CDU Partners with IFCU to Offer Online Teaching Course Worldwide

With a global pandemic forcing universities accustomed to in person classes to suddenly switch to online  courses, Catholic Distance University and the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU)  partnered to offer IFCU faculty members worldwide a course titled Teaching in a Digital World.

CDU’s faculty members eagerly shared their knowledge with colleagues around the world from Spain,  the Philippines, Belgium, Chile, Sierra Leone, Puerto Rico, Palestine, Congo DR, Indonesia, Spain, Italy,  Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, India, and Mexico, and other countries. The only exclusively online Catholic  university, CDU has been accredited to offer distance education since 1986 and has delivered online  programs for 20 years. Faculty members are well versed in best practices in online teaching and have  many years of successful teaching experience in the online environment.

The 4-week, 10-hour course, which was offered several times in 2020, features Dr. Marie Nuar, Dr. Peter  Brown, Alissa Thorell, and Kathy Vestermark presenting various elements of online teaching. President  Dr. Marianne Evans Mount taught the theory, research, pedagogy, and theology of distance education.  Other topics covered included practical techniques of best practices for successful teaching online,  course design, use of media, interaction, and student support. During the course, participants were able  to develop a course of their own design on the Canvas learning platform and have many opportunities  to dialogue with CDU faculty. The course was offered several times in 2020.

Many faculty members accustomed to classroom teaching find the online environment a challenge both  for themselves and for their students. Teaching in a Digital World was designed to impart faculty  members with the expertise and knowledge they need to teach online with confidence while fostering  interaction, engagement, and strong learning outcomes for students.

The course was such a success that it will be offered six times in 2021 and 2022 to faculty members at  Catholic universities worldwide.

CDU Partners with Edovo to Reach Hearts Behind Prison Walls

Despite the challenges of being incarcerated, many of our brothers and sisters behind bars are using  their time to learn and grow in their faith thanks to an online prison tablet education program, which is  now in 100+ prisons across the nation thanks to a partnership between CDU and the Edovo Corporation.  Enrollments in free digital courses created by CDU and offered on tablets provided by the Edovo  Corporation grew 110% in 2020 to 345,000 free lessons taken.

CDU offers 30 courses in English, seven in Spanish, and three certificates programs to the incarcerated through the Edovo tablets. New courses to keep incarcerated students engaged and growing in faith will  continue to be developed. Since many prisons do not have Catholic chaplains, CDU is developing online  certificate programs to form faithful leaders behind prison walls to support this ever-growing, isolated  population.

Assessment Reveals Growth and Results

Institutional outcomes are regularly assessed using multiple strategies that include both direct and indirect measures of student learning. The assessment program indicates that CDU’s degree programs produce their intended outcomes, are educationally effective, and produce satisfied students who are well-equipped to teach the Faith. The results of the latest assessment are a testament to our mission to communicate the mind and heart of the Church in a digital world using distance education.

MA (Theology) students who graduated in 2020 achieved an average GPA of 3.90 over an average of 4.9 years. Eighty-nine percent of those who graduated from 2014–2020 are currently in Church-related ministries. For the 2019–2020 terms, students successfully achieved each MA program outcome, and the retention rate was 93.3% for the MA (Theology) degree program and 100% for the MA in Theology and Educational Ministry degree program.

The 2020 graduates of the BA in Theology degree completion program fulfilled program requirements with an average GPA of 3.61 over an average of 3.8 years. Most students who enroll in the program either are seeking a Church-related ministry or desire to study the Faith more deeply to participate in volunteer ministries in their parishes in the future. Of the 2016–2020 alumni, 80% of undergraduate alumni are working or volunteering in Church-related ministries. For the 2019–2020 academic terms, students successfully achieved each BA program outcome, and the retention rate was 87.2%.

In 2020, those who received the Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Catholic Studies were awarded the degree with an average GPA of 3.76 over an average of 3.8 years. For the 2019–2020 terms, students successfully achieved each AA program outcome, and the retention rate was 84.4%.

One-hundred percent of students completing end of program surveys in 2020 stated that they had achieved their learning goals, would recommend CDU to another, expressed satisfaction with their studies, and indicated that they are equipped to teach the Faith.

From fall 2019 to December 2020, the number of program students increased 11.2%. Beyond the numbers, outcome must ultimately be measured in the way that alumni use their gifts and talents in service to the Church — whether that be formally or informally. Perhaps the most significant effectiveness statement is that CDU has been an accredited distance education institution for more than 37 years, being the first to offer online Catholic education in the United States, and is committed to educating students in Catholic theology, catechetics, and evangelization for years to come.

Prison Ministry

Incarcerated Catholics are not immune to the impact of COVID-19; the pandemic has only increased their isolation. Despite the challenges, many of our brothers and sisters behind bars are using their time to learn and grow in their faith.

CDU’s enrollments in free digital courses for the incarcerated have grown 110% in 2020 to 345,000 free courses taken.

CDU now offers 30 courses in English, seven in Spanish, and three certificate programs to the incarcerated. We are grateful for your support of the underserved.

Student Information System Upgrade Is Underway

Over the last few years, CDU has moved most of its core technology solutions to the cloud because cloud computing offers better resilience, flexibility, scalability, and cost savings. Before Fall registration opens, CDU plans to migrate its Student Information System (SIS) to Populi, a modern, cloud-based SIS designed for higher education that offers a user-friendly interface, a robust reporting tool, and built-in integration with CDU’s email, calendar, and Canvas Learning Management System. The significant cost savings will allow us to further invest in technology resources that will help us better serve our students.

