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MU Invests $2.5 Million in Online Degree Programs; Officials Work to Make Higher Education More Accessible

August 27th, 2012

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The University of Missouri continues to experience record-breaking freshman classes, soaring enrollment growth and high demand for many degree programs on campus. In an effort to increase the accessibility of undergraduate and graduate programs, university officials are announcing that $2.5 million will be invested to enhance Mizzou’s online degree offerings. This past academic year, more than 9,150 students enrolled in online undergraduate and graduate courses, generating enough revenue to pay for the new initiative.

“We’ve actually offered distance education courses for more than 100 years through correspondence classes and other ways as technology has enhanced our abilities,” said Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim vice provost for e-learning. “Now, we want to expand our current degree offerings so that students who are limited in their travel have an opportunity to obtain a Mizzou degree, while simultaneously offering additional course alternatives to students who are here with us on campus.”

Currently, MU has five undergraduate degree programs and 61 graduate certificate and degree programs that are either offered in part or completely online. The undergraduate programs include health sciences, respiratory therapy, radiography and the “RN to BSN” program for nurses. MU does offer more than 500 courses online, but students typically use these courses to satisfy a particular requirement in an on-campus degree program. Through this new initiative, Spain hopes to add 10-15 complete undergraduate or graduate degree programs by 2014.

“One of the things that the departments in the College of Arts and Science have discussed is putting enough courses online so students can complete bachelor’s degrees of general studies and bachelor’s degrees of interdisciplinary studies completely online. This way, they have additional options to receive diplomas from Mizzou,” said Michael J. O’Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “Traditionally, we also offer a vast majority of the courses that other majors use for their general education requirements. By next fall, we could have as many as 100 courses online – many of which are offered in the summer now – so that students from other majors can continue to use our college as a foundation for their general education requirements. I have the same apprehensions about online education that many other faculty do, but it is something that we must address. By taking charge of it, we can be sure that Mizzou will offer a quality online education.”

The new programs will be developed, approved and taught by MU faculty, who will maintain authority over the curriculum. Funding for new programs will be distributed through an application process, with the maximum amount to be awarded set at $250,000 per program. The first awards will be made February 2013. The money will be used to help defray startup costs of developing the curriculum, including purchasing any hardware or software necessary to offer the courses.

“The intent of this investment is to expand the number of degrees that are available to all of our students,” Spain said. “We will only do this if we are sure we can maintain our academic outcomes. We are not going to sacrifice student learning and the quality of instruction. We’re taking advantage of technology to improve student learning outcomes and to make this more accessible.”

Spain said the campus also can benefit from a hybrid instruction model. For example, some classes might meet in a physical location once a week and hold class online once a week. This could potentially give the university additional space for classes to help meet demand in certain areas.

“The ability to place education in the hands of anyone who wants it, no matter where they live, is consistent with MU’s land grant mission of making higher education accessible and affordable,” Spain said.

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