What Doomed Global Campus?

By now, the University of Illinois Global Campus–an exclusively online branch of the Illinois system designed to offer high-demand degree programs to non-residential students–was supposed to be well on its to way to enrolling 9,000 students by 2012, and 70,000 by 2018. It was going to be a giant step into the 21st Century; proof that a traditional public university can use Web-only courses to educate non-traditional students on a large scale. It was also going to be a cash cow.

Instead, it’s kaput. The university system’s board voted in May to phase out the embattled project by New Year’s, rolling its remaining 500-odd students into existing programs in the system that offer online courses.

Global Campus was conceived as a separately accredited entity that would eventually enroll as many students as the other University of Illinois campuses combined. It was meant to be a win-win: the university dramatically expands access to its vast resources and well-regarded degrees, while generating tons of revenue à la University of Phoenix Online.

The initial vision for Global Campus was akin to that of the most successful of private for-profit institutions: The project would appropriate syllabuses and course materials from its professors, reorganize them into its course management system, then hire outside instructors totally off the tenure track to teach. But that plan was rejected by the faculty senate at each of the three campuses. The professors insisted on a not-for-profit model that would not seek independent accreditation and would offer courses through existing programs on the university campuses; they also insisted on supervising their courses.

With few courses being developed by faculty, Global Campus was unable to grow its enrollment at the ambitious pace it had set for itself. At the time the trustees nixed it, the project had half the programs it had hoped to have after two years.

… [O]ne of Illinois’s biggest missteps was to spend large sums right away building an independent administrative structure from scratch, before the academic programs were in place. That huge upfront investment increased the pressure to show speedy returns, he said, thereby creating a need for speedy program development, which was contingent upon the for-profit model of buying syllabuses and hiring cheap instructors. When the faculty used its clout to burden Global Campus with the anchor of curricular oversight, speedy returns went out the window.

Read the complete article.

Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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