Editors Note: Penn State University has long been a leader in education restructure, innovation and distance learning. It is a national model for implementation of technology throughout the University learning environment.
Distance Education and the Social Covenant of the Engaged University
It is a pleasure to join colleagues who are creating the global agenda for distance education. These are exciting times for open and distance education, and for higher education generally.
I have been asked to speak about the connection between distance education and the engaged university. I shall focus on those institutions I know best, public universities in the United States.
The term "engaged university" comes from the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, a national commission that I chaired, funded by the Kellogg Foundation and sponsored by the professional organization in the United States known as NASULGC, the National Association of State and Land-Grant Universities. The engaged university is one that is fully connected with its students, other constituents and the communities it serves. Universities such as the one I lead are strongly committed to the concept of engagement.
The Kellogg Commission was convened to consider how public universities in the United States need to change to remain relevant and viable in the midst of profound societal change. We addressed the increasing demand for higher education, the growing diversity of students, the need for lifelong learning, and the importance of discovery and scholarship to the quality of life.
We considered the social and economic necessity of sustaining a broad-based learning society. We looked to the impact of the information/ communications revolution on such issues as access, quality and competition. And we concluded that if we are not more supportive of the learning needs of people of all ages and the expanding knowledge needs of society, other educational enterprises will supersede us -- enterprises that wont have the rich interplay of disciplines and missions that enables our institutions to promote economic, human and cultural progress.
The response throughout much of American public higher education is an agenda that is well summarized by the theme of engagement. Simply stated, this agenda has three points:
The first of these -- the need to put students first -- is of greatest relevance to our discussion today. Online learning allows us to reach students where and when they are available to learn. It facilitates a resource-rich, active learning environment. And it helps students gain experience in applying knowledge to problems. At the international level, it does this while allowing the student to stay engaged in the local community.
However, these three points of engagement are in many ways three inter-related goals. Through the integration of teaching, research and service, universities like Penn State are able to achieve a level of engagement with society that greatly strengthens our contributions. It is obvious that distance learning initiatives are an important sign of educational engagement in this day and age. But it is in fully marshaling the intellectual resources of our institutions to make life better that the engaged university stands out in the growing landscape of distance education providers.
The Landscape of Distance Education in the United States
It is helpful for setting the stage for discussions about collaborative opportunities in distance education to look at the scope of such ventures.
There are more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States, representing a wide spectrum of characteristics -- public or private; regional, statewide or national; focused or comprehensive. Collectively, these institutions increased their number of distance education programs by 72 percent between 1995 and 1998, the most recent years for which data are available.
There are many models for distance education being advanced. These include for-profit companies starting their own universities that offer distance-education programs. The University of Phoenix, owned by the publicly traded Apollo Group, has received much attention, although most of its instruction is actually through resident instruction, albeit in a more flexible mode than traditional resident instruction. It is not really a distance-education company. Nonetheless, the University of Phoenix reported an increase of 45 percent in its online enrollments last year to a total of nearly 14,000. All together, it enrolls 75,000 degree students at more than 90 campuses and learning centers across the United States.
Another model is offered by UNext.com, an online learning company whose Cardean University expects to partner with some of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the United States to develop course content to be delivered by UNext adjunct professors.
Harcourt University and the U.S. Open University are other ventures. We also are seeing traditional universities set up for-profit subsidiaries to secure financing for and provide online learning programs. Among those announced are ventures by Cornell University, New York University and Columbia University.
Still another approach is found in regional online "virtual universities" that primarily are brokers of distance education programs available in their states. Western Governors University is one example, providing a means for students to enroll in courses offered by some 40 colleges and universities in 22 states but granting its own degrees. Another example is the Southern Regional Education Board whose Electronic Campus lists more than 3,200 courses offered by 262 institutions in the boards 16 member states. Students earn credits and degrees from the individual institutions.
And then there are new companies springing up to support the range of on-line learning ventures -- companies that provide technology platforms, software, bookstore services, and other support.
Some of these ventures surely will succeed; others most certainly will fail. Of concern is not only the new competition for students, but competition for faculty. Many Internet-based education providers are recruiting faculty aggressively from universities like mine to develop courseware or to deliver programs on a work-for-hire basis. I am troubled by the prospect of faculty being set up to compete with their own institutions. Intellectual property and conflict of interest issues are some of the most difficult raised by the digital age.
At Penn State, we have chosen to integrate distance education into the mainstream of the University to draw on the academic strengths of our faculty and programs as well as to capitalize on pedagogical innovations and extended external partnerships fostered by distance learning for all of the universitys activities. We believe quality is best achieved not as an add-on, but as an integral part of academic department activities. We recognize that on-line learning is having an impact within our resident programs and there is much to learn and to share from the transformation of courses for the distance learning environment. Distance education partnerships with employers, organizations, and international collaborators can open important doors for all students and faculty as well. Our model emphasizes the engagement and synergy of the universitys many parts to serve an extended learning community.
