Iowa’s public universities prepare program expansions in 2023, 2024

By: - December 30, 2022 8:00 am

The University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator is being renamed the Driving Safety Research Institute to more accurately reflect the work the unit does. (Photo courtesy of University of Iowa)

Iowa’s three public universities are planning to expand several programs over the next two academic years. 

Starting in 2023, Iowa State University is helping students retain the flexibility of the online options originally offered during the COVID-19 pandemic while the University of Northern Iowa works to finalize its new nursing program by 2024. The University of Iowa is looking to advance its driving research.

Diversifying online options

ISU is planning two online expansions in 2023 as it opens Iowa State Online and offers students telehealth options for mental health care.

Iowa State Online aims to offer the same quality of education to Cyclone students online while maintaining community and offering flexibility from remote classes, inaugural Director of Iowa State Online Susan Arendt said. It launches on Jan 3. 

Arendt said ISU has been looking to expand opportunities and accessibility for students for years. She said students have shown interest in online opportunities in recent years. 

“Students were able to see how online could work for them and they enjoyed the flexibility of education during COVID,” she said. “We saw many students still want some flexibility and want to take classes alongside having a job or attending other personal aspects of their lives.”

Sara Marcketti, ISU assistant provost and executive director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said professors now have experience teaching online after moving remote in spring 2020 for the pandemic. She said they are more comfortable and confident when it comes to teaching online, which made 2023 the best time to launch Iowa State Online.

“Even when we reopened for in-person experiences, many faculty members utilized Canvas and other skills they learned from online teaching to interact with students,” she said. “Many instructors who had been hesitant to utilize online technology tools realized that the online experience offers a lot of benefits.” 

Arendt said the new online team will be centralized, rather than spread across university units and departments as it has been in the past. The new 35-member team will serve the entire university starting on Jan. 3. 

Marcketti said the university is still looking for about 10 more people to fill open positions to get the team up to its full 45. 

As the program prepares to launch, she said the online expansion will contain the same structured focus as ISU’s in-person classroom approaches.

“We are striving for a high-quality, student centric experience,” Marcketti said. “We are starting this organization with the structures and resources needed to help faculty design their courses for ease of navigability for students to experience a streamlined process – from learning more about online courses to programs, to the student experience learning within the online environment. We hope that we can help people complete their dreams.”

ISU’s telehealth program officially launched in October, offering 24/7 care options to students. The university has a partnership with Virtual Care Group 

ISU Student Counseling Services Director Kristen Sievert said the new program is open to students as they leave Ames to go home or while they study abroad. 

“It significantly expands the services that are provided, especially identity-based care,” she said. “When we’re fully staffed, we’re around 20 different full-time providers. We also have trainees in that system, but that’s limited and then think about how many students that translates to seeing. Virtual Care Group has over 250 licensed providers in Iowa so it expands our ability to serve and reach students and fit their needs.”

Grinnell College also partners with Virtual Care Group for telehealth services and has since November 2021. 

Sievert said the need for students to have resources available in a timely manner is as present as ever and the new service is already helping Cyclone students.

“We know there are a lot of stressors that come with being a college student and things that are happening in the world today,” she said. “Inevitably, that impacts mental health. Having resources available for students is important for their own well being and their ability to achieve academically in the way they want. We want to build out a variety of resources and this is one way to accomplish that and provide accessible care.”

A new nursing program 

UNI plans to offer students a bachelor’s degree in nursing in fall 2024. 

Director of University Relations Pete Moris said in an email to Iowa Capital Dispatch that the new program is in reaction to nursing being the most in-demand field for Iowa students seeking a four-year degree. 

“Health care is the number one area of academic interest listed by prospective UNI students,” he said. “Those factors, combined with the critical shortage of nurses in Iowa drove the decision by university leadership to study the feasibility of launching a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program.”

Following the approval from the state Board of Regents at its November meeting, university officials are currently developing a curriculum for the new program. 

The Iowa Board of Nursing reported approximately 22% of registered nurses in Iowa are currently eligible to retire. The median wage earned by Iowa’s RNs was 19% less than the median nationally by nearly $7 in 2021. 

Moris said there is excitement on campus and across Iowa for the new program’s approval and UNI’s hiring of Nancy Kertz as the executive director of nursing and chief academic nurse administrator. Kertz has 17 years of experience in nursing program development and higher education leadership. 

With three semesters to create a program and hire new faculty members, Moris said the timeline is aggressive, but the university hopes to have an initial cohort of 24 students. 

“This has been a very well researched and thought-out decision that should hopefully benefit the state of Iowa and help position UNI as an attractive destination for students interested in the health care field for years to come,” he said. 

Renaming driving simulator for expansion

The UI’s National Advanced Driving Simulator is being renamed the Driving Safety Research Institute to more accurately reflect the work the unit does.

Institute Director Dan McGehee said driving safety and vehicle safety research has been a part of the UI’s history for 30 years and was the first simulator of its kind. The new name showcases how the department has evolved since the 1990s.

“Over the last 15 years, our research has expanded greatly outside of driving simulation,” he said. “Every single college at the university is doing research in driving now and we’re leading the world in rural automated driving currently.”

There are almost 20 current projects in various stages at the institute, including research on cannabis and driving with the university’s College of Pharmacy and the limitations of human memory and vision as it relates to driving with psychology professors. 

The new name will better represent the research conducted in the 2020s and help attain additional research funding, McGehee said.

“All these projects add up to a very broad research institute and when we apply for various grants from across the world, we need the best title to represent the work we’re doing,” he said. 

The institute currently employs 27 full-time staff members with four part-time positions and 12 student employees. McGehee said his team recruits top students from across the world to come to Iowa for the institute, which will continue to be possible from clarifying the name. 

The official change will occur in the first quarter of 2023. 

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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication and global health studies, with a minor in German. She is a managing editor at the university newspaper, the Daily Iowan, and has served as an reporter intern at Iowa Capital Dispatch.