Tuesday, October 25, 2005

U Phoenix, Online Programs at the U of I, and Extension

Yesterday afternoon and this morning I'm at an online learning retreat for our campus. At dinner last night, I sat next to some colleagues from the Computer Science department. It is one of the top rated programs in its field nationally. They have an online Masters program with about 100 students per year. A question is whether they want to/are able to grow. I was told that a big deal to them is quality of the applicants. They must have good and relevant work experience and have good GPAs as undergrads. This limits their pool of applicants. But it does allow CS to treat its online program as equivalent to the on ground program and to preserve the integrity of the degree.

This is an aggregator Web site of Computer science programs available online. The program at Illinois is not listed, but University of Phoenix is. Indeed, the suggestion that only qualified applicants need apply is nowhere to be found on this site. It does say that programs are either accredited or state licensed. That is the quality assuring mechanism.

After dinner last night President White made some remarks about online education and he asked why Land Grant Universities haven't done more in this area, since it would seem to be a natural continuation of the mission. One simple observation is that the Land Grant mission is manifest mostly via extension programs, which are available to all citizens of the state but are non-degree, while the market that U Phoenix operates in is in the main a degree program market.

But one might make a different distinction, one that President White might harp on. Extension is still fundamentally an agricultural program and run through that college. The Continuing Education possibilities that online learning offers apply mostly to the other 95% of the citizenry, who may very well go through job displacement as a consequence of global flattening. So, I would argue, we should consider whether our historic structures actually block our ability to do current and new ventures in online learning that would open opportunities to people we haven't reached.

This could be our own alumni, or presumably the alumni of peer institutions. Some of them, one might imagine, are facing job pressure from global flattening and one would like to think that we'd think our own alumni would pass the litmus test regarding student quality.

But I don't see us beating down the doors to start a venture of this sort. Is it, perhaps, that we have less to offer people who've already gotten a bachelors degree than one might imagine?

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