University of Nebraska Distance Education Will Expand to Serve Growing Market
The University of Nebraska plans to greatly expand its distance education courses and programs to better serve Nebraskans and to capture a larger share of the growing national and international market for online learning, according to NU President James B. Milliken. NU already offers more than 1,200 courses and more than 70 online degree and certificate programs, ranging from bachelor’s degrees to PhDs.

At its January 2009 meeting, the Board of Regents received a report from NU’s Distance Education Coordinating Committee and the Educational Marketing Group, located in Denver, detailing their analysis of the University’s distance education offerings and their recommendations for the future. EMG’s report – the culmination of two years of research and analysis – identified a major opportunity to increase revenue by expanding NU’s distance education program regionally and nationally. However, they also noted that the current business structure was inefficient, tuition was inconsistent and below the competition, and the financial model did not incentivize program development. They recommended that the University adopt a new Integrated Academic Enterprise structure, re-engineer the financial model to bring tuition closer to national averages for high-prestige peer institutions (which will generate seed money for strategic program development), and market all programs under a single brand.

“We have an opportunity to greatly increase educational access and educational attainment in Nebraska by leveraging technology to make a University of Nebraska degree available to more people,” Milliken said. “At the same time, we believe we can compete effectively in the national market, serving adult students who want to take courses or earn an accredited degree from a reputable university. A degree from the University of Nebraska is a known quantity – it can provide a major advantage in today’s job market.”

Milliken noted that a number of national higher education organizations, including the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, are working on strategies in support of President Obama’s goal of strengthening America’s competitiveness by regaining prominence in educational attainment. The goal is to increase the number of U.S. college graduates to 55 percent of the population by 2025. That work has to start at home, Milliken said. “More than 255,000 Nebraskans have attended some college but have not earned a degree. Distance education offers these individuals an opportunity to become more competitive for 21st century jobs, increase their earning capacity and improve their quality of life.”

One of the most significant new programs that will soon be added is a bachelor’s degree completion program in business. “This is the first opportunity for Nebraskans to pursue an NU bachelor’s degree in business without being required to be on a campus,” Milliken said. Board of Regents Chair Kent Schroeder added, "This approach is exactly what the University should be doing -- identifying opportunities to expand enrollment and increase revenues by being entrepreneurial in ways that will advance our goals for the state."

Distance education is one of the fastest-growing segments of the higher education market. Currently, some 3.5 million students take at least one course online. Demand is high, in part because of the growing importance of a college degree in finding a high-paying job in the knowledge economy. The convenience of computer-based education, both for traditional and non-traditional students, is driving more students to the Web to take courses, complete a bachelor’s degree or pursue an advanced degree. Degree completion programs are in great demand, Milliken said, and NU needs to add more to serve the state.

In 2007-08, NU students took more than 52,000 credit hours online – an increase of 25 percent over 2006-07. Enrollment numbers for 2008-09 are not yet final, but credit hours are expected to exceed 65,000 – another 25 percent increase. Nevertheless, Milliken said, NU is still a relatively small player compared to market leaders like the University of Maryland and Penn State. “The potential is tremendous,” Milliken said, “and we will come into the marketplace with a strong national reputation, a growing portfolio of degree programs and courses, and a commitment to serving the needs of non-traditional students.”

To expand distance education course and degree offerings, the University has restructured the pricing of distance education courses. For most undergraduate and graduate resident students, distance education tuition rates will increase 10-20 percent for 2009-10, with the additional funds invested in new faculty and new programs that will serve more Nebraskans. The rates are also closer to – though still below – those charged by many other institutions. Also, since most resident enrollments are students already on campus taking one distance education course per year, the overall effective tuition increase is between 1-1.5% more than it would have been with no distance ed courses. In addition, financial aid applies to distance ed courses, so students eligible for Collegebound Nebraska will pay no additional tuition.

