COLUMN: Online learning a must

By Lally Gartel

In May 2006, the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs of University of Illinois proposed a “fourth” campus for the University system, one that would be administered entirely online. The proposal, called the Global Campus Initiative, was described in a 47-page final report which outlined the aims, advantages, challenges and functioning of such a program. This initiative, looking at the success of other online education programs and the potential for profit as well as increased access to education for non-traditional students, promises to be a valuable addition to the University of Illinois and should be lauded as such.

There has been a relatively heated debate on the Urbana-Champaign campus concerning the Global Campus. The Global Campus Task Force, comprising individuals chosen by the Executive Committee of the Faculty/Student Senate here on campus, has recommended serious reconsiderations for the Global Campus before the proposal reaches the Board of Trustees. They recommend that the University of Illinois not endorse the proposal without serious changes to the structure of the program. Some do not welcome the Global Campus altogether, citing that the University’s reputation could be seriously damaged by such a program, though the University already has online classes.

The main concerns of the Task Force and others concerning the proposal centers on a few key features of the initiative, namely its proposed status as a “for profit” Limited Liability Company as opposed to an offshoot of the University’s three campuses or a not-for-profit LLC. The proposed structure of the Global Campus is also in question, with the idea that adjunct faculty administer coursework developed by permanent professors online treated very skeptically by the evaluators in the Task Force. While there are many other technical objections to this innovative and arguably invaluable proposal, the position of this campus and others should be to support the timely establishment of this fourth campus.

The fact is that, instituted in a way that is amendable and malleable, even a proposal that does not (or cannot, considering its novelty) address all potential problems can turn out to be highly successful. The truth is that the gravity of the issues addressed by the Global Campus, namely instituting affordable access to exceptional undergraduate and graduate education for those who cannot attend college traditionally, outweighs the comparably trivial objections of much of the opposition to this program.

Other online universities have had tremendous success, and the industry is growing by more than 23 percent annually. Done correctly, which I believe it will be given the current proposal, the Global Campus can participate in what will in only a matter of years become a dominant way in which Americans and others get educations. Similarly, the advent of technology will mean that even residential students of the University of Illinois campuses will begin to want access to and the benefits of online courses. In short, a Global Campus for the University of Illinois will help fulfill the University of Illinois’ mission as a large public University dedicated to increasing the quality of and access to higher education across Illinois as well as bringing in valuable income to help all