New graduate degrees for 2012 possible

USF may offer new online graduate programs that can be accessed across the globe.

The USF Board of Trustees (BOT) approved five new online graduate programs last month and the Board of Governors (BOG), which oversees the 11 Florida public universities, will discuss the program proposals during their January meeting. If they approve the plan, the programs could come to USF by August 2012, said Mark Walsh, USF’s assistant vice president for government relations.

According to the USF BOT’s plan, the online programs include electrical engineering, with total tuition at $30,000 to $34,500; Entrepreneurship, with total tuition at $37,500; Management Information Systems, with total tuition at $26,400; Nurse Anesthesia, with total tuition at $57,600 and Public Administration, with total tuition at $45,000.

Excluding the Nurse Anesthesia program, all course work would be offered primarily online, according to the plan.

The Tampa campus already offers on-campus graduate classes for electrical engineering, entrepreneurship, management information systems and public administration, Walsh said. The new programs would not replace their current counterparts, but offer a second option to students – distance learning.

“The (on-campus) program that exists today, any student could still opt to take that and still pay the state subsidized rate,” he said. “Or, (students) could opt for this new market-based tuition rate.”

The main difference is the cost. According to USF’s 2011-12 estimated cost of attendance, an in-state graduate student will pay $9,301 to $9,640 for tuition per academic year. In addition, graduate students pay a flat fee of $399.76 per credit hour set by the University, according to the USF Controller’s Office website.

According to BOG statutes, tuition in Florida universities can increase by up to 15 percent every academic year. However, the market-rate tuition prices of the online classes will remain constant.

The online programs will offer “market-rate tuition,” a set price for tuition that competes with the national market, Walsh said. Walsh helped create the idea of market-rate tuition with the BOG, and said it is designed to help supplement the loss of the state’s education funds, which in turn deplete funds for the USF’s undergraduate programs.

USF lost approximately $25.3 million to state cuts and gained $14 million with the 15 percent tuition increase approved by the USF Board of Trustees in June, leaving an $11.3 million budget hole.

“(USF’s BOT) looked at the prices that (students) are charged at peer institutions for these (graduate) programs,” Walsh said. “And set the price competitive with, somewhere in the middle of, what other institutions charge.”

Karen Liller, dean of the graduate school and associate vice president of research and innovation, said the programs appeal to broad audiences.

“Many of these programs are for professionals to enhance skills or to develop new skills and most of the classes are online to allow for convenience,” she said.

Because the BOT developed the costs of the programs by reviewing other universities, Liller said she does not think the cost to attain the degree will be an issue for students.

Walsh said the graduate programs will help generate revenue for the University.

“It works like admitting out of state students,” he said. “They pay more than the costs of instruction, and they take that revenue and help offer more classes within the regular structure of the University.”

Adding to the appeal of the programs are the curriculums, which do not differ from those offered on campus, but are still “internationally competitive,” Walsh said.

“These are very strong programs that people all over the world will want to have access to, and now can through these new modules of market-rate that we wouldn’t be able to run under the traditional tuition structure,” he said.

Walsh said the University is expecting each of the programs to reach an enrollment capacity of 15 to 30 students for the first semester.

According to Section 1009.24(15), of the 2011 Florida Statutes, the Florida Board of Governors has authority to approve market-rate tuition proposals from all public universities’ Board of Trustees.

The idea to add the programs came from a notice sent out by USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, informing colleges that they had the opportunity to add a new program or version of an existing program, Walsh said.

“These proposals all (came) from individual colleges that offer the degrees,” he said.

The provosts approved the proposals they felt had the most merit, Walsh said, and then the BOT approved their selection.

that can get them in trouble) and “exclusion (intentionally and cruelly excluding someone from an online group).

“These are undoubtedly hurtful behaviors, and all those whose lives were either damaged or ended by cyberbullying deserve justice. Even so, trying to make behaviors such as “flaming” and “trolling” illegal is absurd given ordinary free speech rights. Westboro Baptist Church regularly makes comments that can be characterized as real-life “flaming,” yet earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that it is still protected by the First Amendment.

Any legislation dealing with cyberbullying must recognize the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Likewise, friends and families should remain involved and aware in teens’ lives, becoming the first defense against bullying.