Graph to illustrate how CLS has grown through the yearsIn the span of 50 years, the College of Liberal Studies went from the smallest college at the University of Oklahoma to its fifth largest. The college’s growth is unique, as it did not focus on enrollment numbers or increased revenue targets, but instead focused on responding to the needs of students – something that should instill pride in everyone associated with the college. This attitude helped the College of Liberal Studies become a national leader in the areas of multiple delivery methods and expanding program curriculum options in response to changing adult student needs.

Enrollment growth

When the first classes were held in 1961, 75 students were admitted to the program. Two years later, 217 students were pursuing their Bachelor of Liberal Studies. Enrollment numbers generally remained steady until the advent of online courses in the late ‘90s. Since then, enrollment has boomed, particularly in the last 10 years.

Delivery options

For many years, the College of Liberal Studies served distance students through curriculum that was delivered through self-paced independent study courses. These independent study courses were complimented with periodic on-site seminars throughout their progress in the program. This delivery method served thousands of students over many years, and it worked best for students who were self-starters, could work independently, and were very disciplined and structured.

As time went on, the college added a curriculum option that was delivered 100 percent on-site during evenings and weekends. This allowed classes to be offered within the timeline of a standard OU semester. This additional delivery option opened the doors for people who made their best progress in a lecture environment that included interaction with fellow students. Classes were also offered in multiple locations: Norman, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Poteau, Claremore, Lawton and multiple military bases.

By the mid-1990s, the personal computer and the Internet made their way into almost everyone’s personal and professional environment. In the fall of 1998, the college offered its first 100 percent online class and created a new delivery option that combined online classes with on-site seminars. Five years later in fall 2003, Liberal Studies offered a 100 percent online degree program – the first of its kind at OU.

New degree plans

Along the way, in addition to giving students multiple delivery options, the college added new degree options. At the bachelor’s level, students can focus their degree studies in the areas of administrative leadership, criminal justice, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Master’s level students may choose from administrative leadership, prevention science, museum studies, and health and human services.

In summary…

Much of the growth over our last 50 years can be attributed to innovative delivery methods and new program options that best served the needs of students. Our students come from all walks of life, and their life circumstances might not fit into the traditional on-campus four-year degree setting. We are proud to say that we have educated many people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity. These non-traditional students are the story of the growth of the College of Liberal Studies.

Robert J. Dougherty
Robert J. Dougherty is the Director of Information Technology for the College of Liberal Studies. He has 30 years of experience in the higher education IT field and is actively involved in University IT initiatives including learning management systems and database applications.

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