UF Online expects 24,000 students within 10 years
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.
The University of Florida's online bachelor's degree program will start off with a small number of students and it will operate in the red for the first few years but ramp up to 24,100 students and millions in profits within 10 years, administrators told the board of trustees this week.
UF was given a legislative mandate to create an online baccalaureate program, with $10 million in startup money and $5 million a year for the next five years.
Its goal is to offer the same level academic curriculum as the on-campus courses, at 75 percent of the cost of regular tuition (about $112 per credit hour), and without many of the fees residential students pay for activities and services.
"We don't want this degree to be a consolation prize for those that couldn't get into the residential program," said Andy McCollough, associate provost for UF.
Budget projections show the online program operating in the red for the first four years and having a profit margin of $14.5 million with a cumulative fund balance of $43.6 million by the 10th year.
The UF Online program will start with five bachelor's programs and expand eventually to 35 programs by 2019, McCollough said. It began accepting applications online Sept. 3, and the cut-off for first-time freshmen is Nov. 1. Classes are scheduled to begin Jan. 6.
Because of the short amount of time given by the Legislature to recruit students, McCollough said a larger percentage of the 150 students who have applied for the first semester are transfer students as opposed to first-time-in-college freshmen. But he said that mix should flip as university recruiters work on signing up freshmen for next fall.
Also, the university developed five bachelor's programs that are already successful in the 2+2 program that allows students with associate's degrees to complete the coursework needed for their bachelor's degrees online.
UF already has 7,000 students taking online courses in the 2+2 program, the popular MBA program and other master's degree, doctoral and professional programs.
The business plan for UF Online anticipates a 57/43 mix of in-state to out-of-state students, who will pay about four times more per credit hour than in-state students.
All first-time-in-college UF Online students would be required to take their first two years entirely online, with the option of transferring after getting their associate's degree.
Provost Joe Glover said the e-classes also could serve high school students interested in dual enrollment because the courses will meet general education requirements for the state university system. Those high school students would be enrolled at UF and paying UF tuition.
"There is a huge market among high school students taking college courses," Glover said. "We are exploring that as well."
Online students won't pay a host of activity and service fees that pay for campus amenities like the infirmary and the Southwest Recreation Center, Glover said.
"There are certain things they won't have access to because they are not physically here, so they are not paying for them," Glover said.
Trustee Marshall Criser III asked what kind of social experience virtual students would have without the same level of physical engagement as residential students who go to brick-and-mortar classes.
Glover said administrators are discussing ways that online students could become involved in campus activities in a limited way, but they have to go about it cautiously.
"When you reach 24,000 students, you don't want them all descending on Gainesville," Glover said.
The developers of the online program have discussed ways to create a sense of community among the online students. One way to raise the level of social engagement would be to have Gator clubs in cities where students can meet up from time to time, Glover said.
David Kratzer, vice president for Student Affairs, said the university could offer an a la carte menu, but they have yet to figure out how that would impact the university.
Kratzer said studies have shown that success is determined by the level of engagement, and UF is shooting for an 80 to 90 percent rate of retention from semester to semester to make the program viable.
McCollough predicted that the online students likely would be what he called "active engagers."
"I don't think the online students are going to stay outside and keep looking in," McCollough said. "They are going to organize themselves."