CSU online campus growing, but slowly

globalColorado State University’s third and exclusively on-line campus – CSU Global – isn’t growing the way founders thought it would despite a harsh economic climate that usually drives non-traditional students back to school.

But the 15-month-old school, the first of its kind at a research university in the western United States, is expecting to break even when the fiscal year ends June 30. It already has 11 graduates to its name in its market-driven degree programs.

In a recent interview with EdNews, CSU spokeswoman Michele McKinney said 950 students, two-thirds of them undergraduates, are now enrolled in the venture, created to attract working adults and other non-traditional students unable or unwilling to attend a bricks-and-mortar campus. About 300 other students are still enrolled but not currently taking courses.

CSU Global has spent the $12 million it received as a loan from the CSU Board of Governors to get started, and plans to pay it back in 2013, a year later than planned. The question is, how will that happen with so few students?

A market-driven approach

The school was created to compete directly with such private online powerhouses as the University of Phoenix, to expand CSU’s reach, and to bring desperately needed revenues to one of two of Colorado’s premier public research universities.

The focus is driven almost exclusively by the marketplace. Courses are taught by less costly adjunct faculty specifically trained in teaching online. Class sizes are kept small – no more than 20 students per class. Tuition rates are comparable to other online programs — $299 per undergraduate  credit hour and $399 per graduate credit hour. Courses are offered in eight-week, accelerated formats. Its students tend to be working people who pay as they go rather than take out loans or rely on financial aid.

For instance, Colorado law enforcement agencies have been extremely responsive to CSU Global’s criminology specialty offered in conjunction with a major such as Public Management. Officers in remote parts of the state can move up the ranks by advancing their degrees online.

On the face of it, there’s nothing but potential.

“Eventually, probably half of Americans pursuing higher ed will do it online,” said Rich Schweigert, chief financial officer for the CSU system who was instrumental in getting CSU Global off the ground. “If you believe that and start punching those numbers using the demographics of K-12 and (beyond), there are tens of millions of students available for something like this.”

Don’t even get him started on the global potential.

Numbers don’t pan out

But so far, the students aren’t materializing as expected.

Original projections called for 21,000 students to be enrolled within five years, though that number has now been reduced to 7,300 by 2013. Early this year, 25 percent  – or 10 total positions – were slashed from the Global campus staff roster due to a lack of revenue.

Tenure track faculty still have questions.

“Worry is always there when you launch something new,” said Richard Eykholt, CSU Faculty Council chairman and a physics professor. “We already have our own continuing ed program online. There are concerns about the brand, concerns about what kind of competition will occur with our own online programs.”

Eykholt said faculty were wary of CSU Global in the beginning because of the lack of faculty input into its planning. CSU Global was a key piece of former CSU Chancellor and Fort Collins campus President Larry Penley’s agenda. Penley resigned with little explanation one year ago.

At this point, Eykholt said faculty are taking a wait-and-see approach. They haven’t passed any resolutions regarding CSU Global, but there is concern that the burning desire to be profitable could trump concerns regarding competition.

Still, Eykholt does see the need for more higher ed options at a time of shrinking state support.

“If students have to go online, this does give them an option of something that is through an established university as opposed to a for-profit organization. Serving community is part of our land grant mission.”

Tactical changes

Using new target enrollment goals, growth is slow but steady. For instance, 499 undergraduate students were enrolled by the end of August. That figure grew to nearly 600 by the end of October. Graduate student numbers aren’t climbing as fast as CSU leaders had hoped, however. Only 267 graduate students were enrolled at the beginning of this semester, with the number climbing to 333 by late October.

To boost graduate student numbers, the school has reopened its master’s program in Management and revised its master’s degree in Teaching and Learning to better meet market demands.

Schweigert said all things considered, things are going well now.

“People who watch the industry and we talk to – from consultants to others — they’re impressed by the growth rate right now. It wasn’t the original business plan projected. But those were projections at best. Now, we have real numbers and a much more keen sense of the marketplace.”

