CU Online Education Committee suggests coordinating course and support options

Proposal calls for swift increase in online offerings for current, future students

By scaling existing infrastructure, the University of Colorado is poised to expand its high-quality online courses for current and future students. But there’s much to do in very little time.

“We’re not first out of the gate, not by a long shot,” Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement, told the CU Board of Regents on Tuesday during its meeting at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “This endeavor, whatever it turns out to be, needs to be a top priority for the university if it is to succeed.”

CU’s Online Education Committee, selected by campus chancellors and provosts, crammed a year’s worth of traditional academic committee work into six weeks and three meetings, she said. The committee focused specifically on ways to serve students more effectively by increasing access to CU courses on any campus through concurrent enrollment, clarifying the applicability of transfer courses toward degrees, and providing increased online course and program offerings. What they came up with is an overview of steps CU needs to take to consolidate and expand its resources and to make it easier for students to use online courses toward their degrees.

“The group got together and said, ‘You know what? The time for incremental change is past, we need to be bold,’” Keyek-Franssen said. “If we don’t get out there with more online courses and programs, our students will go elsewhere.”

The committee recommended capitalizing on the expertise on the campuses to quickly increase the number of online programs available to current and future students. It also determined the most efficient – and time-saving – option is to base the infrastructure for all campuses at CU Online at CU Denver. The campuses would remain in control of their courses, she said.

Other steps included using targeted start-up and seed funding and determining success metrics.

“In the short term, we will work with CFOs to develop business and revenue models,” Keyek-Franssen said. “Peer institutions have operations that after two or three years are self-sufficient.” The committee’s safe projections were three to four years until self-sufficiency, she said. “We know that over time we will be able to sustain this.”

Committee suggestions also included:

-          establishing an online education advisory board

-          10 working groups to simultaneously develop and advance the online infrastructure and its progress

-          expanding the Office of Digital Education and Engagement’s role to include overseeing state authorization and marketing

-          an expanded help desk through CU Online

“Our peer institutions spend a lot of money on marketing and we shouldn’t skimp on that,” Keyek-Franssen said.

Although the details have yet to be ironed out, measures suggested by the committee could lead to increased revenues, cost savings, and shared services for a systemwide learning management system, video and web conferencing tools, instructional design support, as well as faculty development.

The projected timeline for the transition is aggressive. Keyek-Franssen said she hopes to be able to work with CFOs to develop a business and revenue model and identify start-up funds within a couple of months, to begin scaling CU Online to launch a course and program search website in the fall, and to secure seed funding and have departments submit proposals for new program funding by late fall or early spring.

The committee was convened after the December board meeting in which regents heard a task force recommendation on new technologies from a report by Goldstein and Associates, and an alternative, more aggressive proposal by Regent Stephen Ludwig.

Ludwig said he was encouraged by the committee’s conclusions.

“I know we pushed really hard on this one but I’m excited about where you’re going. I don’t want to lose momentum,” said Ludwig, who told the board and President Bruce Benson that he was willing to go whatever distance to ensure the plan becomes a reality, including fundraising and lobbying to advance the CU Online infrastructure.

“I’m dead serious about it. . . . I’ll get on airplanes and go talk to foundations,” Ludwig said.