UPDATE: University of Arkansas President Donald Bobbitt proposes on-line university | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

UPDATE: University of Arkansas President Donald Bobbitt proposes on-line university

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 7:17 AM

GOING ON-LINE: UA System President Donald Bobbitt has a plan.
  • GOING ON-LINE: UA System President Donald Bobbitt has a plan.
University of Arkansas faculty members have begun receiving word  of System President Donald Bobbitt's intention to present an expansive on-line university proposal to the UA Board of Trustees Thursday in Fort Smith. It's no less than he's been talking about since his arrival, but it has some faculty members apprehensive.


The letter was distributed by Michael Moore, a UA system vice president, Tuesday afternoon to select faculty members who were asked to distribute it further to colleagues. Bobbitt's idea is pitched in his letter as a limited venture targeting adults and to compete with other on-line private higher ed competitors.   As Bobbitt's letter notes, this builds on earlier efforts. What's next is arriving at a governance structure. He writes, in part:

At a meeting at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Thursday, I will ask the Board of Trustees to consider expanding an existing consortium of UA System campuses to participate in planning for a new online university that will offer a limited number of degree programs designed for adults who need the flexibility afforded by online education. A key component of the proposal is to invite faculty from across the UA System to participate in developing and teaching courses and planning degree programs that will target workforce needs in the state.

The vision for the online university is to utilize high quality courses, affordable tuition and flexible scheduling in developing a small number of workforce relevant degree programs designed for adults who are unable to access traditional campuses because of job, family and financial constraints. As you know, many such students currently turn to expensive for-profit online institutions, which operate hundreds of programs in Arkansas, for higher education options.

A letter to UALR faculty from an officer of the UALR faculty Senate provided some details:

The proposal is to create a new online "campus" within the University of Arkansas system.

Their plan is to offer degree programs by this new university. Courses will be taught by UA faculty from all campuses (for extra compensation or release or as part of their load), and this new university will admit students and award degrees. They will be hiring instructional designers to assure quality of the courses; and they will be using learning analytics to help with advising students.

I'm not sure who will be designing the curriculum, but they talk about having UA faculty from all the campuses design a governance structure, which might include that function.

They hope to run eight 6-week terms a year, during which time students will take one course a term.

It will take them at least two years to get accredited, which means they will be using existing campus programs at first. Once they are accredited, they will start running their own programs. 

A faculty member who passed along word of the developments to me notes that development of an on-line university inevitably has implications for the existing conventional campuses with all their brick-and-mortar buildings. Not necessarily happy implications in every respect. But the world is moving in this direction rapidly. The UA Board agenda includes a number of other items on expanding on-line offerings at existing campuses. We've written several times about Bobbitt's ideas. He spoke on them at one our Big Idea sessions a couple of years ago. This is a cover story that delved into his thinking in 2011.

The UA Board meets Thursday and Friday in Fort Smith. Bobbitt's letter says his proposal is to be discussed Thursday. I'm now told it will be at a technology committee meeting at 10 a.m.

UPDATE: Here's the outline of what Moore and former UAF Chancellor Dan Ferritor will say to the UA Board on Thursday. The pitch is a dramatic expansion in college  for Arkansas. 
Following my report this morning, the UA issued a news release. It notes that some 80 institutions are operating 1,000 degree programs in Arkansas. It says a half-million college-educated people are needed to meet workforce needs by 2025 and that some 358,000 adults now have some college background, but no degree or other certificate. The release:


LITTLE ROCK - The Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas will consider a plan developed by UA System President Dr. Donald R. Bobbitt and his staff to begin a new online education initiative dedicated to reaching students who aren’t currently served by public higher education in Arkansas.

At a meeting at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Thursday, Bobbitt will ask the board to consider expanding a consortium of UA System campuses to participate in planning for a new online university that will offer a limited number of degree programs designed for adults who need the flexibility afforded by online education. The initiative is a response to a resolution passed by the board in November 2012 directing the president to coordinate and expand online education in the system.

The vision for the online university is to utilize high quality courses, affordable tuition and flexible scheduling in developing a small number of workforce relevant degree programs designed for adults who are unable to access traditional campuses because of job, family and financial constraints. Many such students currently turn to expensive for-profit online institutions for higher education options.

“Our state ranks 49th in educational attainment and if we are going to reach Governor Beebe’s goal to double the number of Arkansans with college degrees by 2025, public higher education must deliver quality educational options to non-traditional students who desire to attend college online,” Bobbitt said. “We have spent the past year visiting with constituencies across the UA System and throughout Arkansas, and we’ve studied similar efforts in other states. I believe creating an online university focused on adult learners is the best way for us to answer the board of trustees’ call to expand and coordinate online education in the UA System.”

The goal of the project is to complement the efforts of the traditional institutions in the UA System, which offer some targeted online programs among traditional face-to-face on-campus instruction. A key component of the proposal is to invite faculty from across the UA System to participate in developing and teaching courses and planning degree programs that will target workforce needs in the state.

The proposal calls for initial degree programs to be offered by fall 2015 in partnership with other UA System campuses while the new university seeks accreditation.

The board will consider approving the new university and authorizing Bobbitt and his staff to begin organizing a governance structure that involves faculty from across the UA System. Dr. Michael Moore, vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Daniel Ferritor, vice president for learning technologies, will present the plan at the board meeting.

Moore, who has extensive experience teaching, planning and implementing online courses and degree programs, has led the initial planning of the project. Moore believes it’s necessary to create a new university because online students have different needs than traditional students who mostly attend face-to-face classes on college campuses.

“Online-only students, particularly those adults who are currently turning to for-profit colleges for higher education, have a specific set of needs that you have to meet in order to attract them,” Moore said. “To accomplish our goals, we’ll need to create processes for enrollment management, course scheduling, financial aid and other areas that are specifically focused on online students. We believe it’s imperative that the state’s largest university system provide a high quality, affordable public higher education option to these students.”

There are currently more than 80 out-of-state institutions, including many for-profit schools, operating more than 1,000 degree programs in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, and more such institutions will seek approval to offer degrees from the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board next month.

Arkansas needs more than 519,000 additional college graduates to meet workforce needs by 2025, according to the Lumina Foundation, which estimates there are more than 358,000 adults in the state who have completed some college but not earned a credential.

“Our idea is to utilize our outstanding faculty to create programs that will lead students directly into the workforce,” Moore said. “We hope to attract those students who are looking at the for-profits, as well as those who have some college but need a flexible option to complete their degree.”

The Distance Education and Technology Committee of the board of trustees will meet at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center at UAFS. 

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