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The Daily Tar Heel

Universities nationwide ramping up online degrees

Prominent public universities are moving toward offering more virtual degrees — a push university leaders say could lower tuition costs and better serve residents.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a measure into law Monday granting funding to the state’s university system, which will partially be used to create an “institute” of online baccalaureate degree programs at the University of Florida.

Kim Wilmath, spokeswoman for the State University System of Florida, said they are excited about the opportunity to offer high-quality online degrees to anyone in the world.

“Online learning is something we’ve been looking at for quite awhile,” she said. “I think it’s going to make our whole system stronger.”

About 52 percent of students in the Florida university system take at least one “distance learning” course — where at least 80 percent of instruction is taught using technology.

An online degree could save Florida residents about 25 percent on their tuition, Wilmath said.

“This is something that is only going to grow,” she said. “Online learning is really the wave of the future, and we wanted to be at the forefront.”

The UNC system currently offers 210 online degree programs — 70 of those are baccalaureate.

Alisa Chapman, the UNC system’s vice president for academic and university programs, said system leaders are currently conducting research to determine the needs of the state.

“We certainly see the need to be more strategic in our direction of our online presence,” she said. “One aspect we’re working very hard on is inter-institutional collaboration.”

UNC-CH does not have a completely online degree program, but it is working to improve existing online programs and create new ones, said Robert Bruce, director of the Friday Center.

One program being developed would allow students with more than 60 academic credit hours to finish their degree online, Bruce said.

In the fall, UNC-CH will launch a pilot program that combines online and in-person interaction into a hybrid class, Bruce said.

Offering more online options helps the University educate more state residents, including nontraditional students, he said.

“You think about people who have a family or job situation or some other situation where they are not able to come to campus everyday — well, the need for education still exists.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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