Florida legislator Will Weatherford believes that the Florida Board of Governors should consider the cost-saving possibilities of building its 12th state university totally online.
Representative Weatherford, who is set to become house-speaker in 2013-2014 if the Republicans maintain their majority after November's elections, has urged education officials to "get out of their comfort zones," and embrace the potential of online learning.
While several states have collaborated with companies to offer online courses and degrees, none has started their own college, writes Michael C. Bender at BusinessWeek.
Florida would be the first state to create such a program, said Andrew Magda, a senior analyst at Boston-based higher-education research company Eduventures Inc.
Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson agreed to complete the cost analysis. Annual tuition and fees for an in-state undergraduate at the University of Florida in Gainesville is $5,700, according to its website.
"This is a great opportunity for us to bring back into the workforce people who need certain skills or credentials," Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said.
The state education board is set to hand over its analysis before lawmakers convene for the 2013 legislative session and, if the board recommends it, the online school could enroll students by 2014, Weatherford said.
"There is no doubt that such a delivery model is the wave of the future."
In Florida, all high school students must take at least one online class. However, many critics say the move drains money from school districts, limits the social experience of education and affords few benefits for students who are not highly motivated.
Jennifer Smith, who teaches French at Hialeah High, said:
"I cannot think of any reason to mandate it for high school students other than saving money and/or making money for their friends' companies that are running the systems."
Around half of undergraduates at Florida universities took at least one online class in 2010 and the trend is increasing. Over 2.3 million students across the county did at least 80 percent of their degrees online, says Eduventures.
They expect this number to increase by up to 5 million by 2020.