© Glenn Rikowski, 2012

Long, K. (2013) UW to offer first all-online degree-completion program The Seattle Times, March 28

Although many universities offer online courses at the bachelor’s level, and fully online master programs, whole bachelor’s programs offered fully online are comparatively rare from major public research universities (although much more common from for-profits, such as University of Phoenix).

The University of Washington program, which begins this fall, is a bachelor of early childhood education, based on ‘years of research done at the UW on the best ways to teach preschoolers.’ More details of the program can be found by clicking here.

There are several interesting features of the program:

  • designed mainly for students transferring in with already an associate degree or 70 or more eligible credits for transfer
  • focused on people already working in child care (preference to registered Washington state residents)
  • partnership with several local community colleges for credit transfer
  • uses video of ‘good’ examples of teaching practice (as well as televised lectures)
  • students make their own videos of themselves practicing those techniques in preschool classrooms
  • limited to 100 students initially, but possibly growing to 300 students a year later
  • aims to fill a major labour market gap in the state
  • much lower average cost for students: $160 per credit = $7,000 for full degree
  • supported by a grant, which with student tuition fees enables the program to be fully cost-recoverable without state funding

UW’s President stated that UW will ‘soon’ be offering several more bachelor degree completion and even some full bachelor’s programs fully online.


This online strategy appears to be particularly well developed. One major barrier to fully online bachelor programs is that students straight out of high school are often considered unready for online learning, given the self-discipline required and their perceived lack of independent learning skills. However, as this program indicates, not all people wanting a bachelor degree are 18 year olds. Many already have a college certificate or diploma, and relevant work experience.

I was also interested in the proposed use of video. The cost of making reasonable quality video has dropped dramatically, and although there is a long history of the use of video in teacher education, education is not the only field where practices and procedures can be demonstrated via video, both by instructors and by student practitioners.

Lastly, this is a public research university operating a different business model that not only lowers costs to students, but is self-financing without state funding. This is because the University of Washington received funding for this program from the Next Generation Learning Challenge program, which is funded mainly by the Gates and Hewlett Foundations. The NGLC program is having a  major impact across the USA in encouraging institutions to experiment with online and open learning in innovative ways (I was one of the many grant proposal evaluators – but did not evaluate this proposal).

We don’t have access to such grant programs in Canada, at least in recent years. This is a role perhaps that is needed from the Canadian Federal government, but this is unlikely to happen under the current Conservatives, unfortunately, as they wish to decrease rather than increase the federal government’s role in health and education. However, as this program indicates, the return on investment from such grants for the system as a whole is high. In any case, this model could help reduce at least student tuition costs, with state FTE funding being used to replace the philanthropic funding.

Over to you

Can you let me know of other fully online bachelor degrees being offered by public research universities or state universities?




  1. Hello:

    The U of W Early Childhood Education bachelor program looks interesting and well thought through. The considered balance of practice and theory is very familiar here at the School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria where we apply similar principles to the delivery of our online Bachelor of Child and Youth Care degree (www.uvic.ca/cyc). With the exception of one blended course involving per-course online work and a ten-day workshop that students are required to take our degree is fully online.

    Our courses are web based and combine the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools. One of the greatest challenges for our program has involved identifying and implementing effective approaches to address the communication skills courses (groups, individuals, helping skills, families). Student produced video tape was used in the early days of our program to facilitate the practice, review and assessment of these developing skills, while more recently we have begun to benefit from web-conferencing tools to create a fully online laboratory experience

  2. “Although many universities offer online courses at the bachelor’s level, and fully online master programs, whole bachelor’s programs offered fully online are comparatively rare from major public research universities.”

    Based on the description of the program from the University of Washington, their program is not a “full” bachelor’s program either. It is a degree-completion program. It assumes you will transfer the general education credits of 100- and 200-level classes in order to complete the degree. Only the major-specific courses are online.

    This kind of distance learning degree-completion is not new, and not as rare as you may think.

    If you’re looking for examples, try Old Dominion University, http://dl.odu.edu. (Full disclosure: I work there.) All the distance learning bachelor programs are degree-completion. Technology used includes video streaming, 2-way video conferencing, Cisco Telepresence, Adobe Connect, web-based asynchronous, and web-based synchronous classes.


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