Thorell Named Faculty Advisor for Student Life

Professor Alissa Thorell has been named faculty advisor for Student Life, a role in which she will act as a liaison between Student Life and the Faculty and participate in both Faculty meetings and Student Life cohorts. As faculty advisor to the Student Life Co-Curricular Programs, Dr. Thorell will respond to questions, engage in the Theological Conversations discussion board, and host a weekly video office hour. Working with the Student Life team, she will evaluate student involvement, address the needs of students and faculty, and assist with planning additional co-curricular offerings for students such as colloquia, symposiums, and more. Dr. Thorell is a vibrant leader who will continue to innovate and improve CDU’s online engagement.

From Our President

Who among us did not celebrate the end of 2020? Even if we enjoyed good health and had not lost loved ones and friends to COVID, we all welcomed the new year with great hope for the end of the pandemic and a return to normal life. We are still very hopeful as we begin the holy season of Lent.

While the CDU headquarters in Charles Town is generally quiet these days with only our IT director, director of operations, and local staff onsite, most of us are working from home. Our university chapel remains quiet with the red sanctuary light reminding us that our Lord Jesus is present and watching over CDU even with very few staff there to offer worship and love.

The work of CDU continues, and the staff are at home with technology and daily meetings via Zoom and Google Meet. The Board of Trustees is preparing for transition as we welcome Mr. Stephen Pryor as Board chair on March 15, 2021. The staff leadership is finishing an implementation plan for the first year of our new 3.5 year strategic plan, which focuses on growth and financial sustainability, institutional effectiveness, and program development. With new staff and procedures in admissions, we have seen 11% growth in student enrollment in the last few terms. The implementation of Populi, the new cloud-based student information system, is moving forward and will be ready to launch by the end of June.

CDU’s partnership with the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) will continue as CDU teaches international faculty to excel in distance education and online pedagogy. Faculty at universities in the Philippines will take the next training module in April. Two additional modules are planned for universities in other global regions in 2021.

With so much energy and hard work devoted to accreditors in 2020, we now await the decisions of their accrediting boards in late February and early March. The Student Life Center that is home to our co-curricular programs has added significant activities and opportunities for student interaction. One of our students’ favorite instructors, Alissa Thorell, a moral theologian, serves as faculty advisor to Student Life. She works with Mary McKay, director of Student Life, to oversee the programs and assessment.

I could not mention Student Life without thanking George Muñoz for stepping up as alumni president. He is a recent MA graduate who is planning a great event for alumni and the university. Stay tuned! We are also reaching out to alumni to help support our fundraising goals.

Finally, the new year has also reminded us that we live in the shadow of the cross. Our longtime board leader, brilliant strategic thinker, benefactor, friend, nuclear physicist, business executive, and cheerleader for this university and its mission, Dr. Joseph V. Braddock, stepped into eternity very quietly on Saturday, February 6. We keep bombarding him with intentions and favors, and we have great confidence that he continues to work overtime to ensure the success of this unique university.

May the entire CDU community encounter our Lord in life-changing ways in this Lenten journey of 2021.

Former Faculty Member Joins NCCL Board

The National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) has named Director of the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, Lori Dahlhoff, EdD, to its board of directors. Dahlhoff, who has more than 20 years of experience in catechetical ministry at the parish, diocesan, and national levels, has served the diocese in her current position since 2017. Prior to her arrival in Maine, she served as an adjunct faculty member at CDU. She designed and instructed an online graduate course titled “Principles of Catholic Education.” Join us in congratulating Lori and praying for her in her new role.

The Catholic Priesthood: A 360 Degree View

Professor Rev. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, has published a new graduate textbook on the philosophical and theological aspects of the priesthood. The bishops and their assistants, the priests, participate to different degrees in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This book focuses more on the priest, exploring the rich and profound theological background of the priesthood as well as the shattering distraction of scandal. The liturgy, spirituality, the intellectual life, and even the life of Saint John Vianney, the Patron of Pastors, are also covered. The Catholic Priesthood: A 360 Degree View can be purchased on

University Is Blessed with a Strong Board of Trustees

We are pleased to announce that The Most Reverend Mark E. Brennan, Bishop of Wheeling Charleston, joined the Board of Trustees this year. A compassionate, humble leader, Bishop Brennan has a history of serving immigrants and the poor. His first motto “To Teach All Nations” has transitioned to “Living in Truth and Love.” He naturally embraces CDU’s mission to bring others joy through the Truth and serve those who serve as well as the underserved.

The Honorable Janice Obuchowski joined the Board in October. President of Freedom Technologies, Inc., and a graduate of Wellesley College and the Georgetown University Law Center, she brings years of experience in U.S. government and private sector leadership. She has served as the U.S. Ambassador to the World Radiocommunications, an Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the Department of Commerce, and has held several positions at the Federal Communications Commission. She has served on several public Boards of Directors, including those of Inmarsat PLC, Orbital Sciences Corporation, CSG Systems, Inc., Stratos Global, and Qualcomm, and is also an active member of the Order of Malta Federal Association.

In addition, CDU enthusiastically welcomes back Dr. Joseph Braddock and Dr. Margaret Melady to the Board of Trustees. We will miss Jean Halle, whose Board term has ended after 9 years of contributions to academic, financial, and digital leadership. Please join us in thanking Jean for her meaningful contributions.

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