UA Aims To Start eVersity By 2015

In March, the University of Arkansas board of directors approved UA System President Donald Bobbitt’s proposal to create the UA System eVersity, an online-only branch of the state system.

The project, given a budget of $7 million to $10 million, will create classes that cater to the state’s nontraditional students and will compete with other online-only universities, primarily for-profits like the University of Phoenix. Bobbitt said he hopes to have students enrolling in classes by summer 2015.

Michael Moore, the UA system’s vice president for academic affairs, was hired in January to oversee the development of the eVersity, Bobbitt said. Arkansas didn’t have any other online-only schools to serve as inspiration, but Moore had experience developing a similar program for the University of Texas in Arlington.

Moore said the program will focus on degree areas that meet workforce needs around the state.

“This is about supporting economic development in broad areas,” he said. “It will have things like information technology, general business degrees; we’ll be focusing on things like entrepreneurship and health-related degrees.”

Bobbitt said he wants to replicate the convenience of online universities, but focus more on quality.

“In terms of for-profits, what you basically have is an educational institution that’s geared toward what nontraditional students consider the most important characteristic of a program for them: convenience,” Bobbitt said. “They can take a class at 10 at night or 6 in the morning. They can work sequentially rather than in parallel.”

Online classes are usually not cheap, but “at most of the for-profits, the vast majority of people doing the teaching is adjuncts. Adjuncts can do great jobs, but there’s no long-term relationship with the students or institutions. We approach this from systemwide: We take advantage of the talent in our two- and four-year campuses.”

Bobbitt said about a dozen people will probably be hired to help launch the new university.

“We’re getting ready to interview our first three hires, and most importantly we’re getting involved with helping develop the student experience and course work,” he said.

“We’ll hire a lead designer, an office operator, a business operator and then from there, start developing actual courses by hiring faculty.”

Faculty for the online classes will come from the system’s existing body of professors, who will be compensated in addition to their regular salaries, Bobbitt said, and he noted that no instructors will be conscripted into the job — it will be voluntary.

As for enrollment, Bobbitt said the UA’s online school should be “of interest” to people out of state, but the system will be targeting primarily Arkansans.

Moore said the enrollment goal wasn’t exactly set yet, but he used the University of Colorado’s Global Campus, another state online program, as an example.

“It opened in 2008 with 200 students and the number I heard at a conference was that they’re now at a little over 10,000,” he said.

Growth like that, Moore said, would be “wonderful.”

“I don’t think it would be unrealistic.”