I wish to share with you what Penn State is doing in distance education, some of the challenges we have encountered, and what we see as some of the next steps as we respond to the new opportunities that anytime, anywhere learning affords to the engaged university. But first, let me provide some additional background on Penn State.
Penn State University
We are the flagship public university in Pennsylvania, founded in 1855 and part of the American land-grant tradition that began with an explicit charge to broaden access to higher learning for the citizens of each state. The comprehensive land-grant university mission of teaching, research, and public service evolved more broadly over time with a statewide focus that remains today, even as Penn State and other public land-grant institutions are recognized for their national and international stature.
Today, Penn State serves more than 80,000 resident undergraduate and graduate students at twenty-four locations throughout Pennsylvania. About half of our students are enrolled at the universitys main campus. Penn State is one of the most popular universities in America among college students, receiving more than 75,000 applications each year. We have academic colleges and schools in science, engineering, earth and mineral sciences, agricultural sciences, the liberal arts, health and human development, arts and architecture, education, communications, information sciences and technology, and law. Our academic health center includes a teaching hospital and a college of medicine. Penn State offers 160 baccalaureate and 150 graduate resident education programs. We are a major contributor to workforce development in our state, enrolling more students in professional, occupational, and technical programs than any other institution.
Penn State is also one of the largest research universities in the United States, with total research expenditures of more than $400 million last year. We rank second in the nation in industry-sponsored research. Our outreach activities, including continuing and distance education, public broadcasting, and cooperative extension, serve 5 million people annually.
Special priority has recently been given to several interdisciplinary initiatives including the life sciences, materials science, environmental studies, information sciences and technology, and children, youth and families -- areas of great significance to the quality of life in the future. Internationalization is another important priority for our university. Our contributions to economic, human, and cultural development would fall short were they not to advance within the global perspectives that impact so much of life today.
Although our mission is public, state funding contributes only 15 percent of our overall budget. Tuition and student fees represent the single largest income source. Our funding situation has led us to be entrepreneurial, to develop an active program of partnerships and to place a strong emphasis on private philanthropy for additional support. These characteristics in many ways drive how we think about institutional initiatives and partnerships. They must build on Penn States expertise and on our commitment to serving the needs of the community, and they must be financially sustainable.
The Penn State World Campus
Penn States involvement in distance education goes back to 1892. It was one of the first institutions of higher education in the United States to offer correspondence study, taking advantage of the then new rural free delivery mail -- the 19th centurys version of the information highway. Over the years, Penn State has adopted many technologies for instructional delivery, from courses offered nationally via radio in the 1920s to an on-campus interactive television network that helped the University respond to an influx of World War II veterans in the 1950s. We have used public broadcasting and cable television to deliver courses, and more recently have incorporated satellite interactive-compressed video, computer software and electronic mail. But until recently distance learning activities have been mostly at the margin of the University.
We have moved distance education to the center of Penn State in response to the growing need for flexibility in education to accommodate a diverse group of learners across the life span. I am not one who believes that modern information technologies will displace the primacy of resident instruction at institutions such as Penn State. But I believe that the most significant growth area in American higher education will be in distance and continuing education.
National statistics underscore the market for lifelong learning. They show that nearly half of the adult population in the United States -- some 76 million people -- pursues some form of continuing education annually. 40 million participate in work-related courses and 38 million participate for personal enrichment. Nearly 60 percent of these individuals have a college degree. Opening up our institutions to these audiences is an important part of being a truly engaged university. Advancements in telecommunications technology offer the perfect means to do so.
With all this in mind, we launched the Penn State World Campus in January 1998. This virtual university initiative uses the Internet and other distance education technologies to serve students who are location-bound, including those whose learning endeavors occur in the workplace. At the end of its second full year of operation just recently concluded, our World Campus offered 155 courses in 18 certificate and degree programs and had enrollments approaching 3,000. World Campus programs represent a variety of technical, management, and human service areas. Penn State World Campus students live in all 50 of the United States and 27 countries. Our goal by 2002 is to offer 30 programs involving some 300 courses and 10,000 enrollments.
From the beginning, we have viewed this initiative as a University-wide academic effort to offer programs from some of Penn States most highly regarded departments. The emphasis is on programs, not isolated courses. The programs are based in academic units and usually are taught by regular Penn State faculty as part of their normal teaching load. Program and course approval requirements, admissions criteria and credits granted are consistent with others throughout the University.
The Penn State World Campus received critical start-up funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which has totaled $3.3 million. Federal funding amounting to nearly $1 million is enabling the creation of a database-driven environment for the design, development, and delivery of online content. Penn State also has invested some of its own resources, and we have steered clear of outside venture capital funding. I am not interested in allowing outside entities to own equity in our University or any of its endeavors.
