Case Study: University of Cincinnati

Key Strategies

  • Overcome initial faculty concerns to develop a viable online criminal justice program.
  • Successfully navigate the logistical challenges of bringing a program online.
  • Achieve educational outcomes equal to or better than the on campus equivalent.

Transitioning a top ranked criminal justice program into the online environment.

For the faculty of the top ranked Criminal Justice program at The University of Cincinnati, the ongoing commitment to facilitating positive learning outcomes is very real. When the decision was made to transition the Criminal Justice program into the online environment, questions arose about how to maintain academic quality, the overall methods for online course delivery, the challenges of digitally enhanced pedagogy, and how these elements would affect student learning experience.

The following case study contains excerpts from an interview with faculty members, Dr. Edward Latessa, PhD. (Professor and Director of the University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice) and Dr. Nelson Vincent, EdD. (Associate Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services). Both faculty members were instrumental in the
implementation and development of the University of Cincinnati’s
online learning programs.



The University of Cincinnati’s Criminal Justice Programs began in 2001-as traditional, campus-based programs with local faculty. When the proposal was introduced for these programs to be the University’s first in an online format, some faculty members expressed concern about the quality of online delivery, meeting enrollment goals and the impact of online learning on student outcomes. Through ongoing university support and by choosing a program where there was an opportunity to reproduce the high-quality outcomes of the campus-based program, the online Criminal Justice program excelled, winning over critics and opening the eyes of the university and faculty. Dr. Edward Latessa stated, “It has changed how we view students, and really, how we view education. There are a lot of great stories here.”

Despite initial hesitation, the faculty have found that they remain in control of the curriculum and have not had to compromise student learning outcomes. The University of Cincinnati continues to expand their online course offerings, embracing the technology, pedagogy and delivery of online learning.

In the beginning, many of the challenges of starting an online degree program were administrative. Dr Latessa recalls, “Overcoming the bureaucracy, determining how to register students, trying to hook into financial aid availability, handling out-of-state tuition, and the list goes on. All of these things were challenging, but we overcame.“

Faculty buy-in was another primary challenge. When enrollment started to grow many of the faculty’s concerns initially diminished, but that opened the door to talking about marketing, long-term branding, performance based budgeting and recruiting. “At first, marketing was almost considered a dirty word and certainly thought to be outside the scope of their employment.” Stated Dr. Vincent, “We had to convince people that it was all right to talk about niche marketing, the recruitment pipeline, and other such terms. “

The impact of online learning across academia is astounding. Dr. Vincent expounded, “Distance learning is a harbinger of what is happening across the board in higher education. If your university isn’t thinking in a student-centered way and linking program delivery decisions to 21st- century learning skills, then you’re not going to sustain over time.”

Students who enroll in online degree programs are discovering that online learning does not mean “ an easy A” or restricted access to other students or faculty. In fact it’s quite the opposite, Dr. Vincent continued, “To listen to our students’ stories is to come to understand that their access to the highest quality online learning is transforming their lives – this is their gateway for different career options and even higher levels of personal self-fulfillment.”

The facts show that online learning can build tight-knit communities and deliver the collegial experience for each cohort of students. “I often run into our students all across the U.S., and they share very personal stories about how the program resulted in a major life transformation. I have a theory that our students have a deeper and more sustained relationship with us and their fellow students than we see on campus.”

One of the biggest surprises was the overwhelming faculty and student response. Students are not just graduating but traveling with their families to commencement. Dr. Latessa added, “I never expected that kind of university bonding with an online program. I do a lot of workshops around the country, and it’s rare that I don’t have one of our students there. I’m surprised how much this experience has meant to them.”

EmbanetCompass truly believes in the concept of partnership. From reassuring faculty about the efficacy of the online delivery model to providing online student support services to recruiting qualified students through a well-thought-out marketing plan, EmbanetCompass is there to share expertise, service, and sometimes a push in the right direction. Dr. Vincent commented, “For us, EmbanetCompass has served as a critical friend on the side—nipping at our heels and pushing us. EmbanetCompass knows more about the idiosyncrasies of higher education than anyone I know. They have spectacular employees. ”

“They are not perfect, but they are good partners who represent an organization that is itself committed to lifelong learning. EmbanetCompass constantly challenges us, and sometimes we challenge them back. And we are both gracious about this critical dialogue and change process. That’s what real partners do.”

“One thing sticks in my mind,” stated Dr. Vincent, “A Criminal Justice faculty member, sharing a story about his first online teaching experience, shared in a public forum with his colleagues that he finally understood what it meant to have real learning objectives and identifiable outcomes. Had he not been explicit in his planning for distance learning, he would have failed.”

“As I stated earlier, online learning is now informing our traditional models of course delivery. Online education is solidly part of our university culture and student expectations…. And now the big names are coming into the online learning marketplace They will be successful if their faculty subscribe and learn like our colleagues did. If transformation and innovation are not central values in your planning and implementation, the successful integration of online education may offer you many more challenges than you could ever imagine.”