By Denise-Marie Ordway
State education leaders want to boost the number of Floridians with college degrees.
The State University System is investigating ways to expand online education as a way to help more Floridians earn college degrees.
A committee of the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s public universities, met Monday to discuss boosting the number of bachelor’s and graduate degrees that students can complete almost exclusively through online classes.
While the group did not make a decision, it did shy away from one of the most controversial ideas on the table — creating a new, fully-online university. Some education leaders had spoken out against the idea, but some committee members also got sticker shock when they learned that it could cost an estimated $65 million to $70 million.
Higher education officials in Florida and around the country are taking a hard look at how to better use online programs to accommodate students needing more flexibility in their academic schedules — including working adults with families.
Today, online programs vary greatly among the state’s public colleges and universities. Some schools offer only a few online courses while others offer a broad range of online courses and degrees.
For example, the University of Central Florida, considered a national leader in virtual education, offers more than two dozen online degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in health services administration and several master’s degrees in engineering.
As university officials research expanding online education, they might consider reducing tuition for at least some online programs as way to draw students to them. Officials also might consider lowering admissions requirements for at least some programs.
“We need to look carefully at the tuition model in order to be competitive,” Randy Hanna, chancellor of the state’s 28 community colleges, urged the committee. “For those [students] who are online only, seriously consider the potential of reducing tuition.”
One issue that still needs to be worked out is what portion of the new programs would be offered online. Some research suggests students do better in courses that pair online learning with some face-to-face instruction.
The Board of Governors is expected to discuss the issue again at a meeting next month. Meanwhile, the board’s staff will be working to develop a model for expanded online programs that is based on two recommendations from a private consultant.
The consultant, the Parthenon Group, had presented four options, including creating a university that focuses exclusively on online courses and degrees. Committee members said Monday that they want more information on the implications of such an initiative so they can continue exploring the idea over time. (Orlando Sentinel)