At the same time that for-profits have struggled, traditional public and private colleges have aggressively expanded their menu of fully online degree programs.
And when it comes to the MOOC experiment, UF isn’t the only Florida school taking part: Florida International University has offered community-oriented MOOCs in entrepreneurship or real estate, while the University of Miami is targeting teens with its MOOCs in Advanced Placement subjects like calculus.
UM has been hesitant to join the mad dash toward offering fully online degrees. For years, FIU has run online master’s degree programs, and UF has a staggering array of graduate-level online degrees — 70 in all.
This fall, UM will unveil its first online degree: a bachelor’s in general studies that targets adult learners who have some college experience and want to get enough credits to finally graduate.
“Overall, UM sees itself as coming cautiously to this party, and wanting to look very carefully at what the implications are for making the shift to online learning,” said Rebecca Fox, UM’s dean of continuing and international education.
For UM, which prides itself on small classes and high interaction between students and faculty, the task of teaching online presents a challenge to its whole institutional identity.
Ray Schroeder, director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield, says universities are now facing the same decisions that confronted the music and newspaper industries years ago when the Internet turned their whole operating structure upside down.
“Colleges and universities should be excited — this is an important change and movement in higher education,” Schroeder said, although he warned that online learning means colleges will face increased, and tougher, competition. Schroeder noted that well-known Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen predicts that about half of U.S. colleges and universities will go bankrupt during the next 15 years.
“There certainly will be a shakeout,” Schroeder said.
Davie’s Nova Southeastern University was an early pioneer in the realm of online learning — the school began offering an online master’s degree program back in 1986. Limited by the technology of the times, that master’s degree in computer-based learning was entirely text-based, with instructors typing out a lesson and students responding with typed questions.
Flash forward to 2010, and Nova had advanced tools such as “interactive teleconferencing,” which it used to train doctors in Iraq on emergency pediatric procedures. In a room located thousands of miles away, the Iraqi students practiced their techniques on plastic dummies, while Nova instructors at the Davie campus virtually looked over their shoulder online.
Where will things go from here? Perhaps the future will be something like the fully online (and bargain-priced) bachelor’s degree programs that UF will launch next year. State lawmakers in April approved a new initiative where UF will offer online bachelor’s degrees priced at no more than 75 percent of the university’s face-to-face tuition. With Floridians increasingly struggling to pay for college tuition, state leaders have pitched online classes as a way to rein in the cost of getting a degree.