An arrangement between a Kansas university and an online education provider highlights the tensions between online education and the traditional higher education model (H/T Yahoo! News). Fort Hays State University has teamed with StraighterLine to allow students who take the introductory level StraighterLine courses to continue work at Fort Hays with credit for the intro courses under the Fort Hays name. As you can read in the article, not everyone is happy with the partnership. Other companies and universities are teaming up in similar arrangements, so what used to be a brighter line between online learning and traditional higher education is softening.
The sheer economics of higher education explain some of this movement. Paying big school tuition for introductory courses doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of students, especially with many faculty avoiding these courses and universities cutting costs by hiring adjuncts to teach them. Speaking as someone who has taught a completely online introductory course (for a state university), the educational experience is not necessarily of lower quality because the course is online. There are reasonable questions about how to effectively accredit online offerings, regardless of who provides them, but this is a phenomenon that will not go away.