Global Campus performance disappoints

To say that the university’s new year didn’t get off to a great start would be an understatement. While most of Illini nation was disappointed in the football team’s performance in the Rose Bowl, Global Campus, the new kid on the university’s academic team, didn’t live up to expectations either.

At the start of the new semester, fewer than 15 people have enrolled in the online-learning initiative that University President B. Joseph White predicts will eventually serve more than the combined 70,000 students at the Springfield, Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses.

That number fell far short of the relatively modest prediction of 75 students for enrollment made by administrator Chet Gardner, who is overseeing the program. In a Chicago Tribune story, he attributes low enrollment to a lack of marketing after the program was delayed four months by the Board of Trustees.

If marketing was truly the reason behind the underwhelming performance, then surely things aren’t going to get any easier if the university has to advertise a program with enrollment numbers that make it seem subpar.

So why not wait until the fall semester to launch such an ambitious project with the time and effort it deserves?

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    In the same Tribune story, President White defends the decision to start now saying, “We made a considered judgement to start with the low enrollments in order to build a track record…”

    White acknowledges, and we agree, that fall semester numbers would certainly be a better benchmark of the project’s viability, but now that Global Campus is limping along (with most enrolled students residing in Illinois to boot), it’s hard to see why it was launched now instead of correctly.

    While many have harbored fears about a decrease in the worth of their degrees from the university, the administration has emphasized the potential revenue available by catering to the nontraditional student. Even though these new numbers raise more than a passing doubt about the program’s potential, it is too soon to give up on the concept completely.

    But there is no doubt that if this new initiative continues to unimpress and underperform, the board should not continue to pump money into a virtual campus when there are buildings like Lincoln Hall on this campus that are falling apart before our eyes.

    If Global Campus doesn’t prove to be academically or financially worthwhile sooner rather than later, the university should cut its losses. Unfortunately, no amount of marketing will be able to recoup the prestige or the millions already invested in the program.