One of the many adverse developments resulting from the Covid pandemic is the proliferation of school closures, interrupting the learning process for children as well as adults regardless of their level of learning – ranging from pre-school through college. Particular attention, to a large extent, has been properly focused on pre-school through high school education with the advent of virtual education allowing for these students “to attend school” at home or at places distant from their normal classrooms. The effectiveness of such distance learning when available has been the subject of many debates, with “experts” at different levels having their opinions as to the efficacy of such distance learning instruction techniques. The “bottom line” conclusion drawn by many was that under the circumstances when dealing with Covid and its catastrophic effects including the number of deaths (over 500,000) in America alone, there was no choice but to close schools for health purposes. Even worse, as time passed, the proper response to the pandemic became a “political” issue and an economic issue, oftentimes “clouding” the proper response to the pandemic as related to school closures. The popular ultimate response seemed to be to allow students to voluntarily return to either “brick and mortar” education, a virtual learning possibility, or a combination of both. The debate continues, however.
These same debates in response to the Covid environment have been witnessed at the college and post-undergraduate college levels including trade school teaching methods. Some colleges and trade schools have closed during the pandemic, others have converted to virtual teaching, and still others have converted to a combination of both. Basically, the same arguments for and against alternate educational training have been topics for discussion.
But what about formal educational opportunities on Workers’ Compensation issues specifically, the primary focus of WCI? As best described by the author, Workers’ Compensation education at the college level nationwide has been almost non-existent with or without a pandemic. Very few law schools consider Workers’ Compensation as an appropriate area of the law that should be a part of legal training. The best example of a lack of educational opportunities in the area of Workers’ Compensation is that, unlike other areas of the law, there is no committee of the American Bar Association specifically designated for Workers’ Compensation. “Lip service” for workers’ compensation matters is given by trade associations but little, if any, formal support is provided. Education within the Workers’ Compensation community has been best described as a series of “presentations,” “free webinars” or “seminars” designed primarily for regulatory certifications for continuing education requirements and for many as a way of marketing their services. The largest effort to educate on workers’ compensation is the Annual Workers’ Compensation/Safety and Health Conference sponsored by WCI.
Several years ago and prior to the pandemic, WCI expressed a concern with the Florida State University College of Law that Workers’ Compensation education was a valid part of the law that needed to be taught in the law school; this attention to workers’ compensation of necessity needed to be part of the standard educational offerings for law students but more importantly, for non-lawyers who dealt with workers’ compensation matters – either as an advocate for injured workers or as a representative of the interest of the employer. It was then that WCI first learned of the Juris Master’s Degree Program that had been newly created by the law school, a perfect match for WCI’s interest in providing an online educational degree program that included workers’ compensation issues that would be beneficial to students in their existing job or types of employment that they wished to pursue.
As pointed out in an article from the Wall Street Journal dated April 3-4, 2021, “The man who made online college work” online instruction in academia began around 2008 when “massive open online courses . . . began to filter into higher education. They were free, novel, and potentially subversive. In 2011, 170,000 students worldwide enrolled for a Stanford . . . (online) course on artificial intelligence . . . But (online courses) had a large attrition rate of 93%. . . . People started and didn’t finish, because the major thing that they were missing was a credential at the end.” According to a former Dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), who started an online Master’s Degree Program in Computer Science (the first ever college degree program entirely online), “the (Master’s) degree gave students an incentive to persist.”
Georgia Tech started its online Master’s Degree Program with 380 online degree students in January, 2014. Today they have more than 11,000 students enrolled. Almost all of the students could not have obtained a Master’s Degree without the online program. The Florida State University College of Law began its Juris Master Degree Program in the Fall of 2017 with 34 students and has flourished since inception. The JM program currently has over 425 students. In 2020, workers’ compensation began playing a role in the evolution of the FSU College of Law JM Program with approximately 70 students enrolling in the inaugural Workers’ Compensation class. The class, developed with the assistance of WCI, is part of two of the JM concentrations: Legal Risk Management, Contracting, and Compliance, and Employment Law and HR Risk Management. WCI provides the educational material and professor for the Workers’ Compensation class. The lectures, readings, and assignments for the course focus on educating students (non-lawyers) on workers’ compensation issues that they can actually use in their jobs.
Many felt that a Master’s Degree formula for online education was the type of educational programs for the future. According to the Wall Street Journal article above referenced, the “Georgia Tech Degree has spawned about 30 emulators at other universities . . . . (T)he first copycat was the online Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Illinois, which launched in 2016.”
And then came the horrors of the Covid pandemic. Online education suddenly became the only graduate educational base. It was during these pandemic times that online training for advanced educational degrees has proved its real worth. Even before the pandemic, however, the educational institutions as summarized above, the FSU College of Law and others including WCI began to understand the importance of online education particularly for college graduates who were financially precluded from returning to college campuses to obtain a Master’s Degree.
The FSU College of Law Juris Master’s (“JM”) program is a 30 credit-hour master’s in law for working professionals, primarily those with risk management and regulatory compliance portfolios. The JM program is completely online and asynchronous (students watch recorded video lectures), making it easier for working professionals to complete the degree. There are five JM concentrations: Legal Risk Management, Contracting, and Compliance; Employment Law and HR Risk Management; Health Care Regulation; Financial Regulation and Compliance; and Cybersecurity, Privacy, and Technology Risk Management.
For more information about the FSU College of Law JM program, please visit the website for the Juris Master Online Program. If you have questions and would like to speak with a member of the Juris Master Program team, please contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone: 850.644.7591; or by completing the Juris Master Inquiry Form.
To further encourage training and educational advancement in Workers’ Compensation, WCI has also established a scholarship program for individuals involved with workers’ compensation issues in their current jobs, or pursuing employment in the workers’ compensation arena. Application information can be obtained by referring to the WCI website www.wci360.com. More information about the program can be obtained in an informational breakout session at this year’s Workers’ Compensation Conference.