Keiwan Ratliff ’18 started his college career in the summer of 1999 but left without a degree when he became a second-round draft pick in the NFL. He readily admits that his focus at the time was more on athletics than academics, something the Cincinnati Bengals recognized when they chose him in 2004. Ratliff played for a number of teams and retired from football when he was injured in 2011. He always knew something was missing and decided to return to school in 2016. As an adult with a full life, he discovered that UF Online offered him the perfect opportunity to finish his studies, this time with a focus on academics. He graduated at age 37 last summer with a degree in sociology.
Ratliff says that he was more focused and engaged that he had been when he first attended UF “because of the fact that I was finally into being a student.”
UF Online is a relatively young program — it turns five this year — and has been making an impressive show in the national rankings. On Jan. 15, U.S. News and World Report announced that UF Online is No. 5 for the best online programs in the country, up from No. 12 in 2018. UF shares the No.5 with the Penn State World Campus and the University of Illinois at Chicago Extended Campus.
UF Online offers 20 majors, and eight of those reside within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: anthropology, biology, computer science, criminology, geography, geology, psychology, and sociology.
Evangeline Cummings, UF assistant provost and director of UF Online, notes that the college has been a leader in undergraduate innovation from the beginnings of the program. For instance, she says, “Faculty across Liberal Arts and Sciences departments from biology to physics, from Spanish to criminology, and now, faculty in chemistry are all truly transforming their undergraduate learning experiences to leverage the possibilities of online engagement and welcome students into the UF learning environment, regardless of their location. Only with the top faculty engaged in delivering the most engaging and challenging undergraduate courses and labs will UF continue to thrive as a leader in online programs.”
Advising Dean Joe Spillane emphasizes that Liberal Arts and Sciences is committed to adult and distance learners not just in advising but also in other areas of academic life. Online students may participate in research, senior theses, combined degree programs, ROTC, study abroad, student clubs and organizations, and marching band. Online students are encouraged in every way to be a part of the Gator Nation. To date, Liberal Arts and Sciences has also celebrated the graduations of 1,561 Gators with bachelor degrees earned through the UF Online path.
In 2017, UF Online launched the Employer Pathways Program and now partners with the Walt Disney Company, Walmart and Discover Financial services to support Gators that work at these companies and therefore attend tuition free, if qualified for UF admissions.
A recent report from the Brookings Institution says that online education is the No. 1 trend in driving innovation in higher education. According to the report, “Enrollment in online courses has more than quadrupled in the last 15 years in the U.S. While not as explosive in other countries, online options are gaining traction around the world. Given the increased cost of higher education, online programs are offering not just increased flexibility, but also a major reduction in cost.”
Evangeline says it’s important to note that UF’s online education does not skimp in quality. “Through UF Online,” she says, “UF is demonstrating that a preeminent, research university can modernize its undergraduate experience, expand access to higher education, and deliver engaging and supportive bachelor’s programs fully online without compromising the academic rigor it is well-known for.”