CU Connect reaching more students, more efficiently

Online courses, credit hours see nearly 30 percent growth in two years

The number of systemwide online University of Colorado courses and student credit hours showed strong growth over the past two years.

William Kuskin, CU Boulder vice president for strategic initiatives, provided details Friday to the Board of Regents during an update on CU’s online cross-campus collaborative course offerings – CU Connect, MOOCs and intercampus online degree programs. He emphasized how long-distance education has helped bring together the university’s four campuses.

“We have a main portal webpage called CU Connect that students outside the university can find and use to enter all four campuses,” Kuskin said. He acknowledged connecting the campuses was a challenge, noting they had been working in silos, on their own or with groups from each institution talking only to their counterparts.

“You had all the provosts get together and talk among themselves, all the registrars getting together and talking among themselves, all the marketing people … but by doing that, we were making these bottlenecks of constrictions because you’re only getting the same groups of people talking together,” he said.

Kuskin researched the issue and realized he had to redistribute forces by breaking through the silos.

“We cross-cut our silos so we had different groups from different campuses working together. The results, I would say, would be energetic,” he said. “The result has been to unleash some free discussion about CU Connect.”

The growth systemwide from fall 2014 to fall 2016 has been impressive, he said:

  • Online courses offered rose from 659 to 848, an increase of 189 courses, or more than 28 percent.
  • Student credit hours for online courses rose from 43,806 to 56,736, an increase of more than 29 percent.

Enrollment in CU’s 29 massive open online courses (MOOCs) has reached 1.67 million. They're taught by 25 faculty members from all campuses and have reached 194 countries, Kuskin said. Coursera, the online educational platform that offers CU courses, will hold its fourth annual conference in late March at CU Boulder, which is a distinct honor, Kuskin told the regents.

“We’re emerging as a leader in this field,” he said.

Kuskin also discussed the intercampus degree program, initiated in 2015 by Regent Stephen Ludwig. It will provide ambitious students a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in as few as three years. The initial phase and faculty course and program development were completed in 2016, and the anticipated launch date is fall of 2018.

Students will matriculate at one campus, the home campus for their degree, Kuskin said. Each campus will resolve educational, technical and administrative issues at the level of individual unit and campus.

The board complimented Kuskin on the expansion and further development of the university’s online presence, and the increased opportunities for students across the globe to become familiar with CU and earn a CU degree or certification.

Kuskin credited the “network about networks, a network of individuals thinking about how to deal with the network of the World Wide Web in education.”

“It’s been very powerful and creative and a wonderful example of collaboration across campuses,” he said. “I feel like we have exceeded our expectations. I’m proud and I’m happy.”