Regent proposes competition to build online-only degree

Winning team of CU faculty, staff, students would receive $3.3 million

Regent Stephen Ludwig, D-Denver, has introduced a draft resolution to establish an online-only, three-year, general studies liberal arts undergraduate degree at CU.

Under the plan – also backed by Regents Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder, and Irene Griego, D-Lakewood, during last week’s board meeting at CU-Boulder – the faculty, staff and students of CU-Boulder, UCCS and CU Denver would be encouraged to enter a competition to launch the program by the 2018-19 academic year.

“We were looking for an exciting way to support the campus online efforts and we started talking about the ‘Space X’ program, and that’s when it took off – pardon the pun,” Ludwig said. “We shared the idea with Regent Griego and she was excited about it as well.”

As presented, the team that is selected to develop the degree would receive a $3.3 million prize to be used for course and infrastructure development, and to reward participating faculty, staff and students.

“We hope it will engage faculty, staff and students that are passionate about online education and what it can achieve as far as access and cost reduction,” Ludwig said. “We know that faculty are brilliant problem solvers and the teams will come up brilliant ideas.”

If the plan is approved, Ludwig said the winning program should inform, not direct, campus online initiatives; that it can augment, not replace, what is in the works. He said they hope it will drive cross-campus collaboration.

“Faculty, staff and students from our campuses rarely have a chance to interact, problem solve and collaborate. We hope that this trial run shows us what’s possible – and where it will need greater support,” he said.

Ludwig said that a “general studies” degree with areas of emphasis is the fastest growing online degree. There also are other ideas or criteria floating around higher education concerning online-only degrees, he said. “So, we stole liberally and customized it for what we thought might fit the University of Colorado system.” 

The winners of the competition would be selected by a committee consisting of two regents, the vice president of academic affairs and research, the vice president of budget and finance, three faculty representatives chosen by Faculty Council, one student chosen by the Intercampus Student Forum, one admissions staff chosen by Staff Council, and two technology entrepreneurs from the Colorado community chosen by the president.

The draft notes the teams would be composed of at least one faculty member each from UCCS, CU-Denver and CU-Boulder, and at least one graduate student. The teams should include staff members with IT and/or online development experience and at least one undergraduate student.

Ludwig said the draft is the beginning of the conversation, not the end.

“We are getting comments from the university community and are hoping to have a final version ready for our next regents meeting,” he said. “The feedback we have received has been positive. People from inside and outside the institution want to know more.”