Lessons from $18 million Global Campus failure

Lessons from $18 million Global Campus failure

In his inauguration address in September 2005, then-University of Illinois President B. Joseph White first introduced the concept of a fourth, virtual campus to the university community.

Could the university create something that would combine the academic quality of the University of Illinois with the user-friendliness of the University of Phoenix?

The UI would give it a shot.

The result was an ambitious experiment that would ultimately cost the university $18.2 million over three years. Most of those expenses were due to personnel costs, according to UI spokesman Tom Hardy.

White brought in former UI Vice President Chester Gardner to conduct a study and consult with experts, a business plan was drafted, a proposal was shared with faculty governance groups and other administrators, and the discussions and debates began.

Initially conceived of as a for-profit, limited-liability venture that could bring much-needed revenue to the university, Global Campus was reworked and reworked again based on feedback. Eventually it would become a university unit, but the Springfield campus, long a leader in online education, opted not to participate. Programs were developed, but enrollment did not grow quickly enough, and 1.5 years after offering the first class, officials put a halt to it.

Since its demise about three years ago, several postmortems have been done on Global Campus.

One of the lessons learned has to do with money.

A university can offer online courses to generate revenue — but generating revenue should not be the main reason for offering online courses, said UI education Professor Nicholas Burbules. "One of the big mistakes of Global Campus was its big upfront expenses (they bought computers, servers, hired staff, remodeled space), then had to bring in revenue to cover their expenses. They were instantly under pressure from the board to show income to help defray the expenses," Burbules said.

Instead, if you start from the bottom up, you can grow and expand existing programs.

"I think the idea of minimizing the role of faculty at a place like the UI was the fundamental flaw" of Global Campus, said Charles Evans, associate vice president of academic affairs and a former Global Campus administrator.

Prior to Global Campus, university administration supported online learning through U of I Online and a steering committee that helped campuses develop the infrastructure, such as software, to make the courses work.

"The model of Global Campus was a very centralized approach, where programs give up control of their online courses and programs for the sake of accessing Global Campus' marketing and other resources," Burbules said.

Global Campus developed about 10 programs — six major programs, plus some certificate programs, Evans said. After it shuttered, control and management of the courses reverted to the campuses.

"The main lesson was, you have to let ownership and control of the programs stay close to where the quality comes from. The quality comes from the faculty, the departments," Burbules said.

"One of the unintended consequences of the Global Campus experiment was it did get people talking about online education a lot more," Burbules said. Either the university offers the courses or someone else will develop the courses, he said.

After Global Campus ended, the previous U of I Online steering committee, with members from all three campuses, was reconstituted and given a new name — the online management and planning team, Evans said.

"We do not have any money, but we still want to share best practices, market programs, and see where we can work together," Evans said.


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killerut wrote on April 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm

LOL!!  "Academic quality of the University of Illinois"


That's the funniest thing I've read this year.

Alexander wrote on April 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

The use of "academic quality" was, strictly speaking, used neutrally. Analogy: the academic quality of people who write using "LOL!!". LOL!!

GCsupporter wrote on April 22, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Congratulations on an amazingly one-sided puff piece for the people who brought down Global Campus solely because they couldn't look past their own egos and desire for control.  As an insider on the Global Campus initiative, there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that prevented the academic units and faculty of the U of I from owning the subject matter, student outcomes, and other aspects of the program content.  Other universities standardize on learning management systems for their online offerings, and they centralize admissions and marketing to achieve savings.  This was a plain and simple case of a small handful of faculty members who hated any type of centralized management--and hated any money not going to themselves--ruining a big opportunity for the entire U of I and putting a black mark on online education at public universities across the country.  The initiative was on track to break even the following year--way ahead of many private-sector investments of its kind.  I think the Board of Trustees, the students, the alumni, and the people of Illinois should all ask, "Is there something wrong with an educational initiative focused on increased revenue at a time when our public higher education system is bleeding money?"