UW, WSU expand online degree offerings

UW rolls out its first all-online bachelor’s degree program

The Seattle TimesJanuary 26, 2014 

Nicole Traore always wanted to go back to school to get her bachelor’s degree, but the 45-year-old mother of three busy boys has a full-time job and no extra time in her schedule to take classes on a college campus.

Then her husband heard about a first-of-its-kind online program at the University of Washington that offers students who already have completed some college a route to a bachelor’s degree, entirely online and for a little more than half the tuition price.

Traore investigated. “It looked amazing,” she said. And she enrolled.

Public and private colleges and community colleges have offered an extensive lineup of online degrees for years now. The UW degree program Traore is taking – a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and family studies – is the first time the state’s largest and most prestigious university has offered an all-online bachelor’s completion degree.

The program will cost students $160 per credit, which is the equivalent of $7,000 for a year of full-time study — several thousand less than the UW now charges for in-state students working on their undergraduate degrees.

More online offerings in other subjects are expected to follow.

The potential market is huge. Statewide, the UW estimates that about 900,000 adults started college or earned an associate degree at a community college but never earned a four-year degree.

The UW degree-completion program is one new entry in the rapidly changing field of online education, which is becoming a bigger slice of the business for Washington’s two major state universities.

This month, Washington State University, which has vigorously promoted its catalog of online degree offerings under the name WSU Global Campus, earned top marks for several of its programs in U.S. News & World Report’s third rating of the best online degree programs in the country. (The UW didn’t participate in the survey.) In the past year, enrollment in WSU Global Campus has grown 20 percent.

Nationwid e, the U.S. Department of Education estimates 5.5 million students took and online course in 2012, and that number is expected to grow.

One report puts the number at more than 7 million students and predicts that more than half of all students will take at least one online course within five years.

Meanwhile, in the past year, free online courses – once considered a force that could reshape higher education – have lost some of their luster. Increasingly, academic leaders are questioning whether MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are sustainable, because they don’t lead to a degree and cost the university money.

OPENING DOORS

But traditional bachelor’s degree programs taught in novel ways, using latest technology and online instruction, are a growing field.

Traore, a family-service worker at a state-funded preschool program in Mukilteo, was one of 54 students who enrolled in the UW degree-completion program this fall.

Part of her coursework includes taking videos of herself as she teaches students a preschool program, trying out various concepts she’s learned through online lectures, then posting her videos for feedback from instructors and from two of her peers.

Traore thinks she and fellow students have more communication and conversation than she had while getting her associate degree in-person at a community college. “You’re not really as guarded – you’re online, you’re just this name,” she said. “You get to talk about your deep thoughts, and really share.”

To be considered for admission, students must have completed at least 70 college credits and meet some other requirements, including a 2.5 college grade-point average.

The early childhood education program sets the stage for a bachelor’s degree in social sciences the UW hopes to offer in fall 2014. The social-sciences degree is expected to appeal to a much wider audience – perhaps 800 or more students after a few years.

It’s getting a close look from the UW Faculty Council on Academic Standards, which has put the program up for review for faculty members at all three of the UW’s campuses.

UW faculty wants to make sure the programs meet UW standards, said Patricia Kramer, an associate professor of anthropology and head of the faculty council.

“We want to make this something that people in a nontraditional setting can get their arms around,” she said. “We value this experience so much that we want to make sure we don’t water it down.”

Meanwhile, at WSU, the university’s Global Campus enrollment has grown from 1,800 students last spring to 2,200 students this spring.

As at the UW, the WSU programs must go through a rigorous review process and be approved by the faculty; Cillay described it as “a very rigorous vetting of whether the course can be delivered online.”

All of WSU’s degree programs cost the same as the programs offered on campus.

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