Thomas College has decided to permanently move a portion of its graduate programs to an online format.

Although many colleges across the state have adopted online instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas’ decision comes from a business standpoint, according to Mikaela Ziobro, senior director of graduate and professional studies at Thomas.

Nowadays, Ziobro said, most adult learners prefer to earn their graduate degrees with a fully online program in order to maintain a flexible schedule for commitments outside of school.

“The market for adult learners has transitioned to largely being online,” Ziobro said during a phone call Wednesday. “To be competitive in the market, we decided we needed to transition some of our programs to a 100% online platform … this way we can be attainable to more students, have a bigger reach.” 

The school had been considering offering graduate courses 100% online for a while, but was finally able to implement the changes when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.

“The college has been exploring delivering 100% online programs for many years, but the substantive change process and the financial implications held us back up to this point,” Ziobro said. “When the pandemic hit and all institutions were required to move instruction 100% online the substantive change requirements were adjusted, and this change allowed us to complete the process and be approved in a shorter amount of time.” 

Beginning Aug. 31, the school’s master of science programs in criminology and cybersecurity and the master of business administration program will all be offered fully online. 

The school’s graduate program in education will continue to be offered in a hybrid format. 

The online programs will be offered in eight-week terms, allowing students to earn their graduate degree in one year or less, according to Ziobro.

“Over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, we worked with faculty to outline the shift of all graduate programs to eight-week modules with a set rotation,” Ziobro said. “A shorter term and 100% online format allows students to finish their degrees faster with more convenience.” 

Since announcing the shift, the school has received an overall positive response from its current and future graduate students.

“Our students are primarily working adults with full-time jobs,” Ziobro said. “And the move to 100% online with the shorter terms has been very well received.”

Tuition will remain the same for the 90 graduate students who are currently enrolled in online and evening programs at Thomas.

While this shift to online learning has been made for some graduate students, Thomas recently announced its plan to bring students back to campus after switching to distance learning in March.

Under strict health and safety guidelines, the school will begin phasing students and staff back onto the Waterville campus for the fall semester beginning Aug. 18.

Some of the precautions included in the safety plan that was announced on June 26 include offering hybrid learning to staff and students; increasing the frequency of cleaning in high traffic areas and bathrooms; installing more hand sanitizer stations around campus; expanding health services to include telehealth options and adding counseling hours; increasing dining space to make social distancing possible; prohibiting the use of campus facilities by outside groups through the fall semester; and reducing class sizes.

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