I was actually out and about today when I heard this story on Michigan Public Radio, “EMU is expanding online degree programs.” A quote:
Eastern Michigan University has entered into a 5 year agreement with Academic Partnerships, a private company, to offer four fully online degree programs.
According to Kevin Kuchera, EMU’s Vice President for Enrollment Management, the programs will increase educational opportunities for non-traditional students while generating revenue for the University.
The four programs are RN2BSN (Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing), Master’s in Educational Leadership, Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and Bachelor of General Studies (degree completion).
It is “interesting” to say the least that a) this is coming out at the very end of the semester, hours before the beginning of the Christmas break, and b) there was nothing about this from EMU about this; rather, the story broke from Michigan Public Radio. Anyway, a couple of thoughts and then I hope others have comments and such:
- Personally, I have no problem with online programs/online courses in principle as long as they are done well. I’ve been teaching online for about ten years and I think it can be a legitimate way to learn and educate– with lots of caveats that I won’t get into right now. However, I worry a lot about the partnership that EMU has entered into with Academic Partnerships, which strikes me as the worst kind of “Edu-preneur,” interested in trying to suck as much money out of the education sector as possible. The Atlantic had a pretty good article about this, “How Companies Profit Off Education at Nonprofit Schools.” The short version is this is a sketchy arrangement, one where Academic Partnerships is likely to profit a lot more out of this deal than EMU, and also a deal where students generally are the losers/pawns.
- I had heard some rumors about this coming about, but it sounds like these programs went through with pretty minimal faculty input. That’s kinda bad.
- I’m not sure I worry much about the nursing program or the graduate programs in Education, but the Bachelor of General Studies degree has lots of potential for problems. This was actually something I wrote about on the old EMUTalk back here, which is when this “General Studies” degree was first floated. Back then I pointed out we already have a program in “Individualized Studies” at EMU, so I don’t know what this degree is supposed to be about. In any event, I’ve had students in the current “Individualized Studies” program– particularly in some of my online classes– and I have to say these students tend to be kind of misfit toys with a ton of credits (usually from three or four different community colleges and universities) who are trying to figure out a way to be a college graduate. I guess it’s good that we should try to help them out, but I’m not sure making this a degree program with lots of students in it.
- My current work/book project is on Massive Online Open Courses, and I’ve done a fair amount of research looking back at the history of previous movements in distance education. Long-story short: higher education has been trying to come up with a way to bring education to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to college for a long time, and simultaneously to increase revenue. There were correspondence programs in the late 19th/early 20th century, courses by radio and television in the middle of the 20th century, and of course “traditional” online courses starting around the early 1990s. Sometimes, these delivery methods just became “normal” (correspondence and online courses), and sometimes these methods morphed into something else (courses by radio and TV became public radio and public TV). But one thing has proven to be consistent with these earlier movements and with things like MOOCs: they didn’t “transform” education as we know it and they ended up not being nearly as profitable as the edu-preneurs promised and/or hoped.