University of St. Francis touts long history of utilizing online education

Joliet university’s experience with online education earns it national recognition, helped faculty navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

The University of St. Francis in Joliet is touting its success offering online education to many of its students, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many educational institutions to adjust on the fly on how to deliver instruction.

While online education may have necessitated new and unfamiliar modes of teaching at the primary and secondary grade level, it’s much more common at the collegiate ranks, especially at USF.

But university officials said USF has been on the cutting edge of online education for more than two decades and last year’s transition to primarily online classes went smoothly.

“We’ve been online since 1998, believe it or not,” said Orlando Griego, the dean of USF’s College of Business and Health Administration.

Since then, technology has only become more common in higher education to the point where Griego said about half the courses in his college are offered online for about 700 students.

Griego said offering the flexibility of online education is especially helpful for graduate students, especially if they have jobs.

Then when the COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly all operations to go virtual last year, the experience of integrating online education into the curriculum was an advantage for the USF faculty, said Shannon Brown, USF associate professor of management.

She said the transition to mostly virtual classes was “not nearly as difficult for many of our faculty members,” as it may have been for others not used to the format.

Brown said it was also beneficial for students who could do their work remotely because they might have been vulnerable if exposed to the virus. Even this year, Brown said she oversees an asynchronous course that allows students to complete assignments remotely on their own time.

That experience with online education has led to recognition for USF. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked USF’s online Masters of Business Administration program as the best in Illinois, spokesman Dave DiLorenzo said.

He also pointed to a 2019 study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University that ranked more than 4,500 colleges based on students’ return on investment. The study examined data on the cost of of attending each school and the students’ earnings in the years after graduation.

USF ranked in the top 10% of colleges nationwide in that study.

Griego said he’s seen firsthand how successful USF has been compared with its peers. He said he’s traveled to other colleges around the country and noticed they “had no clue” how to utilize online education.

After years of experience, Griego said USF was able to academically and logistically navigate an unprecedented situation over the past year in a “pretty seamless” way.

“We just sort of shrugged our shoulders and moved on,” he said.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.