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Friday September 29, 2000

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Regents unsure of next step for online university

By Ryan Gabrielson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Some members doubt courses' advising strategies, research

TEMPE-After creating the Arizona distance learning Web site, which pools the three state universities' catalogs of online courses, the Arizona Board of Regents isn't certain of its next step.

In a study session yesterday, the Arizona Board of Regents discussed the possibilities for the Arizona Regents University, a proposed all-Internet school.

"Do you evolve from top to bottom?" asked University of Arizona President Peter Likins, who explained that he isn't sure whether a degree program would be possible.

For now, the regents have created a university information consortium, with the possible future being the creation of a virtual electronic university.

"We are entering into a wide-open arena," said Sally Johnstone, director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications.

If the regents move toward the creation of an entirely online university, Johnstone said academic services must be provided. Such services could be advising, a bookstore and personal counseling, all of which would come at a cost.

George Davis, UA provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the concept of an entirely online university concerns him because it has the potential to remove the professor from the learning process and keep the professor from advising the student.

Members were also concerned about the UA's reputation as a research institution and said taking students out of the classroom takes them away from the research being done on the campus.

"That's a heck of a price you pay when you do that," Likins said. "By bringing those things (instruction and research) together, we changed the face of higher education."

While an entirely online university takes the student out of the classroom, it also provides more flexibility than a traditional university, some say.

"That's because they don't want to worry about parking," said Regent Judy Gignac.

She said she is looking for a balance between online and traditional courses.

Johnstone also explained the advances of online instruction in other states' university systems. Michigan, Maine and California state university systems have all begun establishing virtual universities, but none offer degree programs.

"It's what this world is pushing us toward, and it's what students want," Johnstone said.

While listing goals, Regent Chris Herstam said he would like the virtual institution to be at a reasonable price for students with more accessibility. Gignac said she wants the courses to be flexible and tailored to the needs of students.

The regents could not decide whether they should target Arizona residents for the program, since that would exclude out-of-state students who attend the universities.

The regents also discussed whether online courses should be supplemental, or if entirely-online degree programs should be offered.

"There are no right answers," Johnstone said.