Florida Approves Nation’s First Online-Only Public University
The university will be managed by the state-managed University of Florida, which has allocated $15 million in funds to begin offering online-only bachelor’s degree programs in 2014. Florida previously had offered online-only education to elementary and high school students as well.
In December, Florida legislators had announced intentions to consider the merits of a fully-online university, which was met by some with skepticism in terms of how STEM-based courses that rely heavily on in-class labs would be able to operate. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), however, stated that embracing the online-only method of education was essential to keep Florida’s education system competitive in the global market.
“This bill transforms education in Florida,” said Weatherford. “Now, we will be home to the first fully accredited, online public research university institute in the nation. These bold higher-education reforms will help increase Florida’s global competitiveness and ensure our students have meaningful opportunities after high school.”
Although Florida may be the first state to open an accredited, public university that only exists in cyberspace, other states have also been considering the idea as both a cost-cutting measure and a means of allowing low-income students to attend classes they may otherwise be unable to afford. Currently, California and Texas are in the process of developing fully-online college programs, while legislators in Illinois had contemplated opening a online-only public university in their state as well, but ultimately decided against it.
The University of Florida currently plans to charge up to 75 percent of in-state tuition for comparable classes taught in person.
Governor Scott’s support of the measure comes as part of his platform of job creation, having campaigned in 2010 to create 700,000 new jobs within seven years. As part of this endeavor, Scott has sought to strengthen job-oriented courses and programs in state colleges, as well as attempting to cut the cost of tuition.
However, Scott’s position on education has also been criticized by some as being anti-intellectual after moves to cut funds for degree programs in science, technology, and social science fields, as well as publicly stating an opposition to fields like anthropology that he considered to be unmarketable to employers.
“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” said Scott in an interview with the Herald Tribune. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”