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Continuing Ed Enrollment Skyrockets

Continuing Ed Enrollment Skyrockets

In moving its CE classes online, RISD opens the floodgates to passionate new students from across the US and around the globe.

Grapefruits piece by CE online student Laura Jones

CE online student Laura Jones created this juicy piece in a class called Surface Design into the Marketplace, taught by Katy Dika 03 AP.

When RISD’s Continuing Education (CE) staff scrambled to transform tried-and-true studio classes into effective virtual learning experiences last spring, they had no idea what the long-term expansion opportunities would be. New data shows that although the pandemic meant canceling classes for young artists under 12 as well as the on-campus Pre-College program for rising high school juniors and seniors, enrollment is skyrocketing among teens and adults from across the US and around the globe. Teen enrollment is up by 86%, adult enrollment increased by 30% and more than 145 new adult learners have signed up for certificate programs now available online. And while most of that growth was domestic, international students who joined the CE roster come from 43 countries worldwide.

“The moment we were able to expand beyond our usual radius, we opened the gate to a huge number of people who were waiting to be a part of the RISD community.”

mariah doren, continuing ed

“This move to digital is so exciting,” says Director of Program Planning and Development Mariah Doren. “After pivoting quickly last spring, we’re now looking at how we can make our online presence permanent by building up the infrastructure, moving to a more user-friendly learning management system and improving the quality of our video tutorials.”

Rainbow child by Painting Studies Certificate Program student Dina Doyle
Rainbow Child by Painting Studies Certificate Program student Dina Doyle from a class taught by Christian Berman MLA 10/MFA 18 PT.

The key factor that seems to be driving the spike in enrollment is digital accessibility. As CE’s John Murphy explains, the overall CE population shifted from being 90% Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut residents to only 10%, to welcoming many new students from California, Texas, New York and elsewhere around the US.

“The moment we were able to expand beyond our usual radius, we opened the gate to a huge number of people who were waiting to be a part of the RISD community,” says Doren. Another statistic that backs that up is the “unique zip code count,” which increased by 45%.

“We’re looking forward to offering the whole suite of delivery formats when this pandemic is over, from asynchronous to hybrid to in-person.”

john murphy, continuing ed

And the move to asynchronous learning in some classes—where there are no set times for gathering and students move at their own pace—makes RISD’s catalogue accessible to working adults. Murphy himself can attest to that fact. As a father of young children, he was unable to take advantage of after-work, evening art classes. He enrolled in Web Architecture as soon as it became available in an asynchronous format and logged in early each morning while his kids were still asleep.

Splended Fairywren, a piece in progress by Natural Science Illustration Certificate Program student Emily Lewis
Natural Science Illustration Certificate Program student Emily Lewis working on Splendid Fairywren for her Applied Color class.

“It’s great to have asynchronous courses in the mix,” Murphy says. “We’re looking forward to offering the whole suite of delivery formats when this pandemic is over, from asynchronous to hybrid to in-person. And the digital transformation extends to our new, online course catalogue and a complete flip-flop in advertising as well: from nearly 100% print to 100% digital.”

“The opportunities in the adult education space just keep getting bigger,” Doren adds. “We’ve tapped into a huge audience of working adults. They’re not looking to be famous or to earn a degree; they’re simply dedicated to doing what they’re passionate about.”

Digital collage by Cynthia Prado
A digital collage by Cynthia Prado.

Doren acknowledges that although high school students created amazing work in the online advanced program that was piloted last summer, it cannot replicate the experience of RISD’s Pre-College program. “We’re really disappointed that we’ll have to cancel Pre-College again this summer,” she says. “There is nothing like that campus experience: being in studio, going to the Nature Lab and meeting like-minded people from around the world.”

“Our classes are accessible and affordable, allowing students of all ages and levels of expertise to participate.”

executive director sarah caggiano

But Doren and her team are proud of their efforts to create an affordable online experience that also helps teens prepare to apply to RISD as well as other art and design schools. “In terms of social equity, CE students come from a wide variety of backgrounds,” notes Continuing Ed’s Executive Director Sarah Caggiano. “Our classes are accessible and affordable, allowing students of all ages and levels of expertise to participate.”

“We also serve people who may be struggling financially,” Doren adds, “and we’re currently developing certificate programs for unemployed adults. We’re super-proud of the work we’re doing in creating exciting new spaces in higher education.”

Simone Solondz

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