Legislators Start ‘Homework’ on Online Only University
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It’s still too early to submit a pdf entrance application or even bookmark as a favorite Weatherford University.
While the logistics of creating the state’s 13th university, one that exists only via the Internet, would be expected to increase access to education in the Sunshine State, there remains the matter of potential taxpayers’ cost.
And the proposal, which went before several legislative committees this week, also comes with concerns about duplication of effort as Florida’s existing universities already offer many highly ranked online programs.
Even without having to purchase acres of fields or put up any ivy-covered bricks and mortar, building a “world class” campus that exists strictly in the paperless global universe of the Internet for 30,000 to 50,000 students could run from $30 million to $70 million to set up, according to the Boston-based business strategy and investing consulting firm The Parthenon Group.
The cost is about $20 million more than for most new traditional campuses. The bulk of the money for an online campus would be pumped into setting up the technology and marketing the new brand, hiring administrators, instructors, online and admission staff.
Once in place, however, the recurring annual costs are expected to be more manageable.
House Education Committee Chair Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, directed her committee members on Thursday to do their “homework” on the proposal.
And she considered online education as another way of providing education to a generation that is growing up on such technology.
“Our children today can’t imagine not being able to do things online,” said O’Toole, who offered no timeline on advancing the concept.
However, committee member Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, questioned the value of creating an online university when the programs are already offered by many state universities.
“I only see this as a very expensive way to move the same things that are already happening at our universities to a new university,” Danish said.
Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, who represents University of Central Florida’s main campus, said his school has “aggressively sought to improve access to students by providing online degrees."
The idea of such a campus has been championed for more than a year by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has said “That’s where the world is headed.”
Rob Lytle, a partner with Parthenon, said creating an online campus shouldn’t be that difficult a change for many of today’s students.
In Florida, already about 40 percent of students are expected to take an online course during their university experience, above the approximately 33 percent for students nationwide, he said.
“Every empirical study we’re aware of would indicate that an online education is as good as, or slightly better than, face to face instruction,” Lytle said.
The positives of such a campus would be that it builds a link between labor markets and education, expands access to education, enhances learning of students, more closely links labor markets to education, and provides a cheaper education, Lytle said.
Florida would be the second state to create such a campus, with its eyes on a much larger product than Colorado State University-Global Campus that was started for $12 million in 2007 and now offers 10 undergraduate degree programs to about 5,600 students.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.