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Partner Spotlight

Why Simmons is Embracing Online Undergraduate Education This Fall

Written by Chip Paucek on May 8, 2020

Related content: University, Digital Education

From left to right: Simmons University President Helen Drinan, 2U, Inc. Co-Founder and CEO Chip Paucek, and 2U, Inc. SVP of Business Operations Maggie Ruvoldt

“Crossing boundaries to create opportunities” is one of Simmons University’s core values, and earlier today, our long-standing partner took a bold and decisive step in bringing this value to life by announcing plans to expand its undergraduate program fully online on September 1, 2020. This new online undergraduate experience will be thoughtfully redesigned to provide students a high-quality digital education no matter whether they are at home or on campus this fall. With the coronavirus pandemic expected to impact the delivery of higher education through at least the rest of this year, Simmons doubled down on its efforts to create a continuity plan that prioritizes student needs. The result is an act of institutional resilience and ingenuity that will meaningfully impact both the Simmons community and learners around the world—right when they need it most.

Since we first launched our partnership with Simmons in 2012, the university has always proven itself to be forward-thinking. We have witnessed first-hand their fortitude and commitment to enhancing their unique strengths, preserving their mission, and creating a sustainable path forward. And together, we’ve been successful in achieving scale and increasing access to students untethered by geography. We have a proud history of shared success with more than 3,000 graduates and Nursing@Simmons students achieving a 95.9% board pass rate in 2018. That track record of meaningful outcomes is one of the many things that has given Simmons confidence in us as a partner, especially during this time of great uncertainty.

Today, we’re continuing to build on our successful partnership with Simmons. As they look ahead to the fall and beyond, Simmons is committed to delivering the high-quality and purpose-built online education students expect and deserve—which is distinctly different than the emergency remote instruction students across the world experienced this spring. Simmons is leaning into its mission to create a diverse and inclusive community by prioritizing long-term sustainability, accessibility, and affordability, and, together, we are laying the groundwork for meaningful continuity.

As you’ll likely gather from her open letter below, President Helen Drinan is not only an incredible leader but an incredible human being. She believes wholeheartedly that Simmons is built for this moment. And the entire leadership team at Simmons is delivering on that belief. While many universities are still making preparations for September, Simmons is embracing this challenge as an opportunity to naturally evolve and build on their near decade-long success online. Universities that can be agile, progressive, and open to breaking new ground will come out on top post-pandemic, and Simmons is emerging at this moment as a visionary leader in educating the next century of learners online. We’re proud to be their partner in sustainability and excellence.


Dear Simmons Community,

Like every institution of higher learning, Simmons continues to navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and faces important and complex choices about what happens next for our students, our faculty and staff, our campus, and our entire community.

In the face of this reality, I am writing today to inform you that Simmons has an opportunity—and a plan—to ensure students can continue their journey no matter what happens this Fall.

On September 1, Simmons will be ready to offer undergraduate students a fully online and reimagined experience, with over 300 courses available for online enrollment. These courses will be intentionally redesigned for the web, with a blend of synchronous and asynchronous content—hallmarks of high-quality online education. The offerings will serve our continued focus on women’s undergraduate education and leadership, and allow us to continue providing each of our students with a high-quality educational experience, regardless of what the coming months may bring.

Let me be clear: Our hope is to return to campus as soon as possible, while prioritizing the health and safety of our students, faculty, and larger Simmons community. When and how we can do that will largely be determined by the course of the pandemic and the guidance of public health officials. In this regard, we still face many unanswered questions. So, we must have a continuity plan for undergraduate education—including online education that we continue to deliver at a level of excellence that Simmons students expect and deserve.

We are confident that Simmons is uniquely positioned to deliver this quality online undergraduate experience for as long as the circumstances require, based on our mission to provide transformative learning, our legacy of innovation, the professionalism of our faculty, and our long track record of successfully educating graduate students online for nearly a decade in partnership with 2U, an education technology company. To put it simply, Simmons is a leader in online education. We are built for this moment.

Our institution has stood up some of the most successful online graduate programs in the country across critical fields like nursing, social work, and public health, educating more than 3,000 online graduates in our region and around the globe. And as we move forward we will continue to apply our learnings to deliver the same high-quality educational experience to our undergraduate students, regardless of whether they are physically located.

Students pursuing our online degrees experience the same transformative learning experiences, including highly engaging coursework and consistently excellent pedagogy, as their on-campus counterparts. For example, Nursing@Simmons students had a 95.9% board pass rate in 2018 (higher than national board pass rate), and are making tremendous contributions in their communities every day, even in the current fight against COVID-19.

You have heard me say that this is a defining moment for Simmons and for all of higher education. There is no doubt that some institutions will not survive the pandemic. But I and the entire Board of Trustees believe that Simmons can not only survive, but thrive after the crisis due to the groundwork we have laid and the investments we have made over the past 10 years.

In a sense, embracing online undergraduate education is a natural evolution for us, and will accelerate our long-term vision to bring the best of Simmons to learners everywhere. This work will open the doors more widely for new types of students as well, those who would not otherwise be able to participate in the distinctive, excellent education that Simmons provides.

College is an experience. We enter as one person and, if we have chosen and done well, we leave as another, more complete one. Along the way, there are moments and experiences that transform us: coming into contact with more people from different backgrounds and walks of life; engaging in intellectual debate with other members of our community; joining student groups that help us lead well-rounded lives. Simmons continues to offer these experiences, though they may have taken a different form in the past few months. Through our continued dedication to a high-quality educational experience, whether it is online, on-campus, or a combination of the two, we look forward to educating, and transforming, the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and critical members of our society.

I understand that the news of bringing undergrad online is a significant step and a lot to absorb, and there will be many questions and concerns. I also understand it will demand change from every member of the Simmons community.

But I know Simmons will do now what it has done for a century: adapt, persist, and thrive.

Thank you for your continued resilience.



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