The following paper was presented in the Distance Learning Administrators conference proceedings, June 8-11, 2014.
Centralizing Distance Education at a Large Public Institution
Jennifer L. Simmons
The Ohio State University
Distance education opportunities have increased drastically during the past few years. Large public institutions such as the Ohio State University (OSU) have had small grass-roots efforts led by individual colleges, but no centralized coordinated effort or direction for distance education. In December 2012, OSU created the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) to coordinate all of its distance education programs, set specific goals to create 15 new distance education programs, and generate new revenue for the university by recruiting distance education students. This paper highlights the first year of progress toward centralizing distance education at OSU.
In December 2012, the Ohio State University (OSU) formed the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) to coordinate distance education programs; create 15 new distance education programs, generate new revenue; align all distance education programs with university, state, and federal laws and policies; develop transparent policies and processes; and set baseline success measures such as student satisfaction rates, graduation rates, and US News and World Report rankings over the course of the next five years. In order to achieve these goals, we needed to develop a solid foundation and build trusting relationships.
Distance Education Definition
To start, OSU did not have a consistent definition for distance, and our two reporting bodies, the Ohio Board of Regents and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), differed on their definitions for distance education. OSU adopted the HLC’s definitions, which define a distance education course as a course where 75% or more of course instruction is offered at a distance and a distance education program as a program where 50% or more of the courses within the program meet the definition of a distance education course. Although we adopted the HLC’s definitions as minimum standards for reporting purposes, our goal has been to develop 100% distance education courses and programs so we can achieve our goal to bring in new students and generate new revenue for the university by summer 2018.
Another role for ODEE is to obtain state authorizations, which essentially means we must obtain approval from every state in which our distance education students reside while receiving their instruction. For example, if a student is living in California and is receiving their instruction in that state, we have to obtain authorization from the state of California to provide that student with instruction. Our office developed a comprehensive plan and hired a team to obtain and maintain authorization in all 50 states and all territories in the United States.
Additionally, we created a distance education program-development process that aligns itself with the university’s program-approval process. The graphic below depicts the path a distance education program proposal takes to get buy-in and commitment from university leadership and with ODEE.
What’s important to note in this graphic is when a distance education program should contact our office. We recommend that distance education programs consult with ODEE before their proposal goes to their college curricular committee for approval to ensure that considerations for distance education have been discussed. After college approval, the proposal goes through the normal university program-approval process and the work with ODEE begins. Because the university has asked ODEE to verify compliance of all distance education programs, the first task is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the program’s college and ODEE. The university’s curricular approval committee, the Council on Academic Affairs (CAA), requires an assurance letter from ODEE indicating an MOU has been developed and signed before they will consider the program proposal. After CAA approval, our office creates a development schedule for the courses within the program, assigns instructional designers, and begins course development. Our course development process is a 14-week backward-design process that adheres to Quality Matters, a research-centered approach to quality assurance and continuous improvement for online learning.
The last foundational component is our distance education funding model, which was approved by the university in early 2013. This funding model applies only to students who are enrolled in distance education programs and in 100% distance education courses during a given semester.
The funding model doesn’t deviate from the existing university structure. As is the case for any new program at the university, the tuition revenue is first taxed 24%, which is used by central administration to fund support units. However, the traditional face-to-face program’s net marginal revenue is assessed various student fees, which could range between 30 and 50%. These student fees are typically used to fund university departments that support the various student services needed while on campus, such as the campus bus system and recreational facilities. Because these services are not applicable for distance students, distance education programs under the distance education funding model are exempt from these fees, which enables the university to split the distance program’s net marginal revenue 70/30 between the college offering the program and ODEE. This model significantly benefits the college and provides our office with sustainable funding.
ODEE utilizes its share of the revenue to hire necessary staff, implement necessary distance education tools and software, support a 24/7 Tier 1 help desk, meet state authorization requirements, cover marketing for the Ohio State Online brand, and provide professional development for distance education faculty and students as well as consultation services. Revenue also supports coordination of student support services such as the library, accessibility services, academic misconduct, and more.
OSU currently offers eight distance education programs: two undergraduate degrees (Dental Hygiene and a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing) as well as seven graduate degrees (Adult Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Family Nurse Practitioner, Dental Hygiene, Welding Engineering, and Agriculture and Extension Education).
Distance education is a key component of Ohio State’s future growth. Equally important is that we grow responsibly and with the highest regard to quality, rigor, and value by holding our distance education students, faculty, courses, and programs to the same standards and expectations as on-campus counterparts. During 2014, we will add four new distance education programs and create 10 new distance general-education courses.
By spending the time to build a solid foundation for distance education and by growing responsibly we will be one step closer to meeting our five-year strategic goals of developing more than 15 distance education programs and generating $25 million in new revenue for the university.
Jennifer Simmons is the ODEE Instructional Design Coordinator at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210. Email: email@example.com