New hybrid degree program at University of Minnesota Rochester offers glimpse at future of higher ed

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.

"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.

"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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