Measuring the value of Global Campus

Ten months after its launch, bad news continues to roll in for the University of Illinois’ fledgling Global Campus initiative. This week the University announced that only 121 students have signed up for classes since they began in January. And it’s not hard to see why.

The root of the opposition to Global Campus is fear that the stigma associated with institutions in the model of the University of Phoenix may be applied to Illinois as a whole, thus lowering the value of every student’s degree.

So far, the lack of diverse educational offerings by Global Campus has made it unappealing to a wide audience. Its target goal of tens of thousands of students (amounting to more than the current populations of all three traditional campuses) remains twisting in the academic wind.

Currently, its academic offerings are determined by individual colleges and instructors among whom there has been little enthusiasm for the initiative. To address this, President White’s new plan is to restructure Global Campus as a separate entity under the University umbrella, where it would be more autonomous about the programs it offers.

But this move begs the question of how a degree from the Global Campus could be as valuable as a degree from an institution whose world-class faculty want little to do with online learning.

Indeed, the reluctance of faculty to get on board with the program directly contradicts statements on the Global Campus Web site. Specifically one that proclaims, “Academic leaders believe that online learning quality is already equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction, that its quality is readily assessable and that students are at least as satisfied learning online as they are face-to-face.”

Perhaps administrators need to convince their own academic leaders to sign on to the program before it reaches out to students. If that doesn’t happen, the Global Campus is on track to only drift further and further from the gold standard administrators say it will become.

The price of that gold standard so far is estimated to be as high as $23 million. Broken down, that’s more than $190,000 per enrolled student. That enormous number gives the “value” of an Illinois degree a whole new meaning.

The accreditation process that the University hopes to pursue will take anywhere from two to five more years and undoubtedly more millions out of the budget. If enrollment continues to pale in comparison to an Intro to Economics lecture in Foellinger Auditorium, then the choice of whether to continue with the initiative will become painfully obvious to anyone who can pass that class.