When Jill Kirchen and her husband started a family, one thought stood out to her: she didn't want to miss the special moments of her children's childhood.
So, the Chippewa Falls resident put her higher education on hold. But now that the kids are older, Kirchen has returned to the classroom, and she said she isn't sacrificing family time, thanks to Lakeland University's adult education program and its BlendEd® feature.
"With the online classes through BlendEd, I was still able to be there for the soccer games and orchestra concerts yet still get class assignments done," said Kirchen, who also works full time. "I really like how that flexibility for you, as adult students, makes it so you're not restricted to having to sit in a classroom for three hours in the evening after a full day of work."
It's that flexibility that has students like Kirchen excited. Lakeland is taking the BlendEd feature of its adult education program to another level this spring with several new ways to take a class.
Lakeland launched BlendEd in 2005 with classes that allowed students to seamlessly transition from week to week between the traditional classroom and online. Now, the institution has developed three more ways for students to take classes.
"We have yet to find a program that provides students with this much flexibility within a single class," said Zach Voelz, Lakeland's vice president for enrollment management. "Many colleges and universities around the country offer students different pieces of our program."
Learn more about the additional class options with the new BlendEd.
Voelz said the push for more options has come from students like Kirchen who are shopping the higher education market for programs that don't require major lifestyle changes.
"Working adults want quality academic programs offered in flexible formats," Voelz said. "It is forcing higher education to be creative in the ways we make classes available to students."
Lakeland piloted the expanded BlendEd in the spring of 2013, and Voelz said feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Many students really love the opportunity to attend a live class without having to leave home," Voelz said. "We heard from students who had time to have dinner with their family, then logon to class without having to travel."
Voelz said he often shares two student stories when discussing BlendEd with prospective students:
- A Lakeland graduate student who travels regularly for his job (he is a pilot for a major manufacturer) loves the ability to log in to a live course from his hotel room.
- Another graduate student was admitted to the hospital unexpectedly during the middle of a term. He didn't want to miss class, however, so he logged in to a live class from his hospital bed.
Voelz said students also like getting live, online access to classes that, in the past, might have been only offered at a center in another part of the state. "Our new features are stripping away the geographic barrier for students," Voelz said. "Students have said the savings in time and money was much appreciated."
Lakeland's programming for working adults began in 1978 with the creation of its Lifelong Learning Program, the state's first evening degree-completion program for working adults. Lakeland created one of the nation's first complete online degree programs in 1998.
This fall, approximately 2,850 students were enrolled. Lakeland has centers in Chippewa Falls, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Neenah, Sheboygan and Wisconsin Rapids.