CSU Global has made some key changes in an effort to revitalize.  The campus has whittled a field of 100 applicants down to 25 as it attempts to hire its first permanent president to take over from a string of interim leaders.

Global staff backed off traditional and costly mass marketing efforts, deciding instead to focus on outreach – human contact visits – to government agencies and businesses that might have a need to retrain or further educate employees through tuition reimbursement programs.

CSU Global’s academic programs are now being built from the ground up based upon demand rather than through a top-down approach that had staff hired and programs planned before students enrolled. CSU Global hired a consultant, a former top executive at University of Phoenix, as it attempts to push the campus to the next level. Global is also hiring someone to focus exclusively on supporting students so they stick with the program since attrition for new students hovers near 10 percent.

Lessons learned

Schweigert admitted creating a financially healthy online campus amounts to basically trial by fire.

“There is no road map. The private corporations in this business are very protective of how they build these.”

Before launching, CSU officials examined labor data and other potential sources of students, such as community college transfers. But one critical thing was missing, according to Schweigert:  “What it didn’t take into account was the outreach that has to occur.”

Schweigert said people don’t go out on a whim on a Saturday to buy a car; and they don’t spontaneously decide to spend thousands of dollars on an unproven online degree – even one with CSU in its name.

“The original business plan had a very aggressive growth plan. We’ve pushed those numbers out,” Schweigert said. “Still, the future is just unbelievably bright…We think by the end of 2013 we’ll be in the 8,000-plus student range, although it could be a lot higher than that. We’re remaining conservative for now.”

Across the country, various public universities and college systems are creating similar online programs. CSU Global is different from most in that it doesn’t count any regularly enrolled students among its student numbers. It is entirely separate from the course and degree offerings available in Pueblo or Fort Collins or through continuing education.

The University of Illinois had a similar venture in its beginning stages, also called Global Campus, that the system’s governing board voted to axe last spring after two years. Dozens of degrees were awarded, according to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, an online news source.

It folded in large part due to abundant competition from lower cost online degree providers and faculty concern that the Global Campus would water down the Illinois brand because it was less rigorous.

CSU Global Dean of Academic Affairs Becky Takeda-Tinker is more than aware of what happened in Illinois, but said, in her experience, the academic integrity of CSU Global’s courses “far exceed the rigor that I’ve seen at other online campuses.”

As for lingering concerns about competition, Schweigert said doesn’t see any instance where CSU Global will compete with any other CSU entity.

“We market it in a completely different space. If a student wants a premier experience, he should go to our campuses. Global isn’t designed for that….This is our way  of extending what we’re supposed to be doing to everyone.”

EdNews reporter Julie Poppen can be reached at [email protected]

CSU Global at a Glance

Graduates: 11

Currently enrolled students: 950

Bachelor’s programs: Business Management; Applied Social Sciences; Public Management; Organizational Leadership

Master’s programs: Management; Organizational Leadership; Teaching and Learning

Master’s degree prerequisites: A 3.0 GPA from a prior university or college. Students with a GPA below 3.0 still can be admitted based upon professional experience or motivation.

Bachelor’s degree prerequisites: More than 12 credits from an accredited college or university or an associate’s degree.

Partners: Colorado Department of Corrections; Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing; Colorado Department of Labor & Employment; Colorado Department of Revenue; Colorado Department of Transportation

Average student age: 36

Student gender: 55 percent female

Where students live: 88 percent Colorado

Web site:

Accreditation: Graduate programs are accredited via an extension of Higher Learning Commission accreditation of the Fort Collins campus; undergraduate programs have a similar accreditation agreement with the Pueblo campus. CSU Global will seek independent accreditation down the line.

Tuition: 2010 tuition is $299 per undergraduate credit hour; $399 per graduate credit hour. Special rates are available for military and law enforcement personnel and public school teachers.

Adjuncts: 39

Staff: 35

(Source: CSU Global)

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.