The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday April 2nd

UNC system looks to expand online, distance-learning programs

With extensive budget cuts looming, members of the UNC-system Board of Governors want universities to move toward a less traditional form of education.

Administrators say they want to expand the already growing online and distance learning programs offered by campuses to alleviate the inevitable cuts next year while staying competitive among peer institutions.

UNC-system schools offer 135 full-degree programs online and about 74,000 students are taking advantage of these online degrees, but Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, said she hopes to encourage even more students to participate in this opportunity.

“I don’t think there is anything in the world we can do to force a campus to move in this direction, but I think the president and I have both communicated to every campus that their campuses are going to demand this down the road,” Gage said. “Their students are going to want flexibility.”

At a board meeting earlier this month, members discussed the current online education system, and how it could be improved to better provide for faculty and students.

Gage said at the meeting that online degrees often don’t get the respect that they deserve.

“It’s hard to convey that this is high quality,” Gage said.

UNC-system President Erskine Bowles said at the meeting that many campuses, including UNC-CH, have been reluctant in expanding their online education, but most schools are now becoming more open to it.

Bowles also said the system’s online programs are already ahead of online programs offered by its peers.

“For other universities, we are light-years ahead,” he said.

Many board members said one of the main reasons they are encouraging students to consider online degrees is because it will be more cost efficient.

Frank Daniels Jr., member of the board, said online education offers advantages for students as well as University administrators.

“In the long run it will be less expensive because you’ll cut down on the buildings you’d have to build,” Daniels said.

The board is drafting the budget proposal for the UNC system to send to the state legislature this month. Bowles recommended not asking legislators for funding new capital projects, which means there could be a lack of space for classrooms as enrollment increases at schools.

Burley Mitchell Jr., a member of the board, said online programs will allow universities to reach more students.

“One thing that is probably accelerating it is we all know we’ll be facing this $3.5 billion shortfall,” Mitchell said. “And the online education is somewhat less expensive and will probably allow us to accept some, but not many more, students each year.”

However, the increase in online classes has also caused a greater demand for proctors, which the board is working to address.

Students taking online classes can take exams at sites closest to them, and instructors can set up the exams through e-Proctoring online, a program aimed at minimizing cheating and enhancing educational quality online.

Steven Hopper, director of online services for the UNC system, said many universities’ online programs offer classes to students who live in other states or countries.

Hopper said that for students to take exams, teachers have to reserve proctoring centers and find testing supervisors, which takes up a lot of time and isn’t always efficient.

“The scheduling and coordinating of that proctoring process is cumbersome to say the least,” he said.

Hopper said that while the board is in strong support of involving more university institutions in the e-Proctoring process, there is no set date of when the immersion will happen.

“It’s basically when the other campuses are ready to come on board,” he said. “We’re hoping they’ll realize that they need the system.”

Gage said the e-Proctoring program will help the UNC system take the online effort to the next level.

“You can teach all of the programs in the world, but if you don’t have the exam and the grading structure in place you’re going to fail.”

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