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Priorities for Excellence: The Penn State Strategic Plan 2009-10 through 2013-14

Goal 6: Use Technology to Expand Access and Opportunities
Strategy 6.1: Expand the World Campus and Other Online Educational Offerings

Over the past decade, Penn State’s World Campus established itself as one of the world’s first and most highly rated online distance education learning organizations. Currently expanding at more than 40 percent per annum, the goal for the World Campus is to have 50,000 course enrollments within the next decade. More than sixty certificate and degree programs are available, with a healthy mix of associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degree offerings. Concomitant with the growth of the World Campus has been the increase in the number of online courses offered by Penn State’s academic colleges and campuses, courses that are delivered to resident education students both at the originating campus and at other locations through the mechanism of the eLearning Cooperative. Course data and student surveys indicate a notable trend of more resident instruction students taking one course online during a semester along with resident courses. The prevailing economic climate will likely influence individuals to seek higher education while staying in their jobs, leading to growing demands for online education and/or a mix of online courses and resident instruction. Demand for executive education delivered by high-quality providers is likely to continue to expand. The market for professional master’s degrees is particularly strong and likely will remain so. In short, we have many reasons to expect that much continuing professional education will be offered increasingly in the future online.

The World Campus provides an outstanding mechanism with which to reach literally across the globe to serve students. It must be a central element in the University’s approach to globalization and bringing students from a variety of nations into the Penn State community. The World Campus also is a means to reach many nontraditional student audiences who may not have the ability to physically attend courses on a campus. For example, it can reach students living in remote areas, individuals with disabilities, and those in active military service who enroll through the ConAP (concurrent admissions program) agreement with the U.S. Army.

The World Campus represents a tremendous actual and potential source of new revenues for academic units across the University. Many programs are benefitting greatly from the revenue sharing that is now accruing from their efforts to participate in the development and marketing of World Campus programs. This represents a critical area of future investment for the University where the return on investment is substantial.

Courses created for online delivery, whether delivered through the World Campus or by individual academic units, have important “dual use” capabilities. Online course materials can be used for “blended” courses in resident instruction that incorporate both face-to-face instruction and online components. In many instances, the online capabilities permit students to work repeatedly at problems and more readily lead them to solutions. An increasing body of research indicates that blended learning courses can improve student learning and also reduce the costs of instruction for certain types of courses.

Growth of the World Campus and other forms of online education should include a continued leading role for the faculty, academic units, and the University Faculty Senate. The long-term success of online programs, including the World Campus at Penn State, is linked to how well these programs can draw upon the unique strengths and academic capacities of the enterprise. Development of online programs provides academic units with the opportunity to craft blended learning courses, which are a mixture of online and traditional face-to-face instruction. Penn State has been funding the development of more such courses in recent years, and must continue this focus on key courses that are in especially high demand among resident education students. Data derived from the analysis of blended courses indicate that improvements in learning can be achieved simultaneously with a reduction in the costs of course delivery.

The budget models supporting the World Campus have evolved considerably over the past decade of operation. For example, considerable simplification of budget and revenue-sharing models has occurred, and some Penn State colleges are now hiring faculty members based in part upon their expected contribution to creating, teaching in, and/or managing World Campus programs. We need to ensure that the budget models provide adequate incentives for units to bring forth programs with the greatest market potential, and that faculty with the requisite skill sets can be engaged to support those programs at a high level of quality.

  • Vice President for Outreach—Primary
  • Academic Leadership Council—Secondary
  • University Budget Office
  • University Faculty Senate
  • Vice Provost for Information Technology