Global Campus enrollment still in question

By Andrew Maloney

There’s no doubt that the University’s Global Campus initiative has been a large source of controversy this semester.

The project began with the goal of extending the University’s reach through online courses and learning. And though the program has been divisive, its mission is one that Charles Evans, dean of academic affairs for Global Campus, said most everyone agrees with.

“People generally accept the goal, which is really to open up the University to a broader spectrum of people,” Evans said. “A lot of folks who are academically qualified just can’t get to one of our three campuses. So that goal, everybody accepts that.”

But though its mission may be generally supported, many have taken issue with just how many – or how few – people Global Campus is actually reaching.

A total of 15 students were enrolled in the program when it launched in January, yet administrators remained confident in its potential. In May, the Board of Trustees approved a $3.4 million loan for Global Campus and set tuition rates for some of its programs in July. But by September, the number of students had only increased marginally, to a total of 121.

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    In spite of the turnout, the administration sought to make Global Campus an independently accredited program. This authorization gives it the ability to bring in its own faculty members and award degrees separate from the campus departments of which it had been a subsidiary.

    Although this was opposed by members of the Urbana-Champaign Senate and President B. Joseph White said the question would not be raised at a Board meeting in November, the move was approved by the trustees on Nov. 13.

    Now, the University is confronted by issues of Global Campus’ viability as well as the decision-making process behind it. Some of the faculty Senate members believed the question of accreditation was rushed. Others, like College of Business professor Mark Roszkowski, said the University should detach itself from the program altogether out of concern that it will “cheapen the UIUC brand.”

    But Evans said enrollment in Global Campus for the spring is on par with projections, and independent accreditation for the program will help assure University of Illinois quality.

    “I’ve been at this University for 30 years,” said Evans. “I don’t want to offer something that’s second-class. I just want to open the doors.”

    Yet, if the program doesn’t begin to show an increase in participation, or allay concerns that it will strain the University brand, look for it to continue making headlines in Spring 2009.

    What to look for next semester:

    Evans said the number of people who enroll in Global Campus for the spring is still being tallied.

    “Right now, people are still enrolling. I would expect it will be 120 new students, or 250 students for the spring semester in credit enrollments, and probably another 125 or so in non-credit enrollments,” he said.

    And while he said that the accreditation process will take at least a couple of years, he added that new ways of reassessing current programs and ideas for future programs will get underway soon.

    “We’re going to be working with the Chicago campus to have those processes reviewed and have these initial programs reviewed,” said Evans. “So we’re not that far out of the mainstream.”