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University of Arkansas system board approves new online university

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees took one giant leap forward Thursday (March 20) when it approved the creation of a new online university, becoming the 18th school in the UA System. The vote was held during a board meeting held Thursday and Friday (March 21) at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

The new online university, named the University of Arkansas eVersity, will cater to adult students who are unable to otherwise access a traditional college education.

“For many students, the optimum experience is to learn intensively under the mentorship of the exceptional faculty we have at each institution. However, for those students for which that is not possible, the eVersity will provide a much needed option,” Bobbitt said.

The proposal was made by Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the UA System, and his staff, as a response to a resolution passed by the board in November 2012 directing the system president to coordinate and expand online education in the system.

With Bobbitt's proposal now approved, the next step in the process of establishing the school is planning academic governance through a consortium of existing UA System schools, according to a press release.

By establishing the eVersity, the UA System hopes to attract Arkansas students who may have turned to for-profit institutions to obtain their education. Another core group that will be targeted by the new school will be adult learners who may have obtained some college credit but have not yet completed their degrees.

According to Dr. Michael Moore, the UA System's vice president for academic affairs, the eVersity's core principals will include providing high quality classes, affordable tuition and programs relevant to today's workforce needs.

Moore added that a planning phase for the new online school will involve faculty from across the system's 17 colleges and universities.

"The eVersity will be a collaborative effort drawing on the strength and expertise found in our existing UA institutions. Faculty members at our colleges and universities will specify degree requirements, will develop the course work in concert with expert instructional designers and will teach our courses. In this respect, we will draw an important distinction from many of the existing fully online universities that rely almost exclusively on adjunct faculty."

According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, more than 80 schools from across the United States operate more than 1,000 degree programs within the state of Arkansas. The number includes both non-profit and for-profit institutions, with more schools seeking approval for additional degree programs each month.

In announcing the creation of the eVersity, the UA System quoted a study from the Lumina Foundation, which said Arkansas needs 519,000 college graduates to meet its workforce needs by the year 2025. The same study claimed that 358,000 adult Arkansans had completed some college, but have no degree.

Moore said the school's goal will be to complement the efforts of the traditional institutions in the UA System, which offer some targeted online programs among traditional face-to-face on-campus instruction.

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Bobbitt said with the newly established eVersity, the UA System would be successful in its attempt to increase the number of college graduates in the state.

“The University of Arkansas System has a rich portfolio of talent that resides in the faculty and staff of our 17 institutions and divisions,” Bobbitt said. “I’m confident that we will, and in fact, must, bring this array of talent to bear on Governor (Mike) Beebe’s challenge to double the number of Arkansans with a post-high-school credential.”

The UA System Board of Trustees will continue its Board meeting in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Student Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Friday, where a resolution continuing the system's ban on firearms will be on the agenda.

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