Changes ahead for online learning at UI

Just two years after the University launched global campus, the board of trustees shut the program down. The Daily Illini has a look at why the program failed and how the University plans to expand its online learning initiative in a two-part series.

Over two years after the online learning initiative Global Campus launched, the University has decided to terminate the project, opting instead for a more “campus-based” online model.

Charlie Evans, assistant vice president for academic affairs and director of University outreach and public service, said the decision to do away with Global Campus came at the July 2009 Board of Trustees meeting where board members concluded that the program had failed to meet its initial goals.

“The Board of Trustees voted to restructure what was called Global Campus to go back to a more campus-based online initiative,” Evans said. “As of December 31, the Global Campus initiative ceased to exist.”

The biggest concern with Global Campus was its low enrollment numbers, said Nick Burbules, professor in education and member of the Urbana-Champaign Faculty Senate.

“After several years of active operation and about $10 million, people looked at the enrollment figures, and they were only a fraction of what the plan had predicted,” he said.

While poor enrollment meant a loss in revenue for the University, there were other reasons why the administration decided to terminate the program, Evans said.

“I think the other concern was whether there was sufficient faculty involvement,” he said. “The University has a unique governing system where the faculty have a defined role, and they feel that the Global Campus initiative did not represent sufficient brass and number of our traditional faculty.”

Walter Knorr, the University’s chief financial officer and comptroller, said Global Campus was initially funded by an “internal loan”, which was approved by the Board of Trustees . Because a loan provided funding for the program, no money has been directed from the University’s budget to help with Global Campus’ operational costs.

Initially, the board approved the loan because it thought Global Campus would bring in money. In this time of budget deficits and funding cuts, a program that would generate revenue was very appealing, Evans said.

“We saw the budget storm clouds coming, and so what we wanted to establish was an entity that would help subsidize other efforts,” he said.

Exactly what the University stands to lose from Global Campus is still to be determined, Evans said. While virtually no revenue has been generated by an e-learning initiative yet, Evans said he believes that a business model for such a program does exist.

“Global Campus did develop several in-demand, viable programs,” he said, “So there is a product there. It’s a series of online programs that has the potential to accrue revenue to the campuses. We are looking to find out what the assets of Global Campus are, what are their value and what is the actual loss.”

Scott Johnson, associate dean of online learning and chief information officer for the College of Education and creator of a master’s program for Global Campus, said he believes Global Campus was a step in the right direction if the University wants to be competitive with private online universities, such as the University of Phoenix.

“Global Campus was a vehicle for expanding our online efforts, but it just didn’t work out that way. There were too many political issues, personalities, and all kinds of problems that are pretty well-documented,” Johnson said. “If we don’t continue with online learning, we are going to fall behind.”

The University has decided to transfer the programs created for Global Campus to the University campuses where they were developed. For example, an on-campus student will be able to enroll in online programs initially designed for Global Campus.

This more locally-based approach to online learning will be called “U of I Online,” said Evans, who is directing the transition from Global Campus to U of I Online.

While the faculty played a large part in shutting down Global Campus, Burbules said many faculty members are expressing great interest in developing a new online learning initiative.

“The irony is the faculty were wanting to develop online courses and programs, but very few wanted their programs to be Global Campus programs. They wanted them to be U of I programs,” Burbules said. “There is a real surge of interest in this area, and I partly give Global Campus credit for stimulating that discussion.”