Distance Education Challenges
Realizing our vision for the Penn State World Campus has presented many institutional challenges. We have had to respond to organizational issues, interpret academic policy, and introduce new roles for academic units. We have had to address our academic culture, the need for faculty development, and intellectual property questions. Among our greatest challenges has been the need for new business practices.
Organizationally, we have had to reinforce that there is a single portal for distance education at Penn State, the World Campus. Linkages have been built between the World Campus and our resident education programs to encourage faculty teaching on-campus courses with a significant online component to see opportunities for distance delivery and also to seize upon the potential of World Campus courses for on-campus and inter-campus delivery. For example, there is World Campus representation on our academic deans Council for Undergraduate Education and Penn States Faculty Senate Committee on Outreach. At the same time, academic units have expanded their roles to incorporate World Campus degree and certificate programs as part of their instructional commitment.
In terms of academic policy, we have had to assure that distance education courses are considered equivalent to other courses in Penn States curriculum. In terms of academic culture, we have been working to promote acceptance of the viewpoint that teaching off-campus is not an add-on for faculty but a regular part of their job, and that students taught at a distance are Penn State students. A three-year project at Penn State on Academic Innovations in Distance Education, funded by the AT&T Foundation, produced faculty-driven guidelines for thinking about such issues. We also have spent a great deal of effort on faculty development, focused both on technology applications and new active and collaborative pedagogies. In these efforts, the World Campus is partnering with other units at Penn State concerned with innovation in teaching.
The digital age raises numerous issues related to intellectual property that continue to challenge our University and others. Questions of courseware ownership never raised in the past have come to the fore with the World Campus. It is our position that Penn State owns the copyright for distance delivered courses, a point that can be difficult for faculty to understand.
We also have been greatly challenged by the practical matters of changing Penn States business practices to incorporate the World Campus. We have had to account for new revenue streams, establish new interfaces between student databases, find new ways to provide and fund services, and create new models for revenue sharing between academic units. Integrating the World Campus into existing systems has been more difficult than had we created something totally separate or new.
Partnerships for the Future
As the Penn State World Campus achieves scale and stability, we are beginning to explore the next stages of development in distance education for our University. These include international partnerships for academic program development and other areas of collaboration. We have had conversations with institutions in other countries about sharing faculty, about mingling students in international law, and about developing collaborative graduate programs in communications and public policy. Penn State also is involved in several consortia for international collaboration in distance education. We serve as the headquarters for CREAD, the Inter American Distance Education Consortium. We are involved in an effort to extend an undergraduate program in business to South Africa. We also are involved in the Word Wide University Network, which builds on existing international peer institution relationships to explore ideas for collaborative program development.
International collaboration in distance offers many possibilities for Penn State to engage with our global society. Such partnerships can bring us closer to creating a truly distributed learning community, providing access to programs and courses wherever they might be. They also can open doors to the international marketplace for those we serve at home, engage faculty in global issues, and foster multicultural perspectives that are important to all of our students.
The technological changes that have swept over higher education during the past decade will continue to have an impact of how and why we establish partnerships. To give just one example, as we move to a database environment, we may want to partner with institutions that have similar academic expertise to develop and share educational modules -- online learning objects, if you will -- rather than complete programs. We need to be open to new ways of relating to one another.
Yet, as we look at international partnerships, we need to be careful that partners share enough of their academic cultures and infrastructure to accomplish successful ends.
First, any partnership must reinforce our mission and goals and the mission and goals of the partner institution. We believe it is critical that our mutual interests be affirmed at the beginning of any relationship. It must be clear whether the goal is to serve existing students on our campuses or the broader population of nontraditional students served by our respective distance education endeavors. In other words, we need to know the market and be ready to engage in mutual market research as an early step in testing the feasibility of a partnership. Basic issues of how we define curriculum, count credits, measure achievement and provide financial aid are also questions that need to be resolved. In Penn States case, we also must be mindful of our existing strategic partnerships with universities around the world for faculty and student exchange, research, curriculum projects, and outreach and dissemination.
Looking to the future, I believe that universities in the 21st century will be increasingly global in scope, aided by technology and involved with the pressing issues of society. I believe that with the growth of online learning, we will see a blurring of the distinction between resident education and distance education and that our learning communities will continue to expand as will our competition. Although we have seen tremendous change in higher education in recent years, we are really only just embarking on a future of unprecedented change. How our institutions respond today -- how we engage locally, nationally, and internationally with contemporary learning needs -- will be vitally important to our continuing leadership for society. Embracing flexibility and access in learning is a critical part of that response.
About the Author:
Dr. Graham B. Spanier is President of Penn State University. He presented this paper to the ICDE Standing Council of Presidents in Sao Paulo, Brazil on August 14, 2000.
This article was originally published on www.psu.edu/ur/oped/spanier4.htm