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U Rochester Program to Combine Mentorship With Online Classes

To help undergraduates finish a four-year degree in two years, the university’s “NXT GEN MED" program will let students take classes through the Rochester campus while working and being mentored at the Mayo Clinic.

by Ryan Faircloth, Star Tribune, Minneapolis / February 22, 2021
A medical team including nurses, doctors, social workers, and pharmacists gather outside of a COVID-19 patient's room in the ICU at Rush Copley Medical Center on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 in Aurora. Left to right; Rebekah Mendoza, Kathy Nagy, Dr. John Shanley, Rebecca Crumb, and Shannon Riser. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS) TNS

A new pandemic-inspired health sciences degree program at the University of Minnesota Rochester may offer a glimpse at the future of higher education.

The bachelor's degree program will combine online and in-person instruction in an accelerated year-round format, allowing students to complete their studies in just over two years instead of four and graduate with less debt. The "NXT GEN MED" program, announced this month, will be delivered in partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Google.

"I think that NXT GEN MED represents an additional chapter in the book of offerings that undergraduate students can pursue," U President Joan Gabel said. "The pandemic taught us that we can use technology in unexpected ways."

Students enrolled in the fast-paced degree program will take classes through the Rochester campus while working and being mentored at the Mayo Clinic. Administrators say they are still determining whether students will be paid for their Mayo Clinic work, but the job experience will satisfy some of their degree requirements.

Google will develop a new online learning platform specifically for this program. The module will include learning tools such as virtual reality and personalized assistants.

"They would be gaining professional experience, academic experience, mentorship, and leveraging a brand-new technology," Gabel said.

Students in the program will pay the same tuition as someone who completes their degree in four years, but they will save money on room and board and other ancillary costs by finishing school early.

U leaders say the degree program will help fill a critical workforce need; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the country will add almost 2.5 million new health care jobs by 2029.

"Our future workforce will be comprised of graduates from innovative educational programs like this," said Cathy Fraser, Mayo Clinic's chief human resources officer.

Fifty students will be enrolled in the program's pilot cohort, which will start in summer 2022. With the virtual component, Gabel said there is no ceiling to how many students can enroll in the program once it's fully operational. In the long term, the university may look to partner with additional health care systems throughout the state, she said.

The new degree program aligns with one of the U's strategic five-year goals: expanding the number of classes offered in online and hybrid formats.

"This is not intended to replace traditional campus life or traditional campus education," Gabel said. "It's a new chapter in a book."

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