UA president seeks online university for adults


FORT SMITH — As part of an effort to expand educational offerings, the University of Arkansas is considering the creation of an online university targeting adults.

According to the UA, this week System President Donald Bobbitt will ask the UA Board of Trustees to consider “expanding a consortium of campuses to participate in planning for a new online university” designed for adults.

The UA Board of Trustees, which holds five regular meetings a year, will gather Thursday and Friday at the Fort Smith campus. Trustees will be asked to consider the proposal during a Distance Education and Technology Committee meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday.

“I believe creating an online university focused on adult learners is the best way for us to answer the Board of Trustees’ call (in 2012) to expand and coordinate online education in the UA System,” Bobbitt stated in a news release.

The online university will offer a limited number of workforce-relevant degree programs “designed for adults who need the flexibility afforded by online education,” and “who are unable to access traditional campuses because of job, family and financial constraints,” according to the university.

Shane Broadway, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said Wednesday that his office has met with the UA about the proposal.

“It’s unique in that it’s a system-wide approach,” Broadway said. “We have several of our public and private institutions who are offering online degree programs, many of which are targeted to adult learners, as well. The trend certainly is growing.”

Broadway added that Arkansas has at least 350,000 adults who have some college but no degree.

“It’s certainly increasingly difficult for those who are working, raising a family, those kinds of things, to drive to a campus, find a parking space, go to the classroom and tend to the needs at home, as well,” he said. “So online is increasingly becoming an opportunity.”

According to the Lumina Foundation, the percentage of Americans between ages 25 and 64 with a two- or four-year degree is 38.7 percent.

“At current rates, the U.S. will produce around 39 million two- and four-year college degrees by 2025, leaving a gap of 23 million,” the foundation’s website states.

The state of Arkansas needs more than 519,000 additional college graduates to meet workforce needs by 2025, according to the foundation.

Bobbitt’s proposal calls for initial degree programs to be offered by fall 2015 in partnership with other UA System campuses while the new university seeks accreditation. Michael Moore, vice president for academic affairs, and Daniel Ferritor, vice president for learning technologies, will present the plan to trustees.

“We believe it’s imperative that the state’s largest university system provide a high quality, affordable public higher education option to these students,” Moore stated in a news release. “Our idea is to utilize our outstanding faculty to create programs that will lead students directly into the workforce.”

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education likely will play a role in future steps concerning the university’s new online program, Broadway said.

“We’ll get back with them after the trustees’ meeting in terms of next steps and furthering discussions of anything that needs to be done on our end,” he said.