Washington State University’s Global Campus

WSU has a new President, Elson Floyd and he has a vision to expand our distance education efforts.

“In order to realize this vision we must partner across the University to provide a full array of academic courses and degree programs and offerings for our current and prospective students in a robust electronic format. I envision a full menu of courses and programs that can be accessed by learners anytime and at any location.”

A decade ago, I would have found this vision exciting (I was naive and the Internet was young). Now I find it a daunting challenge. With a crowded field of other school’s online offerings, Western Governor’s University, MIT open courseware online, and the University of Phoenix, I have to wonder how to design WSU’s offering to make it unique and differentiated in the marketplace.

MIT describes its resource:

“a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.


  • Is a publication of MIT course materials
  • Does not require any registration
  • Is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity
  • Does not provide access to MIT faculty”

Which opens an interesting hole, create a program that advertises it takes advantage of MIT materials, but provides access to faculty and grants degrees or certificates.

But how to scale the “access to faculty” (presumably Floyd wants this program to have a large enrollment) and be able to advertise taking advantage of MIT’s materials without straightjacketing WSU programs to the scope of MIT offerings or WSU faculty to teaching with MIT-created materials?

Competing with University of Phoenix will involve working with returning learners, learners situated in the context of jobs and life experiences. How to appeal to them when a large fraction of WSU upperclassmen say their courses involve memorization and not application of information?

If this Global offering is so appealing, how should it be designed so that it does not cannibalize the enrollment of WSU-Pullman’s residential campus?

Can campus-based courses with small enrollments be augmented with distance learners such that the cost of hiring new faculty can be deferred until the program has a head of steam? If so, what implications does this have for the design of courses to meet the needs of both residential and distance learners?

In an era of “No College Left Behind” assessment, how will this offering differentiate itself, by competing on the NAICU or NASULGC measure? WSU is looking at the latter, but will that provide the product differentiation in the marketplace that this global initiative needs to succeed?

And finally, in an online world, the next university is only a click away, how to retain students once they are recruited and not end up with a large fraction of a student’s transcript being transferred in from other providers?

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