Schaffhauser, D. (2020) Distance Learning Ramp-up: A Strategic View Campus Technology, April 23 

Phelps, J. (2020) SNHU to cut tuition from $31,000 to $10,000, revamp on-campus learning New Hampshire Union Leader, April 22

I came across these two examples of how institutions have managed successfully to move on-campus courses online. However, although both these universities have significant on-campus programs, they also already had some of the largest number of online enrolments in the USA, so they were in a much better position initially. Nevertheless each of these has some best practices that could be adopted by many other institutions.

As always, I strongly recommend that you read the original articles, because the details are important, but here are some of the main points:

Arizona State University

From an interview with Phil Regier, CEO of ASU’s EdPlus Division:

  • ASU Online has always been an integral part of the university. ASU Online uses regular, campus-based instructors also for developing the online courses. ASU already had a third to a half of the faculty that had been trained in how to do quality digital instruction from a distance before Covid-19
  • for Covid-19, ASU looked at ways to improve connectivity for students with low socioeconomic status (wifi gaps, equipment such as computers or tablets)
  • daily meetings were organised in the Vice-Provost’s office to deal with issues as they arose from moving campus-based courses to online courses
  • ASU focuses particularly on online student engagement (discussion forums, peer-to-peer assessment, etc.)
  • 2,400 faculty had already been put through a two-week master class in online teaching and learning, supplemented within the weeks prior to [the COVID19 closure] with additional training in how to use Zoom at scale
  • a website was created where faculty could go to learn best practices for how to break students into groups and how to teach synchronously using Zoom at scale and at a distance
  • In ASU Online, 99.9 percent is delivered asynchronously, because of the nature of the learners
  • ‘Zoom is a great tool but it’s not a substitute for full-blown, well-constructed online courses. It is a tool in the quiver.’

Southern New Hampshire University

  • tuition will be cut 61%, from $31,000 to $10,000 starting in the 2021-2022 academic year
  • incoming freshmen and transfer students with freshman standing will receive full tuition scholarships for the first year. The scholarships, which will be available to 1,050 on a first-come, first-served basis, won’t include the cost of room and board.
  • the first year incoming freshmen will take their courses online with learning support while living on campus and participating in all campus clubs, activities, athletics and other experiences.

The advantages of experience

ASU had already built 2,500 high-quality online courses over 10 years. Between fall 2012 and fall 2019, the number of students taking online programs through ASU Online grew more than 12-fold, from an estimated 3,565 students to 45,073, pushing total enrollment in 2019 at the university to 119,951.

During the last 10 years, ASU continued to adapt new technologies. They assessed their efficacy. They knew what worked and what didn’t. ‘That’s 10 years that you simply can’t accelerate into three months.’

My comments

You can’t go back and change decisions made years ago, but you can learn from other institutions’ experience. As leaders in online learning in the USA, Arizona State University and Southern New Hampshire University can provide valuable lessons for other institutions that have been slower in moving to online learning.

Also I am very intrigued by Southern New Hampshire’s tuition fee strategy. This seems to me to be a very significant development, not just for the USA, where tuition costs have rocketed over the last 10-15 years, but in many other countries.

Could institutions start offering two-track degrees: regular full campus-based programs at a higher cost than fully online programs – or a mix of both? If so what would be the best mix: online learning for the large first and second year courses, or for the more specialist and usually smaller third and fourth year courses? 

And what would that mean for faculty contracts and training? Ideally you would want instructors comfortable teaching in both modes: but why not? Perhaps these are the most important changes to the higher education system that will result from Covid-19.


  1. Thanks Tony….as always for ferreting out these stories for us!!

    The nub of the two reports is really in your last two paragraphs which you left somewhat open ended..intentionally? The SNHU strategy is a dangerous one. Foremost it runs the risk of undermining the reputation of great online courses that already exist…all over the world, and secondly perpetuating a myth (that has taken us distance educators a long time to eradicate), and that is ODL can be as good, if not better, than any other form of L&T.

    And even if one were to choose this path (as you rightly point out), there will be implications of this for Faculty recruitment and remuneration. Imagine a situation where students start comparing what they are getting for what they paid in fees. How do you measure that? Who is to decide?

    Teaching is not like paying for organic or non-organic!!!

    • Thanks, Som – great points, as always from you. I’d like to hear what others think, especially of SNHU’s strategy.

      I do think the time has come when students should have a choice of whether to take a course fully online, blended or face-to-face, and that instructors should be trained well enough that they are comfortable in any of these modes.

      The issue is whether students should pay the same tuition fees for online as for face-to-face teaching. The main argument is that online students do not use the campus infrastructure, such as the cost of heating buildings, and other services. ‘Overheads’ for campus operations count as much as 40% of some operating budgets, for instance. We would need a financial model that is capable of breaking down these costs (as well as the unique costs of online teaching, such as IT infrastructure and LMS fees).

      If the difference is no greater than 10%, then it probably makes no sense to differentiate tuition fees, but if there are some significant differences (as I suspect), this may be a way for some institutions to reduce somewhat the cost of tuition for those students who opt for online learning. You are not saving on the academic teaching, just on infrastructure and overheads, so it doesn’t lessen the value of online learning.

  2. Point taken Tony! In that case we would need several versions of the same course (designed and taught by the same person? or Team?). It would be a bit like Air Travel….wouldn’t it? One of the remaining vestiges of the class system!!

    Suites…you pay and arm and a leg.
    First Class….you an arm..
    Business pay a leg…
    Cattle Class…OK you keep both an arm and a leg…

  3. on-line learning is certainly going to get a massive impetus due to COVID. It will become mainstream, with every institution setting up a component of on-line learning….

    However, it is important to consider (and this is generally ignored), that technologies are not value neutral. Underlying the technology are deep political/philosophical questions, which must be considered by every institution.

    One such question is – who owns the digital technology? what is the aim of the owner in providing / using the technology?

    One one hand we have popular proprietary platforms – Zoom is Zooming now…but G Suite for Education and other proprietary tools have been around. The danger with proprietary platforms is that the institution /teachers/ students do now know what is being done with their data. The source code of the platforms is not known, hence the ‘user’ will never know what is the intention/plan/actions of the vendor wrt their data. Complex/opaque EULA also mean that the institutions and its people are left vulnerable to political and economic manipulation… what FB did with Cambridge Analyica … can happen in other ways with proprietary platforms (Zoom is being sued in the USA for sharing user data with FB).

    On the other hand, we have free and open source platforms – source code is in the public domain. You can install the platform on your own institution’s server and allow full control to the institution over the on-line learning processes.

    My NGO, IT for Change supports education institutions to adopt the Moodle LMS for asynchronous learning and BigBlueButton (BBB) for synchronous webinars/classrooms. Incidentally, having used both Zoom and BBB, I find BBB superior technologically as well (user interface, audio/video quality). Moodle and BBB are also available as services from vendors … here the service is restricted to supporting use of these platforms and not stealing or misusing our data…

    As our society increasingly becomes (has become) a ‘data society’, this question will have very important implications… which must be considered by every institution.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here