CU’s online initiatives making strides

Courses, enrollment on the rise, regents told

The CU Board of Regents last week heard about progress on several fronts of the University of Colorado Connect online initiative, which will formally launch in the fall.

UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak told the board at its meeting at UCCS that CU’s online course offerings have seen enormous progress. Compared to the previous fall, the number of courses offered grew 9 percent, enrollment was up 10 percent, student credit hours increased 12 percent and unduplicated headcount rose by 8 percent, she said.

“What’s exciting is some of the courses that have been in development since the launching of the initiative are being offered this spring,” Shockley-Zalabak said. “Not all of them, because the big launch is next fall, but just with the new offerings we’ve gone from 667 in spring of ’15 to 780 courses being offered this spring. That’s a 17 percent increase across the system.”

Shockley-Zalabak also discussed a proposal presented in November by Regent Stephen Ludwig, with support from Regents Irene Griego and Linda Shoemaker, that called for a competition to create a fully online cross-campus degree program. She said she and Pat O’Rourke, vice president of University Council and secretary of the board, met with Ludwig to discuss the possibility of a grant proposal after receiving input from the campus provosts and faculty.

“Instead of making it a competition, which a number of faculty responded to negatively, we are going to recommend it would be a grant,” she said. “Faculty on two or three campuses – we’re encouraging three – would be asked to create a proposal for a degree that would then go through the same processes through the provosts, and to the regents if it’s a totally new degree – and likely it will be – for approval.”

The proposals must include data on what faculty believe will be the enrollment, the target audience, why students would want this form of a degree, how can it be offered entirely online, and how can it be – but would not have to be – completed in three years, she said. The degree program would require rolling admission and allow students to enroll in fall, spring or summer. Programs would get extra consideration if they incorporate a partnership with Colorado businesses, nonprofit organizations and/or governmental agencies, she said.

“We’re really trying to assess where some real needs are that we can meet with these types of programs,” Shockley-Zalabak said. 

Faculty participating in the grant would receive a $15,000 stipend. A staff person would be selected for each team to support the logistics of course development, and would receive a $5,000 stipend. Each grant proposal would then have $200,000 for course development.

As far as funding the program, she said the campus chief financial officers found contingency funds held in the president’s office from the initial online initiative – enough to mount three new degree programs.

She said they would like to go out this spring and ask for proposals.

“It might up to a year or year and a half to get the courses launched, but we believe based on your feedback, this is a strong proposal,” the chancellor said.

Ludwig, the catalyst behind the new fully online course proposal and a strong proponent of CU’s expanded online presence, for the first time voiced high praise for the progress being made on the initiatives.

“When we introduced this at the last meeting, the whole idea was to introduce an idea but have it shaped by the campuses,” he said. “They took it and made it great and I couldn’t be more happy. This is just really exciting for the university and a great thing for the state.”

Shockley-Zalabak also reported substantial progress on providing seamless concurrent enrollment to students from their home campus to another CU – or host – campus.

Students may now work with an academic adviser on their home campus to determine applicability of any intercampus course. The student’s academic adviser will ensure the student satisfies the prerequisite for any course on the host campus, and pass that information along to that campus.

Students will pay the host campus tuition and fees, but will be billed on their home campus, she said. The host campus will be paid through the home campus, which greatly simplifies the process for the student. Students also will be allowed to register with the same prioritization as host-campus students.

“That’s a major change,” she said. “It solves the problems that some of us had the most concern about.”

Communication efforts to promote the fall launch of the expanded online offerings will begin this spring.