Universities use online programs in uncertain future


For UM, which prides itself on small classes and high interaction between students and faculty, the task of teaching online presents a challenge to its whole institutional identity.

Ray Schroeder, director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois-Springfield, says universities are now facing the same decisions that confronted the music and newspaper industries years ago when the Internet turned their whole operating structure upside down.

“Colleges and universities should be excited — this is an important change and movement in higher education,” Schroeder said, although he warned that online learning means colleges will face increased, and tougher, competition.

Schroeder noted that well-known Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen predicts that about half of U.S. colleges and universities will go bankrupt during the next 15 years. “There certainly will be a shakeout,” Schroeder said.

At some institutions, the online classes taken for college credit are actually slightly more expensive than traditional face-to-face classes. That’s because the schools, in an effort to offset the cost of developing online courses, tack on an extra online-learning fee.

Florida International University’s online fee is $160 for a standard three-credit course, added to the normal tuition of $615 per class. Such fees haven’t slowed the popularity of online learning at the University of Central Florida, where an astounding 74 percent of students take at least one online course, even with the fees, President John Hitt argues that the online revolution is saving students money.