Skidmore May End Online-Education Program

Skidmore College’s baccalaureate distance-learning program, University Without Walls, may become another casualty of the economic crisis.

The program, started in 1971, was never designed to turn a profit. But the rate at which it is losing money—more than $100,000 annually since about 2003—has become a problem as the upstate New York college has sought to streamline its budget in the face of endowment losses. Unless the program is overhauled, officials say, it will sink deeper into the red.

The program, which costs $6,300 per semester for full-time students, offers a Skidmore degree at a significant discount compared to the nearly $25,000 per semester charged to residential students. Although economic downturns tend to push more students to enroll in online education programs, enrollment in University Without Walls remains well shy of where it would need to be for the program to break even, officials say.

Part of the reason is that while online enrollment is increasing nationwide, so is competition among online college programs. Jeffrey O. Segrave, the college’s interim dean of special programs, told The Chronicle that the recent proliferation of online programs has made attracting online students to Skidmore more difficult. Meanwhile, officials report a “sharp decline” in enrollment in Skidmore’s program.

Some of the program’s advocates have said that University Without Walls might be saved with some retooling. But Mr. Segrave said that that would require substantial tuition increases, which would make attracting students even more difficult.

The Skidmore Faculty Senate will vote at the end of February on whether to recommend to the Board of Trustees that the program be phased out. The board is expected to make the final decision when it convenes in May. —Steve Kolowich

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