Penn State's World Campus Ponders Online Learning Future

The vice provost for online education is retiring this year, and now those who are left are considering which direction the campus' online learning program should go next.

by Lori Falce, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.) / November 4, 2016 0
A crowdfunding platform at Penn State is helping researchers tackle projects like studying the DNA of the eastern cougar - a fitting project since the university's mascot is the fictional nittany lion that's modeled after a cougar. by Nathaniel C. Sheetz. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

(TNS) — When Penn State's World Campus started in 1998, it had a grant and a dream.

Eighteen years later, the World Campus is a national leader in online education, with students around the globe and a stack of accolades from U.S. News and World Report for both its undergraduate and graduate programs.

"It's successful because it's embedded in the core of the university," Craig Weidemann told the Penn State trustees committee on outreach, development and community relations on Thursday.

It was Weidemann's last meeting as the vice president of outreach and vice provost for online education. He retires Dec. 31.

He leaves behind a program that has 20,000 students and 10 percent growth in enrollment each year. The campus is on track to hit 35,000 students by 2025.

The student body also doesn't necessarily reflect what one might assume of an online school. While there is a strong presence from non-traditional learners, such as active-duty military moms studying between serving the country and taking care of kids or a Pittsburgh janitor who reads his assignments at 2 a.m. after a shift at a high school, there is another use.

Weidemann said about 6,000 resident students take World Campus courses. At University Park, about half of all students take at least one online course.

"I think the real challenge is to think about what's next," he said.

Associate Vice President Yvonne Gaudelius spoke to that. The university is taking steps to anticipate the changes to the growing online component.

"It's not what is the future of the World Campus. It's what is the future online learning," she said. "How do we make it more seamless? How do we see what the next 20 years are going to be?"

Trustee Ryan McCombie chairs the committee. He approved of the closer look at where the program might go.

"It's like, where are we pointing? Where do we want to be? The big things are easy," he said. "I'm just asking you to go forward for the details."

©2016 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.