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UA System’s new online university could create competition with UALR

Submitted by KenDrell Collins on April 16, 2014 – 1:49 pmNo Comment

The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees voted to approve the implementation of a new online university called eVersity on March 20 at meeting in Fort Smith, Ark.  According to Chancellor Joel Anderson, the measure passed with unanimous approval.

In light of recent national statistics, Vice-President of Academic Affairs for the UA system Michael Moore told the board that an online university is necessary in order to meet the Governor Mike Beebe’s goal of 520,000 additional degrees by 2015. The UA System’s contribution to that amount needs is supposed to be 2,391 additional degrees, according to Moore.

He also cited Arkansas’s rank of 49th place in national educational attainment as one cause for additional degree options. Currently, 85 institutions outside of Arkansas offer 1,041 degrees in the state.

The eVersity is slated as being an accessable, high-quality and affortable alternative that targets “fully online students” in the state. Individual institutions, however, are concerned about what the new competition may mean for their enrollment.

“If the Univesity of Arkansas System starts sort of an alternative, that’s, in a sense, a competing unit because it focuses on a relatively small number of courses and programs that are likely to have high enrollment, and chearper,” said Anderson at the Board of Trustees’ meeting.

“Will they then take away our students with the result that it has a harmful affect on our enrollment?
That’s one concern.”

Another issue that the eVersity raises is the assurance of quality teaching.

“How do you make sure that they are equal in quality to the courses that students are going to get on campus?” asked Anderson, who has been met with the same dilemma with online classes at UALR.

Each year, more than 25 percent of UALR’s total Student Semester Credit Hours are in the form of online classes, according to Anderson.

“One of the reasons we can be comfortable doing it is that it’s our faculty [who] we know are well qualified, experienced, and they have to deal with other faculty members.”

Many of the questions posed by Anderson and other leaders have yet to be definitvely answered. Nevertheless, $3 million dollars of the $10 million project have already been appropriated, according to a Times Record news report sent to faculty.

The chancellor noted that while he does have concerns, UALR will be cooperative with the decision of the board.

“As I have emphasized on many occasions, online education is not the future of higher education. Online education is an important part of the future of higher education.”

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