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Extended Campus Celebrates 115 Years of Global Distance Learning

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What do trunks filled with books, scholastic competitions and petroleum engineering manuals have in common?

There’s no punchline; these things are all part of The University of Texas at Austin’s Extended Campus (EC), which has been providing educational programs for learners across Texas and beyond for over a century.

Since June 1909, EC has provided services, shared resources and innovative learning experiences related to continuing and professional education programs offered on and off campus. Throughout the 20th century, as technological and economic advancement changed the world, EC evolved with it.In the early 1900s, distance education outreach was based on physically bringing educational resources to remote parts of Texas via mobile libraries, academic competitions and professional training conducted in the field.

The Package Loan Library — a very early version of a mobile library started in 1909 — provided literary resources to rural corners of Texas where local libraries didn’t exist or where public schools didn’t have enough informational resources on current events like woman’s suffrage, prohibition, the state’s penitentiary system and child labor. Accessing these topics often meant shipping books in trunks before vehicular libraries were available.

Photo of Traveling Library Box from the early 1900s.

The University Interscholastic League (UIL) was founded by Extended Campus in 1910 to encourage students to gain leadership, skill-building and collaboration experience through arts, sports and academic competitions. It stands as the largest interschool organization of its kind in the world.

Petroleum Extension (PETEX) was founded in 1944 in partnership with UT’s engineering school to provide practical, distance education and specialized training for Texans working in oil and gas production.

Today, with satellite training centers located in Houston and Odessa, PETEX now offers both traditional instructor-led classroom courses and online courses to professional students in the oil and gas industry around the world.

Petroleum workers in Houston, 1944.

“With modernization and the evolving needs of learners, especially around technological change in the workplace, things may look different today than when Extended Campus first started, but our commitment to education and enthusiasm for sharing the resources of a top-tier university with the world are as strong as ever,” said Art Markman, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

Now, as EC celebrates its 115th anniversary, its programs have modernized to reach professionals who are seeking to further their education and careers, from those working in nonprofits to military personnel. In 2021, EC launched its program finder, an online catalog of more than 200 degrees, professional certificate programs, continuing education credits and workshops from programs across UT Austin.

EC also supports professional education students in Texas through scholarships. The Road to Success Scholarship Program, a need-based scholarship for several of the Center for Professional Education’s certificate programs, has provided more than $568,000 in support since 2020.

In recent decades, EC moved academic credit offerings for high school and college students online. The UT High School District is an accredited, public online high school district offering both a full online high school diploma program and individual courses or credit by exam. The University Extension (UEX) program’s evening classes and correspondence courses of the 1990s are now online courses taken by students around the world to earn academic credit from UT Austin.

In 2011, EC helped launch the OnRamps program, a signature dual-credit enrollment initiative, for The University of Texas at Austin. EC, through UEX, has played a significant role in supporting OnRamps’ mission of increasing postsecondary education access, readiness and attainment for thousands of high school students across Texas every year.

In addition to boosting access to a UT education, EC has programs aimed at helping nonprofits improve their effectiveness through relevant educational courses. Founded by distinguished UT alumnus Peyton Yates Jr., the PY Foundation connects UT Austin faculty to nonprofits in Artesia, New Mexico, for year-round bootcamps that include topics on developing a strong board of directors, general operations and business best practices. Course catalogs are developed annually based on need and demand.

“Extended Campus has always been a positive influence in teaching and learning,” Markman said. “It started with books shipped across Texas and, now, we have a UT-quality education at the fingertips of students and professionals around the globe. We look forward to our future and continuing to expand the reach of continued education.”

With over a hundred years under its belt, EC has always worked to expand its program offerings and continues to have exciting additions in the coming years. In the upcoming 2024–25 year, it will support the Jackson School of Geosciences in delivering an on-demand continuing education course to train geoscience professionals in carbon capture. EC is also helping the College of Liberal Arts launch an initiative to provide online access to the college’s wide array of language courses, including many lesser-spoken languages, to learners everywhere.

This summer, Extended Campus is sponsoring the June 30 celebration commemorating the Texas Longhorns’ move to the Southeastern Conference, and will have a presence on the South Mall with representatives available to speak with people interested in EC programs.