Three Guidelines to Leading a Successful Online Education Division
In our fifth-grade career fair, how many of us wrote down that we wanted to be an administrator of an online education program? How many were handed an instruction manual when hired to direct an online program? Likely not many.
At some institutions online education still struggles to find where it best fits in. Online program leaders must position their programs in a way that provides the best opportunity for growth and security while working in support of the institution’s mission.
The following are a few elements to consider having in place when creating and maintaining a strong online program.
1. A clear, comprehensive strategy that defines program objectives and secures stakeholder commitment to achieving objectives
Not all stakeholders view online education in the same light. Academic departments may wish to participate to a lesser or greater degree than is optimal. Complete online degrees might not be possible if some departments offering required courses are unwilling to offer courses online. Deans, directors, and senior administrators need to be on the same page regarding the institution’s overall strategy for online education.
- How extensive will your online offering be?
- Will you have general education online? Upper-division majors? Graduate programs? Are those program directors prepared to offer courses in a consistent rotation? Are their faculty properly trained for online instruction?
- Will you serve out-of-state online students?
- Are you prepared to comply with state authorization requirements?
- What level of commitment do you have from others you depend upon? Are other deans and directors on board with your plan?
- Is the reward for participation equal to the commitment made by all others involved (admissions, registrar, library, academics, etc.)?
2. Resources and policies that enable success in meeting student demand and optimizing personnel resources
Accreditation standards may limit the amount of work you can wring out of a willing professor. Adjuncts are often necessary, but do academic policies limit the use of adjuncts or are there other obstacles to growth? Are budgets able to pay for additional online sections? What alternatives can be explored that will lower barriers?
Online programs may be more cost-effective than campus programs, but they are not without cost. Software licenses, tech support, instructional design teams, course development and instruction costs, and other considerations all place marginal costs in the mix. Yet in some cases, revenues do not make their way back to those cost centers. And in the cases where revenues do flow back to cost centers, others may feel they are not receiving a fair share for their contribution. There may not be a perfect solution, but if the online program is a part of the institution’s overall strategic plan, and polices and resources are in support of online education, senior administrators and program leaders are in a better position to enlist the support of stakeholders.
3. An attractive pricing structure for all students
As state authorization becomes a more integral part of our operations, we need to be able to capitalize on the non-resident market that took so much time and effort to secure. If a differential tuition is charged for non-resident students that is too high to be attractive, the market will self-select to other options. Public institutions may have more difficulty being flexible with pricing as state governing agencies may impose rules on minimum tuition for non-residents. However, some governing boards agree that attracting out-of-state online students is more cost effective than bringing them to campus, and it generates revenue that would have otherwise been lost. In such cases the higher non-resident tuition is reduced to a more competitive level that keeps an online program in the game.
There are, of course, many more issues to consider. That said, willing participants, effective policies and competitive pricing are among the core components to a healthy online program.
An ongoing challenge for online leaders is to help administrators see the value that online programs add to the institution, not just economically, but in meeting the demand of today’s learners.
Author Perspective: Administrator