Edinboro University — A case study in graduate online program development

11/19/2010  |  DR. ERINN LAKE
online development

During the Fall 2009 semester, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania debuted a new online graduate program in Art Education. The program has quickly become an excellent example of how to develop a new online graduate program that meets student demand while addressing an institution’s strategic enrollment planning initiatives.

Update on Edinboro University’s Online Program Development

Edinboro University entered the online education market in the Fall of 2001 with a 24-person cohort in the Special Education program. As of Fall 2010, Edinboro University’s online programs have grown significantly, now enrolling over 1,300 students (this Fall 2010 figure does not include campus-based enrollment).

In fact, online enrollment is up 22 percent from the Fall 2009 record enrollment levels. This significant enrollment growth occurred simultaneously with a system-mandated online course platform change to Desire to Learn (D2L). This article briefly outlines the strategic planning techniques that were used to develop a successful new graduate program while simultaneously converting the online learning platform and growing the Graduate School to, yet again, record enrollment levels.

Development of the MA in Art Education Online


Dr. Penny Orr, Graduate Program Head for the MA Art Education program, was hired to teach at Edinboro University in the Fall of 2008. During the summer of 2008, Dr. Orr sent an e-mail to Graduate Dean Scott Baldwin expressing her interest in developing an online Master of Arts program in Art Education. He replied immediately with great enthusiasm. Over the 2008-2009 school year, Dr. Orr, in collaboration with Dr. Jay Hanes, developed the curriculum, while working to garner support from the Art Department faculty, and then subsequently through the university’s curriculum committees. Once the necessary approvals were secured, advertising began in the spring and summer of 2009.

One of the important components of this success story is the fact that Dr. Orr recognized, being an art educator herself, that many art teachers needed continuing education credits to maintain certification. However, these individuals were usually busy with teaching and family responsibilities. The concept of offering a completely online masters program that offered six credits a semester while only taking two years to complete, would fall within the scope of education that would fit into a working professional’s schedule, while meeting a student’s continuing education needs.

With the current economic climate, obtaining a teaching position in art education has become much more competitive as K-12 school districts budgets have been cut. In order to obtain and maintain a teaching position as an art educator today, one needs a master’s degree for the competitive edge.


The program was co-initiated by Dr. Jay Hanes, a tenured art education professor at Edinboro with a specialty in social issues in art education and theory. Dr. Orr’s expertise in creating art with special needs students and curriculum development made for an effective partnership. The art education faculty has recently expanded to include full-time professor, Amanda Alexander, who holds a Ph.D. in art education and with experience in arts administration and international service in the Peace Corps, as well as a part-time faculty member Dr. Ivy Chevers, who holds a Ph.D. program in art education with a focus on the Caribbean culture and art traditions in that area.


Drs. Orr and Hanes, fully cognizant of the demands on today’s graduate student, created a curriculum that was accessible to professionals, relevant for working teachers, flexible in structure, and rigorous in its content. The program was designed so students could finish the program in five semesters taking six credits a semester. However, due to its flexibility, students could choose to take three credits during their busy semesters and more credits during other semesters as their schedules permit.

The curriculum has three main foci: the art educator who wants to understand their students better through insights into special needs students, developing Individualized curriculums, and examining the role of art in their student’s lives. It also has an overall theme of developing art educators as leaders in their schools and as advocates for the arts in education. Graduate level education requires a student to understand and conduct research. The art education program requires students to engage in action research in art education as a way to move their careers forward through reflective practice and possible publication.

The program is designed in such a way that students have the ability to implement teaching strategies and projects immediately in their own classrooms or teaching environment. This provides the ability to evaluate what is effective and what is not effective in the real classroom in real time. It was vitally important to the faculty that this program be reflective of real-world connections and applicable to the classroom along with teaching the theory behind these applications. The program was designed to put theory into practice in a real world context in the classroom.

Enrollment Trends

(Figure A) In the Fall of 2008, an online Masters with a concentration in art education program did not exist. By Fall 2009, the initial cohort consisted of 19 students and now, in the Fall of 2010, enrollment is nearly 60 students. Art education faculty attribute much of the enrollment growth to the curriculum design and focus as well as through “word of mouth” testimony. Recruitment efforts from the School of Graduate Studies have been limited but effective.

Academic Rigor and Quality of Program

Geographic Distribution of Students

The MA in Art Education draws from a diverse pool. Currently there are students from across the United States, Canada, and St. Lucia, West Indies. Recruitment of potential students from Australia and South Korea is currently underway. The geographic distribution across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appears in Figure B.

Providing Higher Education to Students in Rural Areas

Another strength of the program is the diversity it brings to the classrooms. Often an art teacher in the K-12 system in the United States, or abroad, is the only art teacher within a given school. There might be only two or three art teachers within an entire district. This situation creates feelings of isolation and lack of opportunities for peer support, collaboration and recognition. The beauty of this online program is that it does not matter where the art educator is employed, peer support is available, and classroom difficulties and triumphs can be shared and celebrated. Students have the ability to problem-solve by examining the literature and the field at large. Having students from across the United States and other countries helps students to look at education issues from different perspectives and promotes effective problem-solving.

Affordable Tuition Price

At Edinboro University, students receive a quality education at the fraction of the cost of private and even state-related institutions. In fact, Edinboro University’s tuition is the lowest rate among all four-year colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. According to U.S. News and World Report, Edinboro ranks fourth in the north region among universities for students who graduated with the least amount of debt. This is particularly important to students that reside in extremely rural and distant locals such as Roullette, Pennsylvania as well as St. John’s, New Foundland, and Canada, who otherwise would not have access to such outstanding educational opportunities. This program becomes very cost effective when one considers the costs to travel to face-to-face programs from these remote locations.

Student Satisfaction Rates

Initially online students might report anxiety about online learning because they are afraid that they will not receive the feedback and necessary help, that they will feel isolated, and that the learning will not be as detailed. To address these concerns, faculty and administration made sure that the program worked to develop community amongst the students through group work, weekly live seminars, and additional social items, such as Facebook pages. Once the students become part of this community, they support each other throughout the program and develop strong friendships. Faculty in the program take an interest in the student’s lives, are accessible through SKYPE and e-mail on a 24-hour basis, and provide a great deal of one-on-one help. Celebrations and setbacks occur and the students and faculty support each other through life events such as new babies, career challenges and the like.

Student Testimonials

The program has been well received by the students. The following are a few of the student comments.

 “The seminar is the element I found most beneficial. Being able to have that ‘live’ contact with the professor and peers made the entire experience far better that I originally anticipated.”

“I appreciated the way the professor differentiated the instruction in line with what we were discussing in the class. She still promoted rigor and relevance while accommodating the needs of individuals. This was my first experience with an online course but it has exceeded my expectations and been a most worthwhile and educational experience.”

“I was incredibly pleased with the course as a whole. This was for multiple reasons. I really thought that the seminars are a great idea and had a great format. Secondly, the class Web site is very easy to access and manage. The teachers are incredibly easy to get a hold of through Skype and e-mail. Lastly, the professors were flexible and understanding. They listened to the class concerns and took that into consideration for the class.”

Future of Online Education

Current enrollment in the MA with a concentration in Art Education program is currently 54 students. The short-term enrollment goal is to maintain a stable headcount of 80 students and long-term to pursue the development of a doctorate in Art Education.


Dr. Erinn Lake is the Associate Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA. Dr. James Bolton is an Associate Professor on assignment to the Provost at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA. For more information, visit www.online.edinboro.edu or call toll-free 1-888-845-2890.

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