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The University of Missouri system launched a new online arm Tuesday: Missouri Online.

Missouri Online will bring together all the online programs currently offered by the system’s four universities -- the University of Missouri at Columbia, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

A total of 260 online degree and certificate programs are now available through Missouri Online, with 22 additional programs slated to launch later this year.

Bringing the system’s online programs together will increase efficiency and collaboration between campuses, Mun Choi, UM system president, said in a videoconference call with the media.

“Together with the Board of Curators, I set a goal three years ago for the UM System to become the premier eLearning provider in Missouri and beyond,” Choi said in a statement. “As an accredited, highly ranked four-campus university system that spans the geography of the state, we are best poised to provide programs for students that improve the economic and social vitality of the region.”

Fewer than half of people between the ages of 25 and 64 living in Missouri have an associate degree or higher, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. More than 900,000 Missourians aged 25 to 64 have some college credit but no degree.

“Missouri Online will provide the type of resource working adults need to continue their education and move our economy forward,” said Zora Mulligan, Missouri commissioner of higher education, in a statement. “Easier access to online programs will empower Missourians to complete the degrees they once started, or start a new career they previously thought was unachievable."

In 2018, the UM system launched an online learning initiative with the aim of building a “national model eLearning organization” that would grow online enrollment to 10,000 students across the system and meet the workforce needs of the state.

Missouri Online is the product of a $20 million investment. This money supported the construction of systemwide infrastructure for online program support, as well as improved learning technologies and student support services. In addition, new online teaching guidelines were established for faculty, as well as processes and guidelines for all online courses to go through standardized reviews for quality.

“This official launch of Missouri Online will build on our recent success in digital education and enrollment,” said Matthew Gunkel, chief online learning and technology officer, in a statement. “Over the last five years, online program offerings have grown by 49 percent with a 46 percent growth in online enrollment that’s totally separate from the shift to virtual learning due to the pandemic.”

Many of the existing online programs in the UM system were built in house without a lot of assistance from external partners, said Choi. With the launch of Missouri Online, the system hopes to continue to build its in-house capacity to launch and develop new online offerings.

“We hired Matt Gunkel back in 2018 because he had the experience of developing programs in-house,” said Choi. “We explored partnerships with online program managers, but as you know, the partnerships usually require a revenue share that results in a steep reduction of the amount of revenue that goes back to the universities. For us, it was very important to keep our programs priced at a level that is affordable.”

When online programs require support that doesn’t exist in house, the system will bring in partners, said Choi. But the system’s goal is to train staff to build in-house capacity -- a model that is sometimes referred to as an internal OPM.

“We’re building our platform with existing partners in the space that are able to help us drive and work towards scale,” said Gunkel. “But we really want to take that firepower that we already had existing from campuses, put it all together and then collectively deliver that back in a really seamless and strategic fashion.”