CU’s online education initiative continues forward progress

During retreat, regents hear plan to launch effort this fall
By Staff

The University of Colorado’s effort to advance its coordinated online education initiative took another step forward at the Board of Regents retreat in Silverthorne last week, when the board gave the four campus chancellors the green light to further develop the initiative, with an eye on a fall launch.

In November, Chancellors Philip DiStefano (CU-Boulder), Donald Elliman (CU Anschutz), Pam Shockley-Zalabak (UCCS) and Jerry Wartgow (CU Denver) proposed to the board that they lead a university-wide, concerted effort based on a common vision for online education at CU, which will be designed to help our current students complete their degrees, increase access overall, simplify concurrent enrollment for students, and provide shared services that support online education.

“The whole point is taking advantage of the strengths of the campuses in a collaborative manner and bringing it all together in a seamless way,” Elliman said.

Across the CU system, campuses now offer a total of 32 degree programs completely online (most at the master’s level), five undergraduate completion programs and 55 certificate programs. The chancellors said 25 new online degrees are planned. Online program expansion will be funded through a percentage of online revenue but initially, the chancellors and president will provide seed funding.

After the regents gave the initial go-ahead in November, the chancellors established four committees to develop the model: academic, finance, technology and marketing. Members of each committee include representatives of each campus and the system. They worked on an aggressive timeline through December and early January to craft a blueprint for next steps.

“An awful lot of work has been done in a very short period of time,” said CU President Bruce Benson.

DiStefano said a key to success is ensuring online students have the same quality instruction as regular students, which means courses will be taught by regular campus faculty affiliated with an academic department. The target markets include current students, adult students completing degrees, high school students taking concurrent classes, community college students, adults seeking a professional master’s degree, and fully online students.

“I’m convinced that by creating courses with faculty from the campuses, we can do it faster, more efficiently and with faculty dedicated to making it work,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

The regents agreed, although some had lingering questions about the model, timing and approach.

“I want to continue to explore if this is the best way to do this,” said Regent Michael Carrigan. “I’m concerned the door is closing as far as CU being on the cutting edge.”

Regent Steve Bosley said launching a new initiative of such magnitude is a work in progress at the outset, but worth the effort.

“We’re going to be better off than we were,” he said. “It will evolve and it will change.”

When Board Chairman Kyle Hybl asked for a sense of the board, there was strong support for moving forward.

Work on the initiative will continue through spring and summer, with the goal of being in the market by fall. It’s an increasingly crowded and well-funded market, with competitors ranging from Arizona State University to CSU Global to the for-profit University of Phoenix. A market assessment completed by the marketing committee showed that reputation and price were the top two factors students consider when looking at online degree programs. One of the charges to the marketing committee is to develop a name for the initiative. The committee will forward suggestions in the coming weeks.

While much work remains, Wartgow said he is optimistic about prospects.

“We are now ready, and very excited, to move forward with this vital initiative,” he said.