Web project will connect students with colleges, jobs

David Hyland

Touted as the one-stop hub in the web of higher education in Minnesota, the state’s Virtual University initiative is running full speed ahead.
Ann Hill Duin, one of the leaders of the Virtual University project, updated the Board of Regents at Thursday’s meeting.
Once it’s running, a World Wide Web site will allow students access to information about higher education opportunities statewide. It also will contain information about potential careers.
The program should appeal to traditional students and those returning to school or currently in the workforce.
The University will work with schools from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, private colleges such as Hamline University, high schools, grade schools and people from private industries.
The program will offer televised, Web-based or regular classes on campuses across the state.
Sue Engelmann, Virtual University project manager, said the program will benefit all students.
“It will provide anytime, anyplace education,” she said.
Officials expect the Web site will be fully operational by November. At the site, prospective students can find all the courses available in Minnesota.
Clicking the link for their desired course will transport the student to the homepage of the college or university where the class is taught. Once there, the student can register.
A new aspect to the initiative, which Duin called “the key building block,” is a Web-based tool to help students in career development and planning. Called Internet System for Education and Employment Knowledge, the tool will allow people to investigate career options.
The site, operational on July 1, will provide information about salaries, job opportunities and courses to assist students in landing jobs.
Paul Wasko, manager of education technology initiatives for the Minnesota Office of Technology, said the initiative will help people currently in the workforce get the education they need for their jobs or for a new career. Industry officials think such tools could ease the state’s labor shortage.
Wasko helped draft the Virtual University proposal for the state legislature in 1997. The original bill passed a year and a half ago. It provided about $1.1 million for the initiative.
“If we don’t do this, we’re gonna start to fall behind the curve,” Wasko said.
John Vinton, who sits on the Virtual University’s coordinating board, agreed with the assessment.
“It’s the future,” said Vinton, a professor of public administration and management at Hamline University. “This is what’s happening in higher education around the country and around the world.”
Engelmann said there are almost 150 virtual universities operