As online offerings have grown increasingly important to colleges over the past decade, large public university systems looking to launch or expand degree programs have been faced with a key question: To centralize or not to centralize?
Systems across the country have adopted a wide range of approaches — creating a separate institutional entity for all online efforts, housing online programs at individual campuses, sharing online courses among several campuses with oversight from a central body, among others.
But the answer for most lies on a spectrum between centralized and decentralized. Each approach offers benefits and drawbacks, with no one emerging as the dominant or superior model. System leaders interviewed for this article said the key for any university is not to follow a specific path or precedent, but to find the approach that best suits the institution’s strengths and diminishes its challenges.
Highlights of how university systems manage their expansive online programs are below.
The University of Illinois’s online effort lies on the decentralized end of the spectrum. A small centralized unit provides learning management system assistance and pedagogy training for instructors, but each campus creates online programs that suit its priorities and personality.
“They host a committee every couple of months with the leaders of the online programs just to make sure we don’t step on one another — so we don’t launch directly competing degrees and the like,” said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield.