Florida Board of Governors met on FAU Davie campus to talk online education

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The future of education in Florida might mean paying no tuition, video conferencing with your professor, or no professor. Your classes might be in virtual lecture halls, you might wear nothing but underwear and learn from the comfort of your bed for all or more than half your credits.

Yesterday, a committee from the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) — a 17-member board that runs the State University System and sets tuition rates — met in the Davie campus Student Union to talk about expanding online education. All of the four proposals discussed include spending between $38 million to $70 million. Some expand eLearning one school at a time, others involve collaboration — the most expensive proposal involves creating a new online state university.

Right now, Florida offers 700 different online programs at 39 colleges and universities. One third of Florida’s students are taking an online course, according to a report presented at the meeting by the Parthenon Group, a private advising company.

Websites like Udacity, Coursera, and Edx offer free equivalents, known as Massively-Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Edx hosts classes offered at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Georgetown University, and the University of California at Berkeley.

One of the goals of expanding eLearning, according to the study presented by the Parthenon Group, is to reduce the cost to students. Robert Lytle, from the Parthenon Group, encouraged cheaper tuition for online classes.

“If you’re going to charge tuition below base, you’re going to drive students to your system,” Lytle said.

But currently, FAU students enrolled in online classes pay $37 more per credit hour — an eLearning fee — than students in campus-based courses. A three-credit class taken online costs $111 more than its campus counterpart. UF Provost Joe Glover recommended opposite of FAU’s method.

“It should be no more expensive than a residential education or it will drive students away,” Glover said.

When asked about the cost of online education falling in the future, University President Mary Jane Saunders didn’t acknowledge the price difference.

“Well, we charge the same tuition for online education as we do for any other class that we offer at FAU,” Saunders said.

When asked about the eLearning fee, she clarified.

“There’s fees for laboratories, there’s fees for all things that need extra services associated with them,” Saunders said. “I’m excited that the Board of Governors is looking at this in such depth and taking their time out of their very busy lives to do what’s best for our students.”

Governor John Rood, chair of the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee, was also excited.

“Florida’s done a great job with online education. We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Rood said. “But there’s a lot more than we can do to make it more accessible to more students, get better information, raise the bar, make sure we’re following the best practices.”

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