UT Arlington touted as a national model for public universities

Posted Saturday, May. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The University of Texas at Arlington could hardly have written the news release in more glowing terms.

“As the nation struggles to find new ways to increase college access and completion rates while lowering costs, a handful of ‘Next Generation Universities’ are embracing key strategies that make them models for national reform,” the New America Foundation said in releasing a report on six public research institutions.

The schools — UT Arlington, Arizona State University, University at Buffalo, University of California at Riverside, University of Central Florida and Georgia State University — are “breaking the mold,” “boldly restructuring operating costs” and “continuing their commitment to world class research while increasing enrollment and graduation rates, even as the investments from their states have declined,” said the foundation, a Washington-based think tank with an impressive pedigree and broad funding base.

The report itself, released Tuesday, was just as flattering, even fascinating.

Its most detailed discussion of UTA centered on its 40 percent enrollment growth to some 34,000 students since 2006, much of it driven by online courses, particularly in the nursing and teaching fields.

“The university entered into an agreement in 2008 with Academic Partnerships, a for-profit company that helps public universities build online courses and recruit students,” the report said.

“Today, 42 percent of Arlington students take at least one class online, and 27 percent of them are enrolled exclusively online. About 60 percent of the online enrollment is managed by Academic Partnerships (with the remaining courses overseen by the university).”

UTA was one of Dallas-based Academic Partnerships’ first clients, according to the company’s website.

Nursing online enrollment jumped from 127 in 2008 to 5,000 now, making UTA’s the largest public university nursing school in the U.S., the report said.

But it gets more interesting: “The agreement with Academic Partnerships — which receives 40 percent of the profits from new enrollments [emphasis added] — has not been without its share of controversy on campus, in part because the expansion came without increasing the size of the nursing faculty.” Instead, professors supervise hundreds of students, assisted by ‘coaches’ with advanced degrees.

UTA’s innovation is worth recognizing. But key questions should be asked: Are online students and taxpayers being adequately served? And how intriguing is it that Jeb Bush is the first person listed on Academic Partnerships’ senior advisory board?

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