One of the great oddities of the human species is how frequently it forgets, and therefore must relearn, certain fundamental truths. University administrators, for instance, are waking up to the fact that it's easier to draw flies with honey than with vinegar. A December 21, 2010 article for Inside Higher Ed reports that administrators of the University of Kentucky have struck upon a novel way to get instructors to develop and teach online courses: by sharing with them the profits their courses generate.
"In the College of Arts and Sciences, departments get to keep half of what the college makes from the online students enrolled in that department's courses," the Inside Higher Ed article reports."The idea is to give departments control over which of their courses go online, and let them share in the rewards."
This revenue-sharing scheme at the University of Kentucky has proven immensely successful. It has enjoyed nearly universal popularity, most university programs participating in the experiment. "Mark Kornbluh, a history professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says that biology (Kentucky's leading major) put the most courses online last summer," the article reports, "but the anthropology, sociology, philosophy, geography, and modern and classical languages departments all took the opportunity to create online courses -- 20 altogether from these departments -- and each department netted about $20,000."
The return on the limited investment the University of Kentucky has made in the revenue-sharing scheme (it restricts this scheme summer courses) has been encouraging, generating necessary funds for both the administration and academic programs. Emboldened by these early results, University of Kentucky administrators are naturally beginning to contemplate ways by which to extend the program to the regular academic-year curriculum. "Kentucky currently is limiting the revenue-sharing program to summer courses (which enroll mostly traditional students who are already enrolled at the university), though it is 'cautiously' looking to bring it into the fall and spring semesters," the article continues. "The goal of the online push is to give Kentucky students extra opportunities to complete crucial courses they might have failed or skipped during the fall or spring; hence the university is especially encouraging faculty to adapt 'bottleneck' courses -- i.e., courses students need to pass to advance along a degree path."
Administrators hope online coursework as a mode of distance learning will streamline the matriculation process by keeping students from falling behind in terms of accumulated credits, and by helping those who do catch up.
Indeed, it seems that streamlined matriculation is something demanded not only by administrators, but by students as well. Many students may wish to embark on careers as soon as possible, and thus would like to compress their college experience, trimming it perhaps by as much as a year. Meanwhile, those who find the academic grind too much to take in the prescribed doses (generally fifteen or so units per semester for eight semesters) can ease their burden without incurring the penalty of spending additional semesters mopping up the odd credit.
Incentives abound in the economy of things. Higher education is no exception. The task may be, then, not so much to mandate course requirements as to harmonize incentives so that all parties involved -- administrators, instructors, students -- will find university life rewarding.