When someone says “university” what often comes to mind are sprawling campuses, vast book-filled libraries and jam-packed sports stadiums. While this might be true, a rapidly increasing number of universities are choosing to embrace online learning as a degree path for students.

Since its founding in 1946, Syracuse University’s College of Professional Studies, formerly known as University College, has been dedicated to supporting the unique needs of part-time students who are enrolled in courses at the University but don’t reside on campus.

In support of the University’s strategic response to create access and postsecondary educational opportunities (primarily through online programming) for populations that fall outside the traditional residential undergraduate and graduate learner, Dean Michael Frasciello, soon after his appointment in 2017, formed a specialized unit within the College to meet the needs of students seeking a Syracuse University education from anywhere in the world.

Over the past four years, Syracuse University’s Center for Online and Digital Learning (CODL) has been quietly and persistently addressing the mission-critical need for a formalized response to the challenges and opportunities of online education.

“The requirement for a Center has grown increasingly relevant over the past 20 years as online education has moved into a more significant position within the University’s instructional portfolio,” says Dean Frasciello. “With the recent trend in higher education to expand online programs though outsourcing, it became strategically advantageous and necessary for Syracuse University to build out internal capacity to standardize developing, delivering, supporting and assessing high quality, rigorous and differentiated online programs.”

Leading the CODL team in this mission has been Eileen Julian, who has more than 24 years of experience at Syracuse University with positions in curriculum, instruction and program administration. Julian understands the needs of part-time learners well. She earned a master’s degree in higher education from the School of Education and a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies while working full time at the University and raising a family.

To meet the increased demand for online programming offered through Syracuse University, Julian has grown staff at CODL from just three employees in 2017 to 30 in 2021. Since its inception, CODL has developed 157 online courses and another 74 are currently in development for nine colleges within the University system. More than 4,500 videos for courses have been produced and the number of graphics created tops 10,000. The team has also fully developed the online Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program, which is now being offered by the College of Law.

Beyond the immense productivity, Julian is most proud of the quality of work being done by the CODL team for online learners. “The Dean’s charge to us was cutting-edge online instruction,” says Julian. “To realize this goal, we’ve hired not just professionals with online instruction expertise, but also artists and cinematographers to enhance the overall digital learning experience we provide.”

Embracing technological advances has also been a high priority to Julian. The team is currently using virtual reality techniques to develop courses in partnership with faculty members in the art therapy master’s degree program within the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The CODL team further served the University community by helping to move 3,000 courses online in just five days during the spring 2020 semester, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected on-campus instruction.

The groundwork and achievements of the Center for Online and Digital Learning bode well for the University as plans for a more well-defined global initiative are unfolding. “The College of Professional Studies has 75 years of a solid commitment to continuous learners,” says Dean Frasciello. “We are now also poised to deliver high quality online educational experiences to those seeking access to the Syracuse University Orange community, wherever they may be.”