UF expands opportunities for four-year degrees
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There will no longer be a limit to the size of the freshman class at the University of Florida. The State University System’s first fully online bachelor’s degree programs will place a UF education within reach of any first-time-in-college student who qualifies for admission.
Applications are now being accepted for UF Online – poised to be one of the nation’s first fully online undergraduate arms at a public university and the first in Florida.
“Many students have the academic skills to get into the University of Florida but haven’t been able to attend, either because we don’t have enough space on campus or because their life circumstances prevent them from leaving home,” UF President Bernie Machen said. “This online undergraduate initiative removes both of those roadblocks, providing access to all students in Florida and around the world who have what it takes to be a Gator.”
The state Board of Governors, which oversees the Florida public university system’s 12 institutions, on Friday approved the business plan for UF Online — an 82-page summary of courses and degree programs, student services, tuition and fees, budget, admissions and enrollment projections.
The plan is available at: http://tinyurl.com/kpw5t45.
“The Board of Governors is committed to transforming and enhancing online learning opportunities in Florida,” Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson said. “We’re excited about the plan UF has developed for its part in this effort.”
Until now, student access to UF has been limited by the difference between supply and demand. Because the UF campus is filled to capacity, the number of freshmen enrolling each year has remained steady at about 6,400. Since the turn of the millennium, though, the annual number of applicants has surged nearly 60 percent to more than 29,000. UF has had to turn away thousands of students who meet admissions criteria.
Since becoming speaker of the Florida House of Representatives last year, Will Weatherford has championed an undergraduate online arm in the university system. Increasing Floridians’ access to higher education is essential to training the workforce necessary to support the state’s economy, he said.
“UF Online is a game changer for the delivery of public higher education in Florida and around the world,” Weatherford said. “Starting next semester, distance will no longer be a barrier to obtaining a world-class education from a state university in Florida. I appreciate the leadership of President Machen, Ambassador John Rood and Vice Chair Carlos Alfonso to help make this online institute a reality.”
Weatherford led the passage of legislation in May that calls for the creation of fully online bachelor’s degree programs and a discounted tuition for Florida residents. The legislation also requires that online degree programs have the same academic rigor as UF’s traditional courses; in addition, online students must meet the same admission standards as UF’s residential students.
UF has long offered online degree programs but primarily for graduate students. Its existing 10 bachelor’s degree programs are two-year sequences for transfer students. Nationally, just a handful of public universities offer the full array of general education courses and prerequisites necessary to accommodate first-time-in-college students — and even fewer have dropped their prices for those online offerings.
The legislation caps online tuition for in-state students at 75 percent of the price of on-campus classes. Out-of-state students will pay market rates.
In-state students will not only save on tuition, but they also will be exempt from many on-campus fees. In addition, they will save an estimated $8,400 a year in room and board costs they would incur if they moved to Gainesville.
The Legislature is providing $15 million in start-up costs this year, then $5 million annually.
UF Online starts in January with five majors:
- Business administration
- Criminology and law
- Environmental management
- Health education and behavior
- Sport management
Two more majors will be added in June: Biology and psychology.
In the next five years, UF plans to add dozens more and anticipates topping out at 35. Classes start in January for those completing a bachelor’s degree, with the first freshmen class expected next summer.
UF recently named Elizabeth D. “Betty” Phillips, Arizona State University’s provost and executive vice president and a former UF provost, as executive director of UF Online.
UF Online is the university’s second initiative this year to increase access to higher education. The inaugural class of the Innovation Academy just completed its first January-through-August academic year. Students from 30 majors share a minor in innovation and an academic calendar putting students in seats that otherwise go unused as a result of mid-year graduations and drop-outs.
With UF Online, UF and the state will put an entire undergraduate experience online for some of the most popular majors and for those identified as meeting the state’s critical workforce needs. As UF Online matures, university officials plan to augment academics with the many other important elements of the college experience. Along these lines, the university is developing an orientation specifically for online students. UF is expanding its academic advising and career services, creating many opportunities for student engagement, and is expanding its counseling resources to best serve distance students.
The application deadline for the 2014 freshman class is Nov. 1. Students must apply for either UF Online or the traditional residential program. They cannot apply to both.