September 25, 2008

University of Illinois “˜Virtual’ Campus Falls Short of Goals

An online "Ëœvirtual' campus established by the University of Illinois nine months ago has fallen short of its goals for enrollment and course offerings.   

When classes began in January, University of Illinois President Joseph White hoped his professors would quickly create online programs in engineering, business and other lucrative fields.

However, "that has not happened," said White during in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"I'm not mad at anybody about that. I think we've come to realize that we have a university faculty that is at capacity," he said.

So far only 121 students have enrolled in just five degree programs, far short of the 9,000 students White projected would sign up by the end of the Global Campus' first five years.

Despite the disappointing results, White still wants to transform the Global Campus into an accredited, independent university to accelerate the development of degree programs.

White said the Global Campus is constrained by its university system status, and lacks the independence of the brick-and-mortar campuses in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield. The fact that the Global Campus' degree programs have to be created by departments on those campuses is also hindering progress.

Nicholas Burbules, a professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the Urbana-Champaign campus and chairman of the Faculty Senate there, said some departments White relied upon to develop degree programs may have decided against the idea.

"I think everyone understands the current model isn't generating the kind and number and diversity of programs that any of us envisioned," Burbules told the AP.

"I think frankly there were a lot of questions about implementation details."

White now plans to ask the university's board of trustees in November to let the Global Campus pursue its own accreditation, which would give the new campus the same status and independence as the university's three major campuses.

White originally envisioned the virtual campus as a revenue generator, and projected it would add $10 million a year to the university system by providing affordable higher education access to those who could not easily attend classes at a U of I campus.

White said the Global Campus could gain accreditation, create new degree programs and utilize interested faculty from existing campuses without exceeding its $8.9 million budget for this year.

The idea of a "Ëœvirtual' online campus is nothing new, and many institutions have had more success with such initiatives.  The University of Massachusetts, for example, said in April its online program had 33,900 enrollments and generated revenue of $37 million during its last fiscal year.   And roughly 3.5 million students nationwide took at least one online course during the fall 2006 term, according to a Sloan Consortium report released last year.

Trustees David Dorris and Robert Vickery say they support the concept of restructuring the Global Campus, although they haven't yet seen the details of White's proposal.

"We have not had the success thus far that we had anticipated, so I think it's appropriate," Dorris told the AP.

If trustees approve the plan, White says the Global Campus could win accreditation in two to three years, shorter than the usual time required.  He said he expects the status of the university's three established campuses would help facilitate the process.

White plans to launch at least one degree-completion program within a year.  However, he won't permit the Global Campus to lower the university's existing standards to increase enrollment and offerings, he added.

"Access to mediocrity is no bargain," he said.

"Our goal is that all the University of Illinois' programs be of the highest quality."


On The Net:

University of Illinois

University Of Illinois Global Campus