UF Online to offer four-year degrees


News Service of Florida

With state leaders looking to expand online learning in the higher-education system, a major new program at the University of Florida will be ready to start Jan. 1, university President Bernie Machen told lawmakers Wednesday.

The program, dubbed UF Online, will offer fully online, four-year undergraduate degrees to students who might never step foot on the Gainesville campus.

It will start in January with five degree programs, but is expected to offer 30 degree programs by the 2018-19 academic year – and have as many as 24,000 online students in 10 years, according to a presentation by Machen to the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee.  

Machen said students in the online program will have to meet the university’s regular admissions requirements and also will get the same diplomas as students who attend classes on campus.

“The quality issue is paramount as we move this forward,” Machen said. “We will maintain the rigorous admissions standards. You have to apply and be admitted to our university in order to be able to participate in this program.”

Online courses are common at universities. But in a move at least partly spearheaded by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, state lawmakers this spring approved a bill (SB 1076) that required creation of an “institute for online learning” that would be housed at the University of Florida.

The bill required that in-state students who enroll in the online institute pay lower tuition than if they attended classes on campus and also that they get a break on some fees. Machen said tuition will be set at 75 percent of the regular rates for in-state students, though out-of-state students who enroll in the online program will pay market rates.

The university system’s Board of Governors signed off last month on plans for UF Online. Also, Machen said the university has hired Betty Phillips, provost and executive vice president of Arizona State University, to serve as executive director of the program.

Lawmakers earmarked $10 million in start-up funding for the institute and $5 million a year for ongoing costs.

Along with the five degree programs that will start in January, Machen said the university will add two more in September 2014. The programs are in business administration, criminology and law, environmental management, health education and behavior, sports management, biology and psychology.

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