When the UI Board of Trustees met on Jan. 18, President B. Joseph White presented updated plans for the Global Campus online degree initiative that addressed faculty concerns about academic quality and governance.
Under the plan, first presented to trustees Sept. 7, the program would have been administered by a separate, limited liability company and taught primarily by adjunct faculty members. After the senates of all three campuses expressed their concerns, White and other administrators met with faculty members and student representatives Jan. 8.
The revised plan, the result of that meeting, is now called the Global Campus Partnership – no longer a separate corporation but an academic unit with departmental units on each campus, overseen by an academic council, with courses designed by faculty members and academic administrators, approved through the same process as traditional courses, and taught by instructors who have been trained in online technology by faculty “master teachers.”
“From the beginning, the faculty was strongly in favor of the key mission elements – affordability and accessibility,” said Terry Bodenhorn, chair of the University Senates Conference and professor of history at the Springfield campus. “I’m now confident that the faculty will be able to strongly support not just the mission, but how the mission will be carried out.”
White emphasized the driving force behind the Global Campus initiative, which he first mentioned in his inaugural speech in September 2005.
“It’s really about access,” he said, explaining that a quality online degree program brings higher education to those who cannot attend a traditional campus because of financial constraints or family or job responsibilities.
“It’s part of the future of all higher education,” said White, who added that an online degree program also could produce revenue for the university.
Chester Gardner, the special assistant to the president who is directing the Global Campus initiative, presented two five-year projections for the program.
In a favorable scenario, the program would reach a maximum operating deficit of $13.4 million at the end of FY 2009, start turning a profit the next year, and have a $30 million operating surplus and an enrollment of 9,300 students in FY 2012.
In the worst-case scenario, the operating deficit would hit $19 million in FY 2010, with the break-even point in FY 2011 and an operating surplus of about $20 million and an enrollment of 7,850 in FY 2012.
The surplus would go back to the Global Campus, its partnering academic units, and for other academic activities universitywide, Gardner said.
To be successful, Global Campus must be student-centered, Gardner said, with decisions about admissions within 48 hours and financial aid within 72 hours; flexible course schedules; courses in high-demand subjects; and excellent support services. Success will require the cooperation of faculty members, administrators, staff members and trustees, he said.
“Making Global Campus successful is going to take a team approach,” Gardner said. “No one person can make it happen.”
Several trustees questioned White, Gardner and Bodenhorn about ensuring the same of level of quality offered by traditionally taught courses.
The online degree program can be accessible and affordable, “but it cannot be a second-class product,” said trustee Robert Sperling. “We’ve got taxpayers’ money and students’ success at stake.”
The proposal does carry some risk, White said.
“We need a line of credit from the university of up to $20 million. If this venture fails, we won’t get it back,” he said, and added that the importance of online education to the university’s mission and the opportunity to become a leader in the future of higher education make the venture worthwhile. “Even if it’s a break-even operation, we ought to do this.”
A final version of the proposed program – which would offer undergraduate and graduate degrees, certificate and training programs, and advanced placement courses to thousands of students throughout the world – could be presented to the trustees for approval March 13.