Kerri Belfor always planned to return to college and get her bachelor's degree.
But when the Grafton resident started researching options that would allow her to take classes while still working full-time and raising her kids, she was met with disappointment. She found very little flexibility from the state's various higher education institutions.
Then, a co-worker told her about Lakeland University's adult education program and its BlendEd feature.
"Lakeland University's flexibility is not only with their class selection and their class programs but how you choose to take the class," said Belfor, who will graduate in May.
It's that "how you choose to take the class" option that has students like Belfor excited. Lakeland is expanding its BlendEd feature 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 Belfor 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 login 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."
Count Belfor as being appreciative. Through the new BlendEd program, she's been able to do all her classwork from home while working full-time and not having to worry about childcare in the evening.
"The flexibility is amazing," she said. "If the classes don't fit your schedule, you can make it fit your schedule and do it when it's convenient for you."
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.