“The University of Nebraska has been a low-cost provider in the distance education marketplace – a position that is not aligned with the quality of education we offer,” said Arnold Bateman, who directs NU’s distance education efforts. “These increases put us at a much more appropriate rate and still well below the market in many cases.”

The new tuition rates for Nebraska residents are $10.75 to $28.75 higher per credit hour than on-campus courses; since most NU on-campus students who take distance education take just one course (3 credit hours) per year, the impact will average less than $75 per year per on-campus student. (Distance-only students, who take an average of 5 credit hours per year, will pay about $150-$190 more per year compared to 2008-09.) The rates compare favorably with Nebraska state colleges and are well below rates charged by for-profit institutions.

NU Regent Chuck Hassebrook said, "No one likes to increase tuition, but in this case it is key to our ability to increase access across Nebraska. Expanding distance education will offer people in rural Nebraska opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have. It is also important to note that students receiving financial aid are held harmless from these tuition increases."

The new tuition rates were developed under the Board of Regents’ tuition policy, which allows the President to approve tuition variances that are designed to achieve specific goals, address market conditions and promote entrepreneurial approaches. These variances, which are reported to the Board three times per year, include the Metropolitan Advantage Program, which allows students from three western Iowa counties to attend UNO (and Omaha-based UNL programs) at 150 percent of resident tuition; programs for teachers in math, science and education; and programs designed to attract more international students.

For several years, campus distance education leaders have been urging that resident tuition for distance education be treated in the same manner as non-resident tuition, with an ability to adjust based on program costs and market conditions. That request was granted when Regents Policy 5.7.6 was repealed at the June 2009 Board meeting.

Later this fall, the University plans to introduce a new website through which all NU distance education programs will be marketed, with a more aggressive regional, national and international marketing strategy being implemented over the next two years. “We can be a force in this arena,” Milliken said. “We offer students what they want – the same professors who teach on campus, exceptional student services, current and relevant curricula and a sense of community. Whether students are in the classroom or online, they are still part of the University of Nebraska community.” By marketing all distance education programs under a single brand and leveraging existing campus resources including marketing, financial aid, call centers and help desks, Milliken said, potential students will be better served and operating costs will be reduced.
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2009-10 Distance Education Tuition Rates for Nebraska Residents Undergraduate Resident Tuition 2009-10: Distance Education
CampusCollegeTuition rate per credit hourIncrease over 2008-092009-10 on-campus resident ratePercent above on-campus rate
UNKAll Colleges$167.25 15%$151.25 11%
UNOAll Colleges$188.50 15%$170.50 11%
UNLAll Colleges$215.75 20%$187.00 16%
UNMCNursing$236.754%236.750%

Graduate Resident Tuition 2009-10: Distance Education
CampusCollegeTuition rate per credit hourIncrease over 2008-092009-10 on-campus resident ratePercent above on-campus rate
UNK All Colleges (except biology) $198.25 10%$187.50 6%
UNK Biology $207.25 15%$187.50 11%
UNO All Colleges $235.00 15%$212.50 11%
UNL All Colleges$273.00 15%$247.00 11%
UNMC Nursing (continuing students)$268.00 4%$268.00 0%
UNMCNursing (new students - as approved by Board in April)$380.5047.6%$380.500%

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Consultant and campus representatives with distance education expertise
Educational Marketing Group, Denver, Bob Brock, (303) 743-8298
UNL: Paul Savory, associate vice chancellor, extended education and outreach (402) 472-3326; MBA program: John Anderson, Dean, College of Business, (402) 472-1190
UNK: Gloria Vavricka, director of eCampus, (308) 865-8390, Kenya Taylor, Dean of Graduate Studies, (308) 865-8843
UNO: John Bartle, director, School of Public Administration, (402) 554-3989, Lanyce Keel, director of academic computing, (402) 554-2020
UNMC: Bill O’Neill, senior associate director, UNMC public relations (402) 559-9152, Janice Tompkins, Director of Distance Education, School of Allied Health Professions, (402) 559-7633.

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