The measure was the handiwork of the University of Phoenix, an Arizona based for-profit college, which hired a pricy lobbying firm in Harrisburg to get the measure through. The university will provide the instruction via distance leaming. The university, which last year had revenues of $214.0 million, has 53,000 students studying at 93 learning centers in 29 states, says the company that owns it, Apollo Group, Inc. A publicly traded company since 1994, Apollo Group's stock has quadrupled in two and a half years. Apollo Group also owns Western International University and the Institute for Professional Development. "The profit motive should have no place in providing higher education to citizens of our Commonwealth," Hochner protested, to no avail.
Higher education leaders are talking about the new Western Governors' University, founded not by educators but by two govemors--Roy Romer of Colorado and Michael 0. Leavitt of Utah. This "virtual university" will use information technology exclusively to deliver instruction to students. Among its advantages, say it proponents, are that it will reduce cost and expand delivery.
Scheduled to open in July 1997, WGU is possible because of information technology innovations that are somewhat difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with electronic media. WGU will have no admissions requirements, no required courses, no classrooms, no faculty, no campus, no financial aid office, no cafeteria, no gym, no residence halls. Students will not be restricted to taking classes during the traditional semesters or the workday. Instead, students will be able to study anything they please at any pace they choose on any day during any hour. While the prospect of a virtual university is exciting, I know of no serious educator who is thinking of abandoning campuses for easy chairs and laptops. A catalog of courses is not really a university. The university model has prospered for centuries because it provides learning and experiences that cannot be achieved as effectively any other way. It is particularly appropriate for traditional college-age students, who learn by interacting with teachers and other students. It is difficult to simulate teamwork, skills, leadership qualities and friendships.
What's more, scientists, engineers, physicians, artists, and teachers all recognize the importance of hands-on experience in laboratories, studios, theaters, and classrooms.
In a real university setting, students learn at five levels:
The virtual university is targeted only at the first of these levels, thereby providing instruction but not education. A real university delivers all five.
It is wonderful to contemplate new learning opportunities. Building a catalog is considerably less costly than building a university and hiring a faculty and staff, and we should encourage their development. However, we should not confuse these initiatives with a university experience.
The following article is printed from the Report of the Montana Academic Forum, Academic Year 1996-1997
To provide for educational efficacy, the Montana University System must both give distributed learning a chance to succeed and determine to what extent success is achieved. The former point implies adequate support and rewards for faculty. The latter point requires assessment of learning objectives and outcomes. We invite the Regents to require campuses not only to conduct meaningful experiments and evaluations of the new distributed learning programs but also to undertake comparisons with traditional instruction. It simply makes no sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more on distributed learning without investing a relatively few tens of thousands to determine whether the larger amounts are being well spent.
Montana is a sparsely populated and poor state. Despite this, it has a system of higher education that is in many ways admirable. However, distributed leaming--if it is to be done on a large scale and if it is to be successful--is expensive and likely to remain so. It would be difficult for Montana to successfully participate in this process without new resources that support the new ventures. Even with the additional resources realistic for our state we cannot expect to have a cutting edge system of distributed education. At the same time we cannot afford to ignore the prospects of distributed learning. A middle ground is in order--a careful and judicious selection of alternatives together with a constant monitoring of national and international experiments and experiences is in order.
Note: The Montana Academic Forum was created in the fall of 1996. Its mission was to develop a policy statementfor adoption by the Regents. Members are selected by the Commissioner and include representatives of faculty senates, administrators, students, and others. For copies of the report contact the office of the deputy commissioner.