Campuses to lead CU Online partnerships with the Office of Digital Education

By Staff

CU Online’s focus to emanate from the campuses

The focus of the systemwide CU Online program is shifting to the campuses after an assessment of the work to date reiterated what the CU team working on the initiative found – that campuses and programs need to maintain control over essential academic functions, including instruction, course design and content, program design, admission and graduation requirements and financial aid. 

The move comes after the project was paused in mid-August because the finance team working on the proposed financial model found it was not viable. Alpha Education, specialists in online education, assessed the work to date. It recently shared findings and recommendations with the president, chancellors and Faculty Council.

“We have tremendous and talented faculty working on online programs across CU, so it makes a lot of sense to continue to tap into their expertise by making the campuses the focus of the broad CU Online effort,” said CU Denver Chancellor Michelle Marks.

Efforts going forward will have two streams of work: one will continue the evolution of the systemwide Office of Digital Education (ODE) and the second will focus on academic program efforts on campuses. Programs and ODE – which provides online support services such as recruiting, marketing, instructional design and student success – will mutually agree on when to partner.

Alpha Education found that the finances can be modified to work for the campuses and for ODE. The operation will continue to be a systemwide resource offering services to the four campuses, which will develop master services agreements that detail what academic programs will do and what ODE will do in terms of funding and responsibilities. Programs to be promoted as part of the broader CU Online initiative will be determined by mutual agreement between campuses and ODE.

Alpha Education also found that pooling resources (such as the services ODE provides) to gain competitive online competencies represents the best win-win scenario for campuses and CU. They noted that ODE has a solid base of online education experience to build upon, yet there is still work to be done in selected areas of the operation to elevate its competitive competencies. That work is already underway, said Scot Chadwick, interim associate vice president of online learning.

One result of the change is that the systemwide Online Accelerator Committee (OAC) and its working groups, which have been shepherding the initiative since the summer, will disband. Campuses are developing their own processes for accelerating online offerings and will designate a primary online liaison to work with ODE. The OAC’s financial and marketing/communications working groups will continue to collaborate on shared online topics or projects as the need arises.

“As we continue our transition to serving all the campuses, we’re confident ODE will become a trusted partner that provides high-value services that help the campuses grow their online presence and reach,” Chadwick said.

Since summer, ODE has been making the transition from serving only the Denver and Anschutz campuses to serving all the campuses. It has been supporting, including marketing, a dozen programs from across the system this fall as part of the CU Online initiative, with additional programs scheduled to launch in spring semester. CU Online is aiming for a significant promotional launch in fall 2021.

ODE and the campuses will continue to leverage Alpha Education as a resource through the next phase, said CU President Mark Kennedy. EY Parthenon, which began consulting on the initiative last fall, has completed its portion of the effort.

“This initiative has always been an iterative process. We built on the work EY Parthenon did last fall and spring, which led to the Online Accelerator Committee advancing the effort through the summer and early fall,” said CU President Mark Kennedy. “It’s appropriate that the campuses individually engage with ODE from here and move us toward growth in CU’s online presence and capabilities.”

Kennedy said that although the campuses will take a greater hand in the initiative, it will still be a collaborative effort among campuses, ODE, chancellors and shared governance groups. Efforts will include an inventorying and mapping a timeline for addressing known systemwide issues, including determining system investment levels, program enrollment targets and addressing program duplication. Campus leadership will also identify and address future systemwide issues as they arise.