After a report intended to prevent unnecessary degree duplication failed to find any immediate cost savings, UNC-system administrators say streamlining online education will be a long-term strategy for more efficient University operations.
Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the UNC-system Board of Governors, said board members were relieved to learn that the duplication of degree programs was not a significant problem for schools, a point stressed by Jim Woodward — former chancellor of UNC-Charlotte and N.C. State University — in a presentation before the board Thursday.
The system’s rigorous program productivity reviews every two years resulted in a net gain of only 26 programs in the last decade, according to the report.
Woodward recommended that campuses fit new programs within the mold of their teaching missions and utilize online courses to cut costs. His report also identified the inefficiencies of online education as a set of programs ripe for consolidation.
“What he really highlighted was all the barriers that we’ve created, because we haven’t had any system (guidelines) across our campuses,” Gage said.
Students who might need to take a course to graduate — no longer offered on their campus because of budget cuts — find it almost impossible to wade through the bureaucratic morass of other universities’ admissions departments, she said.
Online education also has the added benefit of reducing costs for stand-alone schools, such as the use of video-conference technology at satellite campuses of UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, she said.
“I want to invest more in faculty and people,” she said. “If we can curb the need for bricks and mortar, and use technology to help us do that, then we can pay and retain the brightest and best faculty — which is what we’ve got to do.”
Gage said the UNC system intends to hire a new director of online education by March of next year. The director will oversee the development of an online course pool for UNC-system students and a set of best practices for distance learning.
In a press conference after the board’s meeting on Friday, UNC-system President Thomas Ross addressed other calls for campuses to operate more efficiently after they absorbed a state funding cut of 15.6 percent, or $414 million, this year.
Universities are in the process of formulating their tuition increase proposals for the board, which must be submitted by Dec. 9. At a roundtable discussion Wednesday featuring the five presidents of the UNC system since its creation in 1971, former president Dick Spangler announced several recommendations for universities to save money and avoid substantial tuition hikes, such as soliciting support for students from wealthy donors.
“We certainly will take a look at it,” Ross said. “As I said to him the other night, I’m waiting for that list of 1,000 people that are going to give enough money to support 10 students.”
Ross said system administrators need to juggle competing obligations in the coming months, including setting tuition levels that are affordable and accessible while maintaining universities’ academic standing.
“Our board doesn’t disagree with the principle, they just have to balance the issue of quality with that.”
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