Wright State is fighting for students. The next battleground: Online courses.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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A report from Wright State details the school?€™s financial issues.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Wright State University leaders want to boost the school’s online course offerings to meet a growing demand from students and try another tactic to boost enrollment and tuition revenue during a financially troubling time.

Online classes have been around at Wright State for years, but the school is not meeting the demand for them from students, officials said. For that reason, and because expanding online offerings could also boost enrollment and generate more tuition revenue, centralizing and streamlining Wright State’s “eCampus” has become a focal point of a strategic plan trustees are set to vote on in December.

“It’s always easier to be retrospective,” said Sue Edwards, a provost at WSU. “But, as we move forward it’s the right time … we’re looking at the demand of our students and it’s the right thing to do.”

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Wright State’s total enrollment was projected to dip below 17,000 students this fall for the first time since 2007. Tuition and fee revenue combine to be Wright State’s largest funding source, so the dip was bad news for the financially struggling school.

Wright State trustees slashed more than $30 million from the school’s fiscal year 2018 budget in June 2017 in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending. Those cuts ended up not being enough, and by the close of FY 2018, Wright State had reduced spending by around $53 million.

In June, trustees approved a FY 2019 budget that predicted another $10 million decline in revenue.

Though Edwards and chief business officer Walt Branson said an online expansion would be focused on addressing student demand, they acknowledged it would likely boost enrollment and in turn revenue. But there would also likely be increased costs for new staff, they said.

“We would treat it like other investments,” Branson said. “If we see programs and business growing, we would add faculty in those areas.”

WSU leaders also see an expansion of online classes as a way to provide more access to students who otherwise may not take a class because it doesn’t fit their schedule.

Ivan Mallett, a junior at Wright State who is also a member of the United States Army National Guard, said he would try to take classes online even if he’s deployed to another country.

“If I get deployed or something, I can definitely take a few online courses,” Mallett said. “The first time I was deployed, I didn’t really know about the online opportunities, and honestly … I didn’t really have good enough internet quality to take them. But, since then if I get deployed, I can take two or three online courses while I’m overseas.”

It’s that kind of flexibility WSU leaders hope will allow the university to better retain and graduate students on time. It also presents the possibility for Wright State to attract more students from Columbus and Cincinnati who may have heard of WSU but don’t want to drive an hour to campus every few days, Branson said.

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The number of sections of online undergraduate courses offered at WSU has grown by 184 percent from 168 during the 2012-13 academic year to 477 this school year, according to Wright State’s institutional research. That growth has mostly been “organic,” Edwards said, and school leaders will seek to bolster it by centralizing the development and production of online offerings.

Though Wright State trustees have expressed support for an online expansion, they’ve also said they’re concerned about production standards.

By centralizing its online development, Edwards said the university will seek to establish best practices and minimum standards for production value. The content of the courses themselves are already held to the same standard as an in-person class.

“(Standards) are first and foremost,” Edwards said. “We’re reviewing what’s currently out there, developing quality standards and looking at national standards that we can use … It’s really important that we have some sort of centralized standards.”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to online classes, said Wright State’s Burhan Kawosa and Todd Pavlack. Kawosa teaches finance courses, including some online, while Pavlack is a manager and designer of distance learning at Wright State, an office that helps piece together online courses through animation, videos and other multimedia tools.

Though the administration is seeking to centralize and standardize the creation of online courses, both Kawosa and Pavlack said they aren’t concerned. They expect the administration will be understanding and will consider some of the work already being done online as a method for setting new university-wide standards.

“(Production) quality is a tough nut to crack … ,” Pavlack said. “They all don’t need the Hollywood treatment.”

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By the numbers

477: Total sections of undergraduate online courses offered at WSU.

184: Percent increase in WSU undergrad online courses from 2012 to 2018.

216: Total sections of "hybrid" online/ in-person courses at WSU.

3,302: Total sections of undergraduate in-person courses at WSU.

Source: Wright State office of institutional research and analysis.