Degrees earned entirely online would indicate poor quality education
The Arizona Board of Regents would do well to consider the overall quality of education before pursuing a fully online, accredited university.
Now, all that exists is one central Web site that combines all online courses from the three state universities. But within a few years, this could become the Arizona Regents University, with full accreditation.
One of the goals of the Arizona Regents University would be to "mix and match online courses to create degree programs, supplementing the education Arizona students are already receiving in the classroom."
A supplemental role is the most effective way to offer online courses and distance education. But going to fully online degree programs would have negative effects on the quality of the education offered to students.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this week that the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution that opposes undergraduate degrees that are earned entirely online.
The resolution stated that a degree earned entirely online would not have the same value as a degree that was earned in the classroom. The group proposed 14 standards for a quality distance-education program. An effective program would necessarily have to include an element of face-to-face instruction.
This standard recognizes one of the most important and fundamental aspects of higher education - the intellectual relationship between instructor and student.
Instructors - from regents professors to first-year graduate teaching assistants - hold office hours for good reason. Students need, and often want, face-to-face help. Not only that, but students need dedicated instructors, those who show a strong passion in teaching a particular subject area and consider students' learning as a measure of success. Computers can't do that.
A fully online degree would be an indication that a student completed the prescribed requirements, not that he or she would have learned anything. Teachers can measure a student's progress, and actually gauge learning, rather than just measure how well requirements were met.
The Arizona Regents University would combine the strengths of the three state universities, while keeping the individuality of each institution. The Board of Regents has also expressed the desire to reach more non-traditional students and those in rural areas.
These are proper goals for distance learning in Arizona. But realistically speaking, online education should not take over for the classroom experience. The Internet is crucial to higher education, and will grow more so.
Structuring higher education with the intent of using the Internet teaching other online skills is the necessary direction in which to move, and the regents have recognized that. But becoming too eager in establishing the Arizona Regents University could result in weakening the quality of education.
As the stand of American Federation of Teachers shows, online education and distance learning indeed have a place in undergraduate instruction. But by itself online learning cannot deliver degree programs that even rival those earned through the classroom. Of course, the highest quality education will be a reasonable combination of the two, designed to meet the needs of a diverse student body.
University of Arizona President Peter Likins recognizes the need for caution in approaching distance learning. "It's not a substitute for going to college," he told the Wildcat.
Correct. Let the Board of Regents develop a system that benefits the students by adding a strong online element to the degree programs, but let's never see a degree earned entirely online. It simply wouldn't be worth much.