Distance Education

Florida Universities Take System Approach in Addressing Growth of Online

The Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida is putting final touches on a strategic plan for online education. The idea is to create a framework around which all 10 institutions in the
system with online programs can pool their "collective talents and resources toward a common purpose" — helping Florida citizens earn credentials that will "improve their lives, lead to new discoveries and advanced Florida's economy." The plan was first begun a year ago when the board created a task force to examine how the state could better meet workforce needs through online education and increase effectiveness while reducing costs.

The goal of the "2025 Strategic Plan for Online Education" is intended to guide development and implementation of system policies and legislative budget requests related to online education with a focus on three primary elements: quality, access and affordability.

Whereas the state anticipates an enrollment of 42,300 full-time equivalent students in undergraduate online learning for the current school year, that's projected to more than double to 86,900 FTEs by the 2024-2025 school year. School credit hours are expected to grow 51 percent over the next nine years, from 1.69 million this year to 3.48 million by 2024-2025. Graduate online enrollment is also growing, though not as rapidly — 42 percent. An FTE count of 11,125 this year is anticipated to be 19,250 by 2024-2025.

The latest 23-page draft lays out five strategies for creating a "culture of quality for online education":

  • Highlighting high-quality online education that surfaces in the state;
  • Expanding support for professional development;
  • Conducting research about online education to improve the quality;
  • Providing the infrastructure required to support the delivery of online education; and
  • Putting in place support services to help students using online education.

In the area of access, the task force offered three recommendations:

  • Increasing the number of students who can take advantage of online courses;
  • Creating an environment that's favorable to growth; and
  • Collaborating with the state's college system in addressing Florida's workforce gaps.

The report also offered four areas for potential cost savings:

  • Using shared services, such as "digital technologies, digital content and measures of quality." The report noted that its academic libraries are already benefiting from this model by sharing academic electronic resources across the system, having a common integrated library system and using "other common tools for search and storage of digital archives."
  • Tapping more affordable educational content, such as the use of educational learning content objects, open educational textbooks, system-wide agreements with textbook publishers and freely available resources such as videos, documentaries and interactive simulations.
  • Incorporating innovation and efficiency into instruction, such as those introduced by Khan Academy videos for tutoring; massive open and online courses; and adaptive learning and competency-based education models.
  • Understanding the true costs of online education. "Quality online education has a cost structure that differs from the face‐to‐face environment," the report's authors noted. To support additional costs related to developing and delivering those online courses, most Florida schools have implemented a distance learning course fee.

The task force developed a series of performance indicators for each of those areas, such as growth in the percentage of faculty who participate in related professional development and the number of undergrads enrolled in online courses.

The draft strategic plan is scheduled to be presented to the Board of Governors Nov. 4, 2015.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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