UF may take the lead in state's online degree project

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.

State higher education leaders want to coordinate the university system's online education efforts, and the University of Florida might be leading the charge.

The Board of Governors' strategic planning committee met at UF on Wednesday to develop a plan to propose to the full board next week. Officials would like to present a framework to the Legislature before the start of the session on March 5 with hopes of seeking funding.

The committee approved two recommendations to make to the board. One is to use board-approved metrics for pre-eminence to choose a university that would host a new set of online degree programs to offer to in-state and international students. That university would also conduct research in online learning and its associated technology.

Committee members and university officials both acknowledged that UF would be in prime position to take the lead on such a project.

Before a committee discussion, UF officials made a comprehensive presentation on its online programs, playing lecture examples and showing enrollment data.

Andy McCollough, UF's associate provost for teaching and technology, said the university has 70 graduate and 10 undergraduate degree programs that are exclusively online. With 7,000 students currently enrolled in growing online programs that brought in $70 million in gross revenue during the 2011-2012 year, McCollough emphasized that admission standards remain high for the distance education students.

"There's no student enrolled in any program that is delivered by the University of Florida that cannot meet the standard for admission," he said.

Board members were so impressed with UF's presentation that some even suggested UF could easily lead the effort.

"I would say let's not look for an outside entity to help us but one of our state universities to help us," said board member Patricia Frost. "And let it be UF, and we help coordinate the others to not overlap."

Other members said UF would make a fine candidate, but an application process should be created to allow other universities to submit proposals.

In the other recommendation, the committee proposed that State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan create a system-wide workgroup to examine current online degree offerings and ways to improve them.

After the meeting, UF President Bernie Machen said that the university could handle the task with additional state support.

"The only question is one of scale. Can we scale up to meet the anticipated demand?" he said. "If the resources come from the Legislature, I think we can."

Contact Joey Flechas 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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