UNC System Enters the Study-Anywhere Market

For those who prefer, UNC could come to stand for University of No Classrooms.

The UNC System has launched UNC Online, a one-stop shop that is meant to rival for-profit online education heavyweights such as the University of Phoenix. A Web site opened July 1 that provides access to more than 130 online degree, certificate and licensure programs offered by the 16 UNC System campuses. This includes 35 baccalaureate, 55 master’s and two doctoral completion programs as well as more than 40 online certificate and licensure programs.

Visitors to the UNC Online hub can browse the more than 1,000 online course offerings available to qualified students for the fall semester. Programs and courses in high-need fields — including education, nursing, business, technology and the health sciences — are amply represented. The site also offers information tailored for community college students and military personnel and their dependents based in North Carolina.

Students can work toward degrees ranging from a bachelor of science in psychology from Fayetteville State to a master of business administration from East Carolina. But if a student does not want to pursue a full degree, he or she can dabble in some individual courses. N.C. State will offer “Biology in the Modern World” while Carolina will offer “Spanish for Health Professionals.”

Fifteen of the 16 system schools already have online offerings, with N.C. School of the Arts being the exception. But each school has listed online courses on its individual sites, making the process of finding a particular class inconvenient and time-consuming. Alan Mabe, the UNC System’s vice president for academic planning and university-school programs, believes that UNC Online remedies that problem.

“I think we’ve gotten to a critical mass where we need a more consistent way of accessing online education,” Mabe told The Winston-Salem Journal.

UNC System President Erskine Bowles ’67 stressed the importance of online offerings when he took office. He said of the July launching, “In the best tradition of our public University, the University of North Carolina Online stands for academic quality.”

All UNC campuses are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which requires that online offerings be similar in quality to residential offerings.

The UNC System considers itself, in the words on the new site’s front page, “leaders in offering high-quality degree programs and courses designed and taught by the same instructors who teach our on-campus classes.”

Online-based education is a sometimes controversial topic in the current educational climate. While some large public universities are developing programs, schools such as Temple, Columbia and New York University are terminating theirs.

Still, UNC remains confident in its endeavor. “We fully expect the number of [online] degrees to grow,” Mabe told the Journal, “because we need to reach those who we are not reaching face-to-face.”

Related coverage is available online:

  • Prescription for a Revolution: To boost a sorely underserved corner of the state, the pharmacy school built a 200-mile bridge that is impossible to ignore on higher education’s map for the future.
    From the January/February 2007 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members
  • Take Down the Walls: The biggest classroom expansion in the history of UNC hasn’t required a crane, a traffic diversion or an orange mesh fence. What’s more, it’s made very little noise.
    From the January/February 2006 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members

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