Ross emphasizes moving quickly to improve online learning


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President George E. Ross and trustee member Sarah R. Opperman sit at the front of the President's Conference Room while at the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Chelsea Grobelny | Staff Photographer

To address challenges of online education, the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees initiated a task force to study national trends and competitor institutions for online academic programs.

In July, an Online Academic Program Committee was established to compile a report on what CMU can do to heighten the student experience while taking online classes, as well as compete with other institutions' online programs. The committee made eight major recommendations in December. More recently, it established work groups comprised of the committee members, many of which are faculty.

The work groups will examine the recommendations and figure out how to implement them, said President George Ross. At today's Board of Trustees meeting, Ross emphasized the importance of being aggressive in making changes to Global Campus.

"We have a ways to go," he said. "We need to produce quality education for our students. We've been recognized for years as leaders in this type of education — people are catching up to us. We can't do this at university speed; we've got to get this done."

Last night the trustee and faculty liaison committee discussed faculty concerns with online learning, which were relayed in today's formal meeting. Faculty expressed the need to expand and expedite the creation and delivery of online courses.

Some of the recommendations from the committee's 94-page report include educating students and faculty on new technology to better understand learning online and establish a work group to continuously seek feedback from students. The committee also recommended providing further financial support to Global Campus faculty, marketing, technology and administration.

During the 2014-15 academic year, Global Campus generated more than $69 million, including state appropriations. The majority of revenue was from online courses, at $51 million. 

CMU offers 22 online graduate programs, 10 undergraduate and three doctoral programs. Competitor universities like Arizona State University and Colorado State University have more than 37 undergraduate and 44 graduate programs. CMU is leading with its doctoral programs; competitors have two on average.

"In the national market, other institutions are doing much better than we are," said Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, chairperson of the committee, to the Board of Trustees in December. "Competitor institutions are leading in the number of programs."

When studying students' perspectives of online education, the committee found that cost is the most important factor when choosing a program. A majority of students reported CMU's online offerings are "as good" or "better" than those of other institutions, while about one third of students said there was inconsistent contact with online professors.  

The work groups will continue reporting to the Board of Trustees.

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