Transforming an Institution with eLearning: Creating Value by Moving from the Fringes to the CoreRobert Wagner | Vice President of Academic and Instructional Services, Utah State University
For this University, eLearning began at the grassroots level—individual instructors experimenting with new delivery methods leading to course development, program design and, ultimately, degree delivery. Life was autonomous on the institutional fringes for the University’s Continuing Education unit, going about their business offering degrees and programs to “other” students. Before long, growing up around distance-delivered courses and programs, Continuing Education’s own student services like marketing, admissions, registration and advising began duplicating the University’s institutional efforts. The logic, of course, was that the “other” students required unique services that were not being met by the University’s central student services.
In reality, by duplicating services, a university within a university was created. But is this best for students? For the institution?
As time passed the University and the (now called) Distance Education unit found themselves meeting more frequently to discuss how to coordinate their efforts, with growing complexity. Students were increasingly blurring the lines between the duplicated services, wanting the best that both could offer them. For example, the largest percentage of online students were located on the University’s main campus—no longer distant or on the fringes. Tuition models did not favor students in both “worlds.” Also, policies and practices related to recruiting, admissions, financial aid, and advising were creating bottlenecks, confusion and, ultimately, higher costs for the institution.
Jumping ahead to 2015 an insightful university president describes the “typical” university student as one who takes traditional, online, blended and video conferencing courses as part of their schedule. Now, those “other” students from the continuing and distance education days have become the “typical” university students of the 21st century, and vice versa. The University dismantles its other university on the fringes while its marketing, recruiting, admissions and advising services are integrated with the University’s division of student services. Administrators and staff are embracing the “one student body, one university” approach. Financial savings are being realized as the overall effectiveness of university’s systems are measured by the integrated support for all types of students—without the need of inter-institutional duplication.
Our distance education unit, considered “entrepreneurial” in its efforts to attract and retain students is now adapting to serve the greater University community. Its strategies, once considered fringe-like (tuition discounts, flexible schedules, multiple delivery models and other innovations) are today embraced by the University as a way to serve all students. More importantly, University students are seeing the benefit of the one-university model where courses, programs, and costs are evolving to meet their needs—their return on investment is growing by reducing barriers for entry and completion.
Who would have thought that the University would offer a tuition discount for summer term enrollment—allowing students to graduate sooner? Who could have imagined the university creating flexible course schedules for the growing population of working students who want to go to school full-time but avoid student debt? What about the University harnessing the power of social media to communicate, or building personalized educational experiences, and developing curriculum and delivery technology that focuses on access, competencies and job-oriented credentials?
This University is transforming its approach by continuing its tradition of student-centered learning, discovery and engagement while embracing innovative teaching, learning and student services. This university is one university, geographically dispersed and demographically diverse, but with the unified goal of providing the best, most cost-effective and academically rich educational experience for all of its students.