Board of Governors aims for higher online enrollment

Written by: Philippe Buteau/Staff Writer

The Board of Governors of the State University System approved a plan that, if successful by its end, will have 40 percent of undergraduates taking a course online.

But for Florida students to buy into distance learning, they must be able to afford it, which was one of the main talking points among university presidents and board members during the Innovation and Online Committee meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4.

Committee members said they have mixed feelings about having students take a higher portion of their courses online, especially when considering the costs to have the necessary bandwidth.

University President Mark Rosenberg said putting together a high quality online course is itself a cost.

“We are competing in an increasingly high-production value market,” said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg was one of five university presidents on a task force the Innovation and Online Committee created to set online education goals for the next 10 years.

He said a tactic to spur online education growth is to determine means to get the most out of the distance learning fee, which at FIU is $53.

The pricing for online courses varies from school to school; out-of-state students do not have to pay an online fee at the University of Central Florida.

Most schools charge a fee and there is a “great deal of discussion about fee itself,” said Pam Northrup, executive director of Florida Virtual Campus and Complete Florida.

She said how the fee is used is different statewide and that the fee enabled the SUS to move forward in online education.

The SUS will improve its shared services to support online program development and delivery costs, according to the 2025 SUS Strategic Plan for Online Education. Also, the system will reduce costs of educational materials for students and adopt teaching models that will create “instructional efficiencies.” The SUS will determine the costs of online education for each of its campuses.

Reducing the cost of electronic textbooks and creating a statewide model for their use were plans that Northrup presented.

She said other states, Georgia and New York, for example, have negotiated for their university systems to reduce the cost of textbooks.

“There are many different ways to reduce the sticker price for students,” Northrup said.

She cited $7 million of shared electronic resources the SUS has in its university libraries. And there are tools to make licensing agreements less expensive.

The prior-learning model, which allows students to test out of what they already learned, accelerates students towards completion without increasing the cost.

The BoG’s plan, approved unanimously at their Nov. 5 meeting at FIU, could also swap who’s leading the nation in distance learning; Florida is currently second to Texas in students enrolled in online courses.

The plan’s targets, which start with 2017-2018 in the draft, has distance-learning enrollment increasing incrementally throughout the next 10 years.

In ‘17-18, the BoG hopes to have 26 percent of students enrolled in an online course. But by 2025, enrollment in online courses should include 40 percent of undergraduates.

Board member Dean Colson questioned the push for online asking, “Why are we aspiring to that? Is it because it’s the best way to teach students? Is it because there will be a demand for it?”

Rosenberg and board members acknowledged challenges in reaching that goal and growing higher education online.

“We are making leaps and assuming that if we offer it, they will come,’” Rosenberg said. “That issue of access could be worse by 2025.”

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