Bloomberg News

Florida Should Consider Online College, House Leader Says

January 23, 2012

(Updates with commissioner’s comment in sixth paragraph.)

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Florida should consider making its next state university completely online, a top Republican legislator said.

Representative Will Weatherford today asked the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees 11 universities, for a cost- benefit analysis on creating an online school.

“I would challenge the universities to get out of their comfort zones,” said Weatherford, who will be speaker in 2013-2014 if Republicans maintain their majority after November’s elections.

Florida would be the first state to create such a program, said Andrew Magda, a senior analyst at Eduventures Inc., a Boston-based higher-education research company. While several states have collaborated with companies to offer online courses and degrees, none has started their own college, he said.

Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson agreed to complete the cost analysis. Annual tuition and fees for an in-state undergraduate at the University of Florida in Gainesville is $5,700, according to its website.

“This is a great opportunity for us to bring back into the workforce people who need certain skills or credentials,” Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said.

New Wave

Weatherford said in an interview that he hoped the board’s analysis will be complete before lawmakers convene for the 2013 legislative session. If the board made a positive recommendation, the online school could enroll students by 2014, Weatherford said.

“There is no doubt that such a delivery model is the wave of the future,” Weatherford wrote in a letter to Colson before the meeting.

His request came a week after Robinson and State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan suspended payments for construction projects at public schools and colleges due to budget shortfalls. Also last week, Governor Rick Scott asked universities to return $250 million from unspent bond proceeds.

In Florida, all high-school students must take at least one online class. About half the 240,000 undergraduates at state universities in 2010 took at least one online class, Weatherford said.

Nationwide, more than 2.3 million students completed at least 80 percent of their degrees online, according to Eduventures. That’s up from 165,300 in 2000. The company expects that total to increase to 5 million by 2020.

--Editors: Stephen Merelman, William Glasgall

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael C. Bender in Tallahassee at mbender10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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