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#147 Online Programs Continue a Legacy of Alternative Education

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Fun Facts & Stats

Norwich University has been awarding graduate degrees since the 19th century. But in the last few decades, innovative low-residency programs have placed it at the vanguard of higher education.

In 1981, Norwich acquired a low-residency graduate program from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. Goddard was a pioneer in non-traditional models of education. Known for being experimental where Norwich was steeped in tradition, Goddard may have seemed a strange bedfellow. But the acquisition of its graduate program set the stage for nearly 40 years of educational innovation at NU.

Initially dubbed the Goddard Graduate Program at Vermont College, it was geared toward adult learners, who would work with faculty to design an independent-study master of arts curriculum. There was also a more structured master of fine arts program in writing with a low-residency option.

Just one year after the Graduate Program and the MFA took off, a Department of Alternative Education was created to house those programs and another new one that would become a Vermont College signature: the Adult Degree Program. The ADP, as it was known, gave adult learners the opportunity to complete independent study bachelor’s degrees in a variety of low-residency configurations. Learning centers in Brattleboro and later Putney, Vt. allowed students in the region to commute for weekend seminars in lieu of the nine-day residency option.

In the 1990s, with the consolidation of the traditional civilian and military students on the Northfield campus, Vermont College’s facilities were dedicated to the low-residency programs. The baccalaureate ADP was joined by another innovative program that marked a milestone in non-traditional education at Norwich: New College. This track was designed to translate the low-residency concept for traditional-aged college students. Notably, it was the first such program at Norwich to formally incorporate an online learning component.

Norwich took the full leap into online education in 1997 with the formation of the Online Graduate Program, the immediate predecessor to today’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS). The first degree offered through that program was the master of diplomacy and military science, followed shortly by a master of business administration.

The sale of the Vermont College campus in 2001 turned all the focus of the low-residency learning toward the nascent online programs. With over 20 years of cutting-edge program development under its belt, and drawing on a rich legacy of educational innovation, the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies delivers online programs in a rigorous academic environment and builds on the nearly 200 years of university tradition.

Celebrating their 20th year of inception this June, the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies offers master’s degrees in a variety of areas; bachelor’s degree completion programs; graduate certificates; and continuing education opportunities. Learn more at