New Online Education Initiative Considered by UA

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LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) – 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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