Gator Nation Set to Expand with Full Online Degree
Around the State
The Board of Governors Friday voted to approve the business plan for the online bachelor's program. The business plan contained an 82-page summary of courses and degree programs, student services, tuition and fees, budget, admissions and enrollment projections.
UF Online will give first-time college students the opportunity to work toward a college degree all with the help of their computer. College students also wouldn't be required to make the move to Gainesville to attend classes. Instead, they could take classes in the comfort of their own homes.
Associate Provost for Teaching and Technology Dr. Andy McCollough told Sunshine State News that the new online program signifies a major commitment to understanding and adopting the best parts of higher education for students in Florida through cutting-edge technology.
"I think this interest on the part of the Legislature in online learning is going to have benefits that permeate in all aspects of higher education," he said. "It's going to help residential education. We are going to get better and better at teaching online and teaching in general just because we must as we undertake this enterprise."
The number of freshmen enrolling at UF each year has remained steady at about 6,400, but according to UF, the annual number of applicants has skyrocketed by nearly 60 percent to more than 29,000. For that reason, the university has had to turn away thousands of students who meet admissions criteria, because there's just not enough physical space for them.
University President Bernie Machen said UF Online will give more students an opportunity to study at one of the state's leading universities.
“Many students have the academic skills to get into the University of Florida but haven’t been able to attend, either because we don’t have enough space on campus or because their life circumstances prevent them from leaving home,” Machen said. “This online undergraduate initiative removes both of those roadblocks, providing access to all students in Florida and around the world who have what it takes to be a Gator.”
House Speaker Will Weatherford has been particularly vocal about the necessity of an undergraduate online arm in the state university system. Increasing Floridians’ access to higher education is essential to training the workforce necessary to support the state’s economy, he said.
“UF Online is a game changer for the delivery of public higher education in Florida and around the world,” Weatherford said. “Starting next semester, distance will no longer be a barrier to obtaining a world-class education from a state university in Florida.”
Weatherford led the passage of legislation in May that called for the creation of fully online bachelor’s degree programs and a discounted tuition for Florida residents. The legislation also requires that online degree programs have the same academic rigor as UF’s traditional courses. Online students must also meet the same admissions criteria as UF's residential students.
Tuition for in-state students at UF Online will cost 75 percent of the price of on-campus classes, while out-of-state students will pay market rates. UF Online students will also be exempt from on-campus fees.
Not every major will be offered by UF Online, though. Five majors will be on the menu at the beginning of 2014 for UF online students: business administration, criminology and law, environmental management, health education and behavior, and sport management. Biology and psychology majors will be added in June 2014.
UF plans to eventually add more majors over the next five years and expects to cap at 35. The degrees students receive from UF online will be exactly the same as the degrees earned by resident students.
McCollough said the benefits of UF Online wouldn't just be limited to students enrolled in the program.
"I think it's clear [UF Online] will lead back into the resident campus, and the resident students will benefit from the fact that we now have this outreach responsibility," he said.
UF Online will be accepting applications until Nov. 1. Classes for those finishing a bachelor's degree are set to begin Jan. 6, 2014. The first freshman class is expected next summer.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.