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Kansas Looking for Online Economies in Public Universities

Public universities across the country have encountered horrific budget cuts as the result of reduced state expenditures, which in turn have been caused by the recession. Kansas is no exception; the state's six public institutions of higher education are faced with a $76 million drop in revenue from the state budget. Partial remedies thus far include higher tuition and class sizes, the loss of 650 jobs in the university system and reduction of 500 course sections.

As part of the ongoing attempt to plan for further reductions in 2010, the Kansas University system was audited by state budget analysts in a search for opportunities to reduce costs. The auditors issued their report on September 5th and among other recommendations, they suggested an increase in online classes as a method of making public higher education in the state more cost efficient.

That recommendation is not entirely in line with other studies, conducted by other public universities that show the cost of preparing an online course is higher than for its classroom counterpart. Much of that cost is in the additional faculty time that online courses require, but there are also substantial costs attached to the technology requirements and the distribution system. Nevertheless state auditors see online programs as an opportunity for spreading faculty resources.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the study is the fact that the per-student cost of operating the campuses varied considerably, in line with their distance learning enrollment. Fort Hayes State University had a per-student operations cost of $8,330, while in comparison the flagship campus Kansas University spent $14,191 per student. At Fort Hayes, 43% of the student credit hours were earned in online classes last year, while for KU students the online credits were two tenths of one percent.

The virtual campus at Fort Haye has a good assortment of major options, including special education degrees at both the bachelor's and master's level that are designed for students who will be taking the licensing exam. They also have a range of IT degree options along with an assortment of management programs including a hospitality management degree that includes the core courses required in a business administration program.

To be fair, it's also important to note that average faculty salaries at Fort Hayes were substantially lower than at Kansas University. Also, while the discrepancy in online usage can't be overlooked it takes more than administrative intent to crank up a successful distance learning program. Faculty cooperation is critical and is not something that an administrative staff can mandate with tenured professors.

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