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IU sees room for growth in online education

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Indiana University officials say the time appears to be right for a push to increase the school's online education presence.

IU wants to reach more students, create a strong, quality online brand, support student success and create a major source of revenue at a time when existing ones are likely to be "stressed," John Applegate, executive vice president for university academic affairs, told The Herald-Times.

"We are a large university, and that's an advantage we should make use of," Applegate said. "Another is the economies of scale. We have the capacity to scale up without having to recreate infrastructure."

IU President Michael McRobbie told the university trustees in Indianapolis on Friday that the attention being paid to online education is about the "fourth wave" he's seen of intense interest and, often, exaggerated claims. IU has been engaged and exploring but cautious, he said.

Even without a major initiative, IU has created 109 programs, but is serving only 5,000 students. By comparison, Penn State University is seen as a national leader with 90 online programs and 12,000 students enrolled. The University of Massachusetts has nearly 100 programs and 30,000 students online.

"We need to do much better in marketing our programs," said Barbara Bichelmeyer, associate vice president for university academic policy and planning and director of IU's Office of Online Education.

She said the possibility for IU's reach could range from in-state to national and international learners.

Bichelmeyer said it's clear from the latest data that online education can be just as good as or better than the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. It also can work well within the residential experience at a campus such as Bloomington, Applegate said.

"It's not an either/or choice. There are a lot of students who are on a residential campus who want to try something new," he said.

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