Carolina’s Online Courses

A valuable asset

by: Lea Palmer

At the beginning of the 2012 year, due to a 3.4 percent state budget cut on the Universities overall budget, UNC had to eliminate 500 classes which diminished over 16,000 seats for students.  This drastic budget cut, coupled with the elimination of a vast number of classes on campus appears to have led to a sharp increase in online courses offered by the university.

The $80.7 million budget cut that Chapel Hill faces is part of the $414 million cut that the entire UNC system will be facing across 17 different campuses.  These budget cuts, as expected, are taking a toll on the amount of financial aid that can be given to students as well as funding for certain positions at the various UNC campuses. One of the most troubling results from these budget cuts is the 23 percent rise in class sizes in the College of Arts and Sciences from this loss of seats.

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education has developed an extensive list of options to help control the overall affect that these budget cuts will have on the UNC system.  Among these ideas are: placing caps on enrollment, raising admission standards, changing the formulas for financial aid, and adding online courses available to students. In addition they considered increasing faculty workloads to “perhaps three [courses] per semester”, in order to eliminate “frivolous courses” such as pop-culture classes, time-travel classes, and various other courses that “cling to more ‘holistic’ methods that doom many children to failure”.

Holden Thorpe’s top priority from the beginning of these financial struggles, which began in the fall of 2008 during the global economic crisis, has been to ensure and protect the classroom experience for all Carolina students.  In order to keep this promise, the amount of online courses has more than doubled to help minimize class sizes and ensure that Carolina students receive the best education possible.

Chapel Hill now offers semester long online courses that even extended into the summer sessions.  Anyone is open to enroll in these classes as long as they are in good academic standing, although it has been recommended that students speak to their academic advisor before enrolling in these courses.  The amount of online courses that are now offered at Chapel Hill has increased twofold, so students no longer need to worry about the lack of options.  Courses in art, astronomy, business, English, French, linguistics, music, philosophy, political science, religious studies, Spanish, and various other subjects are being offered where students no longer need to attend class and can communicate with their classmates and professors online through discussion forums.  Tuition prices for these courses are separate from normal tuition, and vary depending on the amount of credit hours the course entails. They also include an additional $13.16 registration fee for per course.  Despite these added fees, many students continue to view online courses as a valuable tool to help them reach their general education requirements, especially students who participate in summer sessions.

Many people such as Nicholas Carr, author of Chapel Hill’s 2012 Summer Reading book “The Shallows”, would argue that an increase in online courses are and will continue to be a detrimental waste to our education system, but it would appear that some of Carolina’s online courses have achieved national recognition.  UNC’s nationally renowned Kenan-Flagler Business School has attained further esteem with the addition of online MBA courses.  The dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, James Dean, at first admitted “To be honest, I was initially skeptical, I wondered: Can you really do an MBA program online that you can be proud of?” (Byrne, Online MBA’s Heading to the Ivory Tower; CNN Money).  But it seems as if these worries were dropped when Chapel Hill was named the highest ranking business school in the country that offered such online courses last July.  In addition, the business school has continued boasting about their online courses and how the students enrolled in these programs will receive an equal or greater level of classroom intimacy as they have fewer students than regular classes.

Upon the launch of UNC’s online MBA program and other online courses, many other elite schools around the country have expanded their online course options and explored similar programs.  Duke, Harvard, George Washington, and the University of Florida are among the hundreds of other universities around the country that have increased the amount of online courses their institutions offer. Like UNC, these online courses offer classes in a variety of different subjects ranging from education, business, architecture, and even nursing.

Although state budget cuts have had a profound impact on UNC, the university is making the right decisions in order to help its students. By expanding the online courses available, students now have more classes to choose from in a larger variety of subjects. Online courses have also been complicit with maintaining smaller class sizes, something vitally important to the Carolina experience. Until UNC acquires the necessary funds to open up the seats they have lost because of the budget cuts, expanding online courses appears to be the best option available for both the University, and Carolina students alike.