"The time has come to write a next major chapter in the development of the University of Illinois,” President B. Joseph White told the UI Board of Trustees at its Sept. 7 meeting in Urbana. White proposed doing that by implementing an extensive online degree program, tentatively known as the Global Campus. White and Chester Gardner, special assistant to the president for the Global Campus, outlined the initiative, which would offer degree programs primarily over the Web to qualified students.
“The simple fact is that there are many, many people – able, motivated, talented people – who will never have the freedom, the privilege and the resources to spend an extended period of time on one of our campuses to get a UI education and to earn a UI degree in the traditional way,” White said. “We think it’s vital that we reach out to those people, first in the state of Illinois and then beyond, who want and need a UI education.”
Although more than 85 percent of Americans earn high-school diplomas, only 30 percent earn college degrees, which White called an “alarming gap at a time when a college education is crucial for personal dream and goal fulfillment and for the nation to be competitive and prosperous.”
A 40-member task force comprising faculty and staff members, administrators and Trustees Robert Vickrey and Kenneth Schmidt spent eight months exploring the merits of beginning an online degree program and recommended proceeding with it. Gardner said that he and White are arranging financing for the program, which they estimate will cost about $20 million. Under the proposal, the university would form a limited liability company/university-related organization, similar to the companies that run the Research Park and IllinoisVENTURES, the university’s technology commercialization initiative, to administer the Global Campus.
If all goes as planned, the Global Campus would start in January 2007 with the first meeting of its Board of Managers, a body appointed by the trustees and chaired by White. The first class term would begin in January 2008.
While supportive of the concept, Trustee Niranjan Shah expressed concern that the university would be delegating “fiduciary responsibility to someone else where there
is less accountability,” and said that he was “totally surprised and shocked at how quickly” the project was proceeding.
Educational quality was among several issues that faculty members were concerned about and which Terry Bodenhorn, chair of the University Senates Conference, discussed in a Sept. 5 letter to White and Gardner. The letter is available on the Urbana-Champaign Senate’s Web site, www.senate.uiuc.edu.
Schmidt, chair of the board’s Academic Affairs Committee, which met with faculty senate leaders prior to the board meeting, summed up faculty members’ concerns: “It must be the premier distance-learning program, and if it isn’t that program, then we shouldn’t be doing it.”
Gardner and White are gathering input from faculty members on all three campuses and are investigating working with companies that assist in administering online degree programs. Some services, payroll in particular, likely would be done by an outside company for cost effectiveness, Gardner said.
While many institutions, including Cornell University and New York University, tried to start online programs in the late 1990s and failed, the public is now more comfortable using the Web and has a greater appreciation for higher education, Gardner said. While most Big Ten peers of the Urbana campus – such as Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University – offer some online programs, none offers as extensive a program as the one proposed at Illinois.
Dominant institutions in online education include the University of Phoenix (130,000 students, 56 programs), the University of Maryland University College (48,000 students, 40 programs) and the University of Massachusetts UMass Online (21,000 students, 40 programs), Gardner said.
Trustee Frances Carroll reiterated concerns about academic quality but added: “I agree that it’s time for us to begin looking at a more global type of offering for the UI. … We can no longer wait for someone else to take the lead.”
A 15-member start-up team, which includes UI experts on online learning, project management and student/business services, is working out the details, such as developing an identity for the program, organizational design and formation of the limited liability company, student enrollment and admission processes, and hiring and training faculty members. They will present final plans to the Academic Affairs Committee and the board of trustees in November.
During a brief break from board business, Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn spoke at a mid-morning ceremony the trustees attended marking the opening of the Portrait of a Soldier exhibition, a traveling memorial with portraits of Illinois soldiers killed in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, and after. The exhibition was displayed in the Illini Union Art Gallery Sept. 7-12.
In other business, the trustees approved
A final operating budget for Fiscal Year ’07, which began July 1, of $3.67 billion, a $15.6 million reduction in expenses from the preliminary budget presented in June. The board also approved a request for $101 million in new state appropriations next fiscal year, which will begin July 1, 2007. The trustees’ budget discussions were nearly drowned out by the chants of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and Local 698, who picketed outside the Illini Union at noon demanding higher wages and new contracts.
The concurrent appointment of David L. Chicoine, vice president for technology and economic development, as interim vice president for academic affairs, retroactive to July 1.
The renaming of the Remote Library Storage Facility at the Urbana campus as the Oak Street Library Facility, and the designation of the facility’s second floor as the John “Bud” Velde Jr. Conservation Laboratory.
The transfer of the university-owned Pell Farm, a 160-acre property at the southwest corner of Windsor and Philo roads in Urbana, to the UI Foundation in exchange for like-valued, foundation-owned properties within the boundaries of the Campus Master Plan. The transaction will take place after the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences finishes relocating its pomology research from Pell Farm to another South Farms location by January 2008.