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Becky Takeda-Tinker stands in office setting
Becky Takeda-Tinker, the first president of CSU-Global Campus, works in the University’s administrative offices in Greenwood Village. In just 11 years, the school’s enrollment has mushroomed to nearly 20,000 total students. Photo by John Eisele / Colorado State University

CSU Global Breaks Ground by Providing Fully Online, Career-focused Degrees

Becky Takeda-Tinker has the energy and enthusiasm of someone with lots to accomplish, and a clear understanding of her work’s importance.

She is president of Colorado State University-Global Campus, the nation’s first fully online public university with accredited degree programs. CSU-Global launched in 2007 to meet a growing need for high-caliber education delivered in a flexible format for working adults seeking career advancement.

CSU-Global entered the online sphere adhering to the academic standards and financial accountability demanded of public universities. In its first decade, the school has experienced explosive growth: Its first cohort of graduates, in 2009, numbered just 14. Since then, more than 17,000 students have graduated, and more than 19,500 are currently enrolled in programs that provide certificates, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees. Forty percent of current students live in Colorado, with others residing across the nation and around the world. Earlier this year, CSU-Global ranked No. 9 on the list of “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs” released by U.S. News & World Report.

Like the University she leads, Takeda-Tinker’s pace is quickening.

She oversees an institution with an annual budget of $105 million. She directs efforts to evaluate learning outcomes and improve technologies for online course delivery. She consults with policymakers and joins forces with community colleges on issues such as credit transferability. She also works closely with the business community to understand and address critical workforce issues, helping to tailor education and training programs for hundreds of organizations nationwide. [Colorado Ballet is among many partner organizations whose employees may take CSU-Global classes at a discount. Read more in the magazine story titled “Learning en Pointe.”]

This work earned her a place among “Five Higher-Ed Leaders to Watch in 2018,” a list compiled by the industry news outlet Education Dive. Takeda-Tinker has emerged as an important figure concerned with reimagining higher education for busy adults seeking degrees with immediate workforce relevance.

Here, Takeda-Tinker discusses CSU-Global, the significance of its programs, and what’s ahead for the trailblazing online university:

STATE: When CSU-Global began, it admitted only students with some college credit, who had left higher education before attaining their degrees and were returning for degree completion, typically with specific career goals in mind. Why did – and does – this population stand out?

TAKEDA-TINKER: These nontraditional learners are known in education circles as having “some college, no degree,” and they are a tremendous resource in our country. A study in 2014 estimated that 31 million people are in this category. Effectively helping these working adults reach educational goals, demonstrated by certificate and degree attainment, provides them with vastly improved opportunities for career advancement, lifelong earnings, and quality of life.

We know from numerous studies that, generally speaking, the more you learn, the more you earn. One recent analysis shows that a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, $1 million more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.

You can guess the importance of degree completion for businesses and the national economy, especially since we’ve become a knowledge economy. When we upscale workers with career-relevant education, we are meeting urgent needs in workforce development and helping the country to maintain and improve its competitiveness. Americans seeking to complete their degrees have even been called “economic super fuel.”

STATE: How has your student population changed since CSU-Global launched 11 years ago?

TAKEDA-TINKER: The average age of our students is 35, and nearly 70 percent are in our original core population of nontraditional learners coming in with some college credit and seeking to complete bachelor’s degrees for success in a global marketplace. About 30 percent of our students are seeking master’s degrees.

Over time, we’ve discovered that many younger students, with no previous college experience, also want the flexibility of fully online, asynchronous learning. These students reflect a societal trend in individualized services, and they want a customized, online learning experience. For this reason, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation in 2016 allowing us to admit first-time freshmen from states outside Colorado. Earlier this year, again with legislative approval, we began admitting first-time freshmen from Colorado.

Fully online education doesn’t work for everybody, but for many students it absolutely does. Our highest course utilization occurs at 10 p.m. and on weekends, and the same is true for our live tutoring and tech support. So we know we’re reaching students, regardless of previous educational attainment, who need and want a different approach.

STATE: What prompts students seeking degree completion to return to academic studies, and what are their particular needs?

TAKEDA-TINKER: Our students are busy, working adults seeking pathways to either keep or move up in a job, and they need a degree or certification to do that. Our delivery method is the way they can actually fit school into their lives. We were created to serve these nontraditional, modern learners, and our programming is very workplace driven.

STATE: CSU-Global often refers to “return on investment” when describing its programs. Why does that resonate with your students?

TAKEDA-TINKER: As working adults, our students are always making tradeoffs. They are juggling work, family obligations, community obligations, and then school. They are always weighing, “Is this really worth my time and money? How do I know that I’m getting something back that is immediately applicable? Because, otherwise, I could use my resources elsewhere.”

For these students, it gets down to return on investment for their time and money. They want to get their degrees completed, and they are looking into the future to consider the tools and skills they need to be successful in the workplace. What’s most important to CSU-Global staff and faculty is that our students are truly moving themselves forward in the workplace.

STATE: What are some key metrics that demonstrate whether it’s working?

TAKEDA-TINKER: We look at third-party salary data for our graduating cohorts and have seen that cohorts in every program are moving up in their pay levels. We also survey our alumni employers and have found that learning outcomes correlate well with their expectations. Reviews from these employers also show they are highly or very satisfied with soft-skills acquisitions, especially in the areas of critical thinking and decision-making.

STATE: How is CSU-Global supporting enrollment growth with faculty and degree offerings?

TAKEDA-TINKER: We have 562 faculty members in 48 states, and they all have recent industry work experience. For our students, it’s important that faculty have worked in their areas of expertise so they are not only providing information, but are helping students understand how to practically apply it in the workplace.

We’re very intentional about offering programs that facilitate workplace success. We have 26 degree programs and about 50 specializations and certificate programs. As you might expect, our top programs are in high-demand career fields with opportunities for job growth, including business, organizational leadership, technology, and accounting/finance. We provide an enrollment agreement to every student, so they understand the commitment needed to complete a degree. CSU-Global does not charge fees, and we lock in tuition once students are enrolled and remain enrolled.

STATE: What’s ahead for CSU-Global in the next year?

TAKEDA-TINKER: We’re excited to have formed a partnership with Aurora Public Schools that will allow us to be a tenant in their community starting in September 2019. The partnership will help the district facilitate scholarship opportunities for their students who find CSU-Global to be the right fit for their educational needs. In my mind, it’s huge to put the rent money that we would normally pay to a private landlord toward nonprofit education in Colorado. We look forward to this new collaborative framework and becoming a partner in an even broader educational community in our state.