UC online? Need to consider costs

My iGoogle page picked up this Op Ed piece in the LA Times entitled, “Building a new UC – in cyberspace” written by Christopher Edley, Jr. who is the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.  As the father of a daughter in college, I could not agree more with Edley’s one statement about the state budget here in California:

We’ve had decades of increasing dysfunction in Sacramento and smoldering doubts in some quarters about the value of supporting public education. Now comes the resulting surge in victims — present and future — in families and throughout the economy.

Edley suggests that an online university or making the 11th University of California all online is one way to innovate in these uncertain economic times and guarantee a UC education for all who desire it.   He suggests that because the University of Phoenix is having such success, then the UC could have the same success.  However, I do not think that Dr. Edley understands the costs of establishing an online school – whether in K-12 or at the university level.

As I have written and researched, the start up costs include course development, the overall structure and administration of implementation.  And, the greatest challenge, training and transforming the thinking of university professors to teach online so that the online courses are more than simply PowerPoints on the web. The costs may end up being less in the long term, but certainly not in the short term.  This is why the examples he writes about – Open University – failed.  If the estimate to establish an online high school is $1,000,000, the cost to establish an online university must be much greater because of the many courses that would need to be offered (See:  Anderson et al (2006) Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools).

On one hand, it would be better for UC to train all of its current professors to be online instructors and therefore, each UC could expand the online courses that already exist, and give students the options at each UC to take online or face-to-face or hybrid courses.  On the other hand, maybe it would be more effective to develop a separate university just for this purpose.  This would certainly be the Disruptive Innovation that Christensen, Horn and Johnson discuss in the book, “Disrupting Class.”

The poor economy alone is not a reason to establish an online university because it will cost the same in the short term to be established, aside from the cost of the land and buildings.  However,  students want choice and opportunity in their education in California – this should be the reason for establishing an online UC.

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3 Responses to “UC online? Need to consider costs”


  1. 1 Michael B. Horn July 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Good questions and thinking as always, Rob. Quick question — does this change at all if one were to use off-the-shelf content? It’s hard to imagine an established university switching to that, but a new one might see the benefits of that potentially if they had a different value proposition from many of the existing universities? My idea/question isn’t fully baked yet admittedly, but curious if you’ve looked at some of these design distinctions at all. Thanks. Also, since I’m now in California full time, would love to connect at some point.


  1. 1 Blogging About K-12 Online Learning « Virtual High School Meanderings Trackback on July 14, 2009 at 4:01 am
  2. 2 Blogging About Virtual Schooling « Virtual High School Meanderings Trackback on August 18, 2009 at 5:12 am

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