Launch of 'LSU Online' offers promise for university's academic, financial future

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 12:14am

Monday was the first day of school for a new type of LSU student.

LSU launched its LSU Online initiative with three graduate programs that are held entirely online.

Students may now take classes towards master's degrees in business administration, construction management, and human resources and leadership development without ever setting foot on campus.

The goal of LSU Online is, "to attract students, not only from Louisiana, but from throughout the country," said Gil Reeve, vice provost for academic programs. "And so these programs fit certain niches that we believe are going to attract a lot of students. And we'll continue to apply that approach as we add more online programs to our inventory."

LSU Online is meant to draw students who would not normally attend LSU. Some have full-time jobs, some cannot afford to move to Baton Rouge. But all students would have confidence that they could continue their studies even if they are forced to move.

The university started designing LSU Online about a year ago. Some other universities have similar programs, but Reeve believes the demand for online education is only going to grow.

"We're not on the front of the wave," he stated, "but we haven't missed the boat, either."

He said LSU did not want to rush into web-based education. LSU Online does not currently offer bachelor's degrees, and a firm date has not been established to begin doing so.

"Graduate programs are a little bit easier to manage," Reeve explained. "They're more focused classes. A full online undergraduate program requires the (general education) courses, the supporting coursework, and then the major courses."

LSU chose a patient approach, to ensure that it's online offerings would best fit its brand. It did not heavily market LSU Online because it wanted a smaller group of early enrollees to help fix any flaws in the system.

One common fear of online education is that an unlimited capacity will lessen a student's ability to receive specialized instruction or help.

"We do have a sense of the management of the number of students," Reeve said, "and we have developed some student support services that are unique to online. And we also anticipate that if a particular course or program grows in size, we'll add the faculty necessary to keep it to be a successful program for the students."

Adding online degree programs is also a way for the university to offset state budget cuts. While LSU Online does have high technology costs, they are lower than those of traditional classes.

"When you teach on campus, you've got facilities to maintain, you've got additional support people, and other considerations that have to be part of the total cost," Reeve noted. "This can be an opportunity to generate a resource, and not simply adding something that's going to cost us more money down the road."

LSU would not say how many students were enrolled in LSU Online courses for their launch, but Reeve said he expects the program to grow quickly as it increases its marketing efforts over the next several months.

"And we think that this is the right approach to take, in that over time, these programs will really grow and serve their purpose for LSU."

Tuition for the LSU Online courses will be comparable to the traditional versions. Reeve said the prices are market-based and competitive, but fall within guidelines prescribed by the state legislature.  


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