Happy 25th anniversary to the Center for Online Learning at Saint Leo University! On December 5, 1998, the university launched the COL. It was one of the first institutions to embrace online education with the center’s creation. The university also strives to improve its online offerings, and in Spring 2024, additional student services will be added for online learners. 

Those who study online will have virtual access to The Center for Academic Vision & Excellence (the CAVE) for mentoring and help with coursework, said Dr. Susan Kinsella, vice president of Academic Affairs.

History of Online Learning at Saint Leo

In 1996, under the direction of Dr. Arthur F. Kirk Jr., then-president, Saint Leo changed its approach to strategic planning and budgeting and examined its programs and practices. The university rid itself of programs that required great capital and personnel expenditures and looked for ways to consolidate.

In a blog for the Huffington Post in 2015, Kirk wrote, “In 1997-1998, with my first budget at Saint Leo, the Board of Trustees supported a single risky initiative. We reallocated $600,000 by abandoning some activities and programs and cutting some others to develop the infrastructure, content, and services to launch online programs.”

Thanks to that investment, Saint Leo became a leader in online education. It was an investment that paid off for the university and especially for its students. It also was a step that prepared the university — more so than other institutions — to switch to online classes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Student Perspective


Taylor Pawson is working toward her Doctor of Criminal Justice degree and studying online at Saint Leo. The New York resident earned a master’s in criminal justice in 2023 from the university. “Being an online student here at Saint Leo has not only accelerated my academic journey but also my current career,” she said. 

Pawson, who serves on Saint Leo’s WorldWide Student Advisory Council, said she preferred studying online because of the ability for flexibility, and “in some instances, being able to self-teach myself the material. 

“Your assigned Saint Leo professor provides a wealth of information and resources to guide you through any online course right from the first week,” she added. 

“When I was ‘window shopping’ for graduate courses, one of my requirements was the ability to work full time in the legal field while I was an online student,” Pawson said. “As an online student for my master’s and now as an online student again for my doctorate, convenience is a primary reason why I selected Saint Leo. Being able to maintain a work and school balance has been a necessity while being an online student, but I have been given the necessary tools and support from fellow students and staff to accomplish that.”

Pawson also served on the WorldWide Student Advisory Council and was inducted into Omega Nu Lambda, the national online honor society. 

The opportunities for Saint Leo students to connect with each other through the council and honor society, as well as through clubs, service activities, and more, also make the university a leader in online education. 

In January 2023, the university ranked in four categories for providing the best online bachelor’s and master’s programs in the United States, according to the 2023 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Programs edition. Saint Leo received honors in the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Psychology (ranked 36th); Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (124th); Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans (ranked 75th); and Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Business (127th) categories.

Highlights of Online Learning

Nancy Cheek, assistant director for Saint Leo WorldWide Student Life, which serves online and education center students, offers some highlights of online learning: 

● Saint Leo offers small classes and remote services to keep students connected to the university, their industry or program area, and each other. 

● Online programs are convenient. They feature synchronous and asynchronous coursework and activities, which meet the needs of adult learners juggling careers, family responsibilities, military service, and much more, Cheek said. With asynchronous learning, students access classes, homework, and other materials at any time convenient for them, with assignments due at a set time each week. Synchronous learning is in “real time,” with the student in one location such as at home or work, while the instructor is in another location. This allows for live interaction, much like being in a physical classroom. 

● Saint Leo provides education with a religious foundation, incorporating the university’s core values into all coursework, including each online course.