BUFFALO (AP) — New York state’s 64-campus university system is undertaking a major virtual expansion, adding new online degree programs and enhancing academic and technical support for students taking classes via computer.
In what it’s calling “Open SUNY,” the State University of New York goes live Tuesday with eight new online degree programs at six campuses and plans to add more in September. SUNY currently offers more than 12,000 courses and 150 degree programs online.
Students will be able to complete degrees online or through a combination of virtual and brick-and-mortar classes.
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced plans for the expansion a year ago. The goal is to enroll 100,000 new online students over the next five years.
“Our reach is already pretty big — 465,000 students is huge,” Zimpher said in a telephone interview. But “It’s important to look at underserved and undereducated citizens.”
SUNY continues to court the traditional college-age student to live and study at its network of campuses, but it also wants to attract a new class of online learners from among the 6.9 million adults in the state who completed high school but lack college degrees. SUNY hopes the online initiative becomes its signature.
The new offerings will be aligned toward jobs in high demand. They include a clinical laboratory technologies degree program at SUNY Broome, an electrical engineering degree program from Stony Brook and an informations systems program through Empire State College.
At the center of Open SUNY is a website — described by the chancellor as “an open door” — that will guide students through course selection, financial aid, internships and other practicalities of study.
“They will see how to subscribe, they will be assured they will be supported with online mentoring,” Zimpher said. “We’ll help them with their finances, we’ll make sure they’re taking the courses in the right sequence, and we will give them access to a support base.”
The support will be especially important for students who have been frustrated by college in the past by getting shut out of courses or unable to connect with an adviser, she said.
The ambitious goal has some university faculty worried about a potential strain on technology or ballooning section sizes, said Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions. Professors also want assurances they will remain in control of their classes.
“We certainly support the use of online education as a methodology,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s done well and enhances the reputation of the university.”
The initiative also includes support for faculty wading into online learning and for those with experience.