U. of Florida Online Bachelor’s Programs Win State Approval

The University of Florida got a green light on Friday to begin offering a wide range of fully online bachelor’s-degree programs in January. The programs, planned at the behest of the state’s Legislature, are intended to expand access to the university without further crowding its campus, which administrators say is full.

The online offerings will also save students money. Online tuition for in-state students is capped by state law at 75 percent of what students attending classes in person pay—which will come to $112 per credit hour—while students from other states will pay “market rates” in the vicinity of $450 to $500 per credit hour, the university says.

Online students will also avoid some $8,400 in room and board costs and many fees paid by on-campus students. And the university plans to rely as much as possible on e-textbooks, which are usually cheaper than their print counterparts. Meanwhile, a number of student-affairs offices are planning online offerings, such as career and personal counseling and health and recreation videos. The university anticipates hiring one academic adviser for every 250 online students.

The Legislature has appropriated $15-million for start-up costs for the new programs, and has pledged $5-million a year toward their operating costs. The university’s business model, which is what the State University System’s Board of Governors approved on Friday, anticipates that the university will lose money on the online programs initially, but will break even in Year 7 and make $14.5-million in Year 10, when the plan foresees enrolling about 24,100 students, 57 percent of them from within Florida.

The business plan says that decisions about what programs to offer online will be made according to “work-force needs and student demand.” The university will start with five online programs in January—in business, criminology, environmental management, health education, and sports management—and will eventually top out at 35. “Program content will be comparable to the resident campus, and standards for success and rigor of the major will be the same,” the business model says, and the university’s faculty will retain “content responsibility in terms of origin, delivery, and oversight.”

The university is adding a training program so that faculty members can, as the business plan puts it, “achieve their teaching potential in an online environment.” The business plan also notes that the university is negotiating with an unidentified company that will bring experience and “deep resources” to the undertaking.

The university currently enrolls about 6,400 freshmen every year, but administrators say they get more than 29,000 applications annually and “turn away thousands of students who meet admissions criteria.”

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