UF hoping to use statewide push to complement online offerings
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 2:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 2:54 p.m.
As the state of Florida considers ways to expand online education, the University of Florida wants to make sure the effort benefits — rather than threatens — its programs.
A consulting group recently issued a report to the Florida Board of Governors on the expansion of online degrees. The Parthenon Group's report detailed four options, including allowing an existing university to lead the effort or creating a new online-only institution.
UF officials are looking to participate rather than have the effort compete with UF's online programs, which currently generate $70 million annually in gross revenue.
"We are particularly concerned that as new entities and new political divisions are created, that we not find our business impinged ... because most of the colleges at the university now depend in some form or another on that distance-ed revenue," UF Provost Joe Glover said at a recent Faculty Senate meeting.
New Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford publicly floated the idea of creating an online-only 13th state university at a Board of Governors meeting in January. Glover said he didn't expect the state to create such a university from scratch because of the cost and years-long process for such an institution to gain accreditation.
"I tend to believe in the end the state will not go for that option," he said.
Another possibility is having Western Governors University, a private online university, run the effort. Founded by the governors of Western states, the university now has students across the country and agreements with Indiana, Texas and Washington for subsidiaries there.
Other options include allowing Florida's state universities to continue to develop online offerings on their own. Another option would be using a coordinating body to direct the development and marketing of online degree program offerings across the state university system.
The final option would be to select one or more institutions to drive the development of new online programs in target areas. The options will be presented Dec. 17 to a Board of Governors committee, with the goal of developing recommendations for consideration by the full board.
Glover, who will represent state universities before the committee, said the state either could use tuition to largely fund the online effort or use state funding to keep tuition low.
"It seems to be the case that when the Legislature puts its mind to it, it can find the money to do these things," Glover said. "The only question is where does it carve it out."
The effort comes as UF has seen continued growth in recent years in its online programs. After about 10 percent growth in each of the past five years, UF currently has about 7,000 students in 80 online degree-granting programs and 50 online certificate programs.
UF also has a new partnership with Coursera, a company that provided free online courses. It is among 33 universities that have partnered with Coursera to offer so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
UF is spending about $125,000 to offer five classes through Coursera by January, said Andy McCollough, UF's associate provost for teaching and technology.
"I look at that as an investment," he told the Faculty Senate. "I'm confident that we're going to get a return that is significant based on that investment."
Coursera announced last week that the American Council on Education would evaluate about five of its classes initially to decide whether they could be taken for credit. Such a decision would pave the way for profits from the courses that would be split between the council, Coursera and the institutions offering them, McCollough said.
He said online education is changing rapidly in areas such as the participants in the field and technology being used.
"For the first 35 years when I worked here at the university, the major technology change was going from black boards to white boards — and that was a shock," he said. "In the last five years, things change daily."
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.
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