Friday, January 23, 2009

Online, bonding and budget

Online learning discussed in Senate
The Higher Education Budget and Policy Division addressed online learning yesterday, hearing from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Capella University, the University of Minnesota and the Office of Higher Education.

Susan Heegaard, Director of Office of Higher Education, said online learning offers increased access and opportunities for students. She said students are demanding more online course offerings. In addition, Heegaard said the governor has proposed having 25 percent of the courses at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota online by 2015.

Linda Baer, Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, said credits earned through online courses have nearly tripled in the past five years and the number of students participating in online education has increased 160 percent in the past five years. In addition, Baer said other areas of web enabled delivery are growing as fast as online learning.

In the future, Baer said there will be greater integration of services for students, more program development in high demand fields, more flexible scheduling options, additional resources for faculty teaching online and increases in access and affordability. She said some of the advantages of online learning include easy access to learning, the opportunity for learning at any time, convenience and flexibility and efficiency. However, Baer also said there are some disadvantages such as the predominance of independent work over class attendance and participation, the dependence on text-based learning materials and more sporadic interaction with other students and instructors.

Professor Barbara Bridges and students Brendan Babcock and Jill Hentges, from Bemidji State University spoke about their experience with the University's K-8 elementary teacher licensure program. Bridges said the program is a combination of classes conducted in a classroom and online learning. Both Babcock and Hentges spoke about how the online program is meeting their needs while still being able to work and care for family.

Dr. Chris Cassirer, President of Capella University, outlined Capella University's focus on the ways online delivery and academic model produces competency based, assessment driven, performance measured results and Tom Sullivan, Vice President and Provost at the University of Minnesota, also spoke on the development of online learning at the University.

Higher Education presents 2009 bonding proposals
Both the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota discussed 2008 bonding progress as well as 2009 potential capital projects yesterday with House Capital Investment committee members. Chancellor Jim McCormick and Al Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor, Facilities presented projects that can put people to work. Included in the system's proposal are the five capital projects vetoed in 2008 that total $40 million, HEAPR projects spread out around the state totaling $50 million and four capital projects partially funded in 2008 for $27 million. The total proposal in front of the committee is $117 million. Committee members expressed interest in projects that can be bid as soon as possible with fast execution.

House Higher Ed committee hears from the University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota testified in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division yesterday about the university's budget, prior cuts and the deficit the state if facing. President Bob Bruininks said, "I'm fully cognizant that we'll have to take some hits here." Although no specific dollar amounts have been announced, Bruininks said he fully expects some level of funding reductions for the 2009-2010 biennium. He pledged to try to avoid tuition increases and staff layoffs wherever possible, but warned lawmakers to give the university “flexibility” to craft its own budget solutions.

In particular, he cautioned against a proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in his state-of-the-state address to cap tuition rates. "A freeze on tuition would be absolutely devastating,” he said, adding that tuition caps represented a “non-competitive” approach to a “free-market issue.”

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is scheduled to testify before the committee Thursday, January 29 at 1:00 p.m.

K-12 issues discussed in House
House K-12 Finance Division committee members heard from University of Minnesota education researchers who presented overviews of research on key issues such as high-stakes testing and Q-Comp that members will likely be dealing with as they shape education reform. Jennifer McComas, associate Professor of Educational Psychology, said one five-year study indicates “relying solely on annual high stakes tests to evaluate student and teacher performance” does not work to help students make academic progress and stay in school.

Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, discussed her study of Q-Comp effectiveness and suggested renewed evaluation of the program which has expanded to 44 district schools this year.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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