CU to substantially ramp up online education efforts

President Kennedy stresses new urgency in growing ‘pockets of excellence’
By Staff

CU is taking steps to bolster its online presence and offerings as the months-long project to evaluate capabilities and gauge opportunities transitions from assessment to implementation.

A team of faculty, staff and administrators worked with vendor EY-Parthenon throughout the academic year to look at CU’s current offerings and compare against market demand and opportunity. It found that market demand is significant and diverse (by discipline, degree level and cost), and that CU’s offerings align with that demand. Yet it also found that despite “pockets of excellence,” on the whole, CU lags national market leaders in offerings and capabilities.

While stressing that CU has significant strengths in selected online programs, CU President Mark Kennedy said what the university and all of higher education have experienced with the hasty move to remote teaching caused by COVID-19 highlights the need for robust online capabilities.

“We have had some success and are increasingly moving this direction, but the crisis lends a sense of urgency to our efforts,” Kennedy said. “I recognize that moving quickly comes with its own challenges, and that there are questions we need to answer and things we need to figure out and other things we will learn as we go, but I have every confidence that we will succeed.

“Perhaps most important, we have great faculty delivering stellar online programs, and their knowledge and ongoing involvement will be crucial to success.”

He told the Board of Regents that CU will approach implementation in two separate and distinct efforts – offering supplemental marketing and enrollment management support to about a dozen current online programs (with each campus contributing programs) in fall 2020. Concurrently, an “Online Accelerator Committee” will be established to frame the foundation for a sustainable online effort that aligns with CU’s mission and which will have a significant rollout in fall 2021.

To facilitate both, the Office of Digital Education (ODE) will expand its charter from the Denver and Anschutz campuses to become a system resource (reporting to the president’s office) for all four campuses. According to EY-Parthenon, ODE has provided “best in class services,” ranging from enrollment marketing and recruiting to student success and instructional design for online programs.

Kennedy had originally intended a search for a leader of CU’s coordinated online effort, but given looming budget constraints, he appointed internal co-leads for the project. ODE’s Scot Chadwick will serve as interim associate vice president for online learning and Dr. Sheana Bull will serve as interim senior faculty fellow for online learning.

Kennedy and the chancellors agreed on the direction, taking into account some key guiding principles that emerged from the EY-Parthenon recommendations. One is that CU collectively is committed to investing in and growing online offerings representative of the CU brand. Another is that systemwide coordination is necessary to bring the best of what CU offers to market in a high-quality way. A third guiding principle notes that sharing online learning services and operations will best enable growth in a cost-efficient way.

The fall 2020 effort will involve at least three programs from each campus, and some will draw on cross-campus collaboration. Kennedy will put additional enrollment marketing funding behind the programs that have been chosen to participate. Part of the aim of the fall effort is not only to jump-start the online effort, but also to learn about how to expand ODE to work at scale across four campuses rather than two.

Concurrently, the president is funding a larger branding and marketing effort to support fall 2021 programming, which will be the official launch of the coordinated online effort. The larger marketing effort will be managed by a team of system and campus marketing professionals.

The initial program portfolio for fall 2021, and ongoing process for program expansion, will be determined through the work of the CU Online Accelerator Committee. It will have seven working groups: Academic, Online Services, Finance, Campus Engagement, Marketing/Communication and Information Technology. The broader committee will consider recommendations from the working groups for detailed academic support, operating and financial model, as well as a plan for the fall 2021 launch, which will include recommendations on which programs to invite. Programs offered in fall of 2020 will be eligible, as will additional programs on each campus.

The working groups will include representatives from each campus and, where appropriate, system administration.