SUMMARY OF: A Special Report on the University of Alaska, Unit Cost Analysis, Part 3, Distance Education, January 16, 2009.

Purpose of the Report

In accordance with Title 24 of the Alaska Statutes and a special request by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, we conducted a performance audit of the University of Alaska (UA) use of distance education (DE) delivery and technologies.

Report Conclusions

• With limited exceptions, the University’s implementation of DE delivery currently lacks a coordinated, cohesive approach, and is not student-centric.

• Generally, UA is not maximizing the use of available DE technologies.

• It is questionable if more aggressive use of advanced technology for DE delivery is warranted and, in rural areas, may still be cost prohibitive.

Findings and Recommendations

Recommendation No.1

The president of UA should ensure distance education (DE) recommendations are implemented.

There is no mechanism in place to ensure accountability, monitoring, and feedback of DE implementation to executive managers of UA. Many reviews, reports, and groups have developed recommendations to improve DE system-wide; however, UA has not successfully implemented a majority of them. Although, the president previously identified and delegated implementation of DE recommendations, the committee responsible has not been held accountable for outcomes or timeframes for completion. Instead, DE initiatives have been deferred to DE study and review groups. As a result, marginal system-wide support to improve DE according to the president’s directives has occurred.

Recommendation No.2

The President should develop incentives for MAUs to collaborate on DE initiatives.

Currently, there are disincentives in place for MAUs to collaborate on DE initiatives. These barriers include fiscal policies and administrative procedures, which constrain cooperation between MAUs in achieving a student-centric approach to DE. Resistance, more specifically, stems from performance budgeting measures, allocation of tuition revenues, and independently developed DE processes.

Without development of performance measures that provide incentives for a student-centric approach, MAUs will continue to resist collaboration in developing system-wide DE processes. Furthermore, lack of incentives equates to continued independent development of DE initiatives by MAUs. More independently developed DE systems and student services increase the likelihood of access barriers for students taking courses delivered by campuses outside their geographical area. Access barriers increase the complexity of student navigation of UA system-wide which is contradictory to a student centric approach to DE delivery.

Recommendation No.3

The Vice President of Academic Affairs should ensure faculty receive sufficient DE technology training and technical support.

UA is not providing sufficient training and technical support for faculty teaching DE courses. Various reasons contribute to inadequate resources being available, including the minimal number of training sessions and IT design staff available.

Recommendation No. 4

The Vice President of Academic Affairs should develop, implement, and enforce use of standard DE course parameters and uniform course description information recorded on the management information system.

UA system-wide does not consistently use standard DE course parameters for identification on the management information system (Banner). Furthermore, descriptive course information contained on Banner and available to students on the DE Gateway is not uniform or complete in content. Instead, MAUs have independently interpreted and recorded course parameters and descriptive course information on Banner which is inconsistent, unreliable, or incomplete.

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