Florida Considers Launching Online-Only Public University
College education in the Sunshine State is headed for the cloud, if some Florida lawmakers have their way. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) has petitioned the state’s Board of Governers to examine the possibility of launching an online-only public university as a means of aiding would-be students who are unable to attend school full time and increase distance learning attendance. However, the results of an independent study by the Parthenon Group have some education professionals and college officials skeptical.
The study examined four options for broadening access to online education in Florida, which included the expansion of current online infrastructure and the creation of a new, online-only university. The Parthenon Group then concluded that the initial formation of a new online-only college would cost a minimum of $50 million. Currently, the results of the study favor either a partnership between several of the state’s universities or assigning one insitituion to be the main school for online education. The cheapest available option would be to offer credit for Massively Open Online Courses.
However, the results of the study have garnered far less enthusiasm from those in the education when it comes to the prospect of an entire university operating solely online. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, University of Florida Provost Joe Glover recently warned that such an insititution could instead do more harm than good by working against Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) education priorities:
Glover, the provost at UF, told the BOG panel that not all subjects work well online. He pointed in particular to the STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) fields, which require labs and often demand immediate feedback from an instructor. Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers have pushed repeatedly in recent years for more STEM graduates, saying there is a demand for them in the workplace.
Other concerns from education officials in Florida included fear in regards to how this online school would face competition from the over 700 existing online course and programs at 39 colleges and universities in the state. Florida has the most online courses out of any state in the country, with 40% of Florida students reporting taking at least one class online while the national average is 31%.
The Miami Herald also reports that educators have little time to come up with counter-proposals to the legislature, stating that:
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said the board should take its time. But board member Manoj Chopra, a faculty representative, said lawmakers could step in and force their hand. “I’m a little worried if the choice will be made for us by then,” Chopra said, possibly referring to how Florida Polytechnic, the state’s 12th university, was fast-tracked into existence this year by the Legislature.