programs, as well as AP’s history in working with similarly sized public universities in the region.
“Our relationship with Academic Partnerships has been an important component to our successes with enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Dr. Jeremy Blackwood, Dean of Graduate Studies.
The Southeastern-AP partnership began in 2016 with the launch of online MBA programs. With AP’s support, the University expanded its online portfolio to include education and undergraduate programs, and the most recent addition was the school’s first online healthcare program, a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration that launched in Fall 2023.
Today, students who want to earn a high-quality degree in a more flexible way can choose from 70 affordably priced online graduate, undergraduate and certificate programs that align with both the professional interests of students and the workforce needs of the community and employers. The academic pathways are as diverse as the students they serve, with 50 graduate offerings that range from six master’s-level programs in Native American leadership to an M.S. in Sports Administration offered in six different concentrations. Undergraduate degrees include business, communication, criminal justice, hospitality management, recreation sports management, and more.
A shared mission is helping drive the expansion of access. Since inception of the partnership with AP, Southeastern has more than doubled the number of students enrolled in their online programs, with several key factors contributing to success including continuous communication, collaboration, and a mutual, mission-driven commitment to expanding access to education. By fully engaging the partnership at a variety of levels and being attuned to the feedback of students, Southeastern and AP have worked in concert to keep the focus on the students and create a student experience that is positive throughout the academic journey.
“Southeastern is recognized as a top university among Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTI). NAL, a division of the Art, Communication, and Theatre Department, works to ensure that programs are designed in partnership with Tribal leaders. This is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to lead Indigenous/Native American organizations that serve Native Americans,” added Dr. Blackwood. “This is life-changing for the scholars and the communities in which we serve together.”
Enrollment growth and student retention are strong. While the University has experienced year-over-year growth in new enrollments in online programs every year of the seven-year partnership, an equally important measure of success is student retention. AP’s comprehensive enrollment and retention services team support Southeastern students from initial inquiry until the time they graduate. As a result, student engagement and retention remain strong, with third-term persistence rates, which are strongly correlated to program completion rates, at 79.3% through 2022.*
An added benefit is enhanced community impact. Southeastern’s online programs have helped deepen the University’s impact in the community by preparing graduates for critical workforce needs, while the additional financial resources generated have helped support other departments and University-wide initiatives. The SE-AP partnership remains aligned on examining new opportunities that offer continuous growth potential while maintaining high standards of academic quality and a student-centered focus.
* Academic Partnerships internal data. Third-term persistence rate is defined as the percentage of all students who are enrolled through the census date in their first term who are also enrolled through the census date in two subsequent terms.