Traditional Colleges Embrace Online Classrooms

by Eric Francis  on Monday, Jun. 25, 2012 12:00 am  

"The difference right now, and this is the advantage that we can't squander," Bobbitt said, "is that the students aren't being as successful and it's not at a lower cost. And we can deal with both of those."

The ability to reach students cheaply and efficiently is the great promise of online education, especially with the proliferation of broadband Internet access even in many rural parts of the state.

The man in charge of the UA System's efforts to capitalize on the advance of technology is Dan Ferritor, the former chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville who is now the system's vice president for academic affairs. He said Arkansas is currently mid-pack as far as its use of online education technology.

"I don't think we're the heaviest user, and I don't think we're the lightest user," he said. "I think we're a state that is recognizing the importance of online education."

But while the UA system is bullish toward online education, it isn't mandating from the top down. Ferritor said each campus is being allowed to implement it as the schools see fit.

Nor is there a statewide mandate. Shane Broadway, the interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said that each public university or college within the state makes its own call on whether, and how much, to use online courses. But the state does require students to have some presence on an Arkansas campus, he noted.

"We do have a policy in terms of the higher education funding formula," said Broadway. Students "have to have at least one class on the campus to receive credit under the funding formula. Basically, that's so you're not getting a bunch of out-of-state students who never set foot in Arkansas."

Early concerns about the quality of education imparted through online courses have eased, Broadway said, as the "checks and balances" have been improved. He noted that Arkansas State University, which offers an MBA program that is entirely online, had been among those making improvements to the credibility of the system.

The director of ASU's three-year-old online MBA program is Karen McDaniel, who came to the campus in August and has been busy promoting it to businesses both within the region and in neighboring states. She said that one way the university addressed the question of quality was to take on developing the program itself, with the business faculty and IT staff collaborating.

"Instead of outsourcing the technology, they do it all at ASU," McDaniel said. "All the courses have the same look, touch and feel throughout the entire program."

The program got a boost this year when U.S. News & World Report, in its first ranking of online MBA programs, placed ASU among the top such programs in the country and ranked its faculty No. 1 in terms of credentials and training. McDaniel said the school hopes to enroll 50 new students each semester for the next year.

"Our faculty is on board with this; our technology staff is on board with it. It really is a great team effort," she said.



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