The future of online degree programs continues to be hotly debated after the recent closure of an online associate's degree program jointly managed by a private Ohio college and a San Francisco startup.
According to Ki Mae Heussner of Gigaom.com, accreditors have discounted Ivy Bridge, an online associates-degree program, after raising questions about its business structure.
Many educational institutes, in an effort to reach new students, are forming partnerships with companies that enable online education options. The Ivy Bridge closure will likely have a negative impact on online education programs' partnership campaigns as it "could make schools considering similar options more wary."
Ivy Bridge is jointly managed by Ohio's non-profit college Tiffin University and Altius Education, a for-profit education company based in San Francisco, California.
The program, which was created in 2008, has offered students an online path to a two-year associate's degree that they can then use to transfer to one of 150 four-year partner institutions in the country. The Ivy Bridge program in 2012 reportedly enrolled about 2,000 of Tiffin's 6,900 students.
Last week, Tiffin University and Altius Education announced that they will discontinue Ivy Bridge classes after their regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), ordered them to stop the program.
The accrediting body had approved the Ivy Bridge program in 2010 through 2020, but after some recent changes to its policies the HLC decided that its business structure did not meet its requirements for accreditation.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the accreditor, which started its questioning last year, was concerned how much influence the for-profit Altius had over Ivy Bridge. As accredited institutions (like Tiffin) outsource more of their academics to unaccredited organizations (like Altius), the HLC apparently raises its level of scrutiny, and it found that Ivy Bridge's structure was not to its liking. The Toledo Blade reported that a review from the HLC also included concerns about academic rigor and student retention.
Tiffin University and Altius Education said that the HLC's issue is related to the business relationship between the school and the startup, not the quality of Ivy Bridge's classes.
According to Toledo Blade, Joan Coressel, who enrolled at Ivy Bridge and had completed 55 of her needed 61 credits, said that it was an unexpected announcement that Ivy Bridge will be closed October 20, 2013. Coressel expressed that her future is now in a state of flux.
"I was planning on moving after I finished my degree. Well, now I'm in limbo," she said. "I have no idea what I am going to be doing."
According to officials, Ivy Bridge students have options to finish their degree. The options, among others, include transferring to Tiffin University. Some may be eligible to transfer to Tiffin University's bachelor's degree program while others may transfer to another college.
In addition, Ivy Bridge also is working to find one or more institutions to take over the program so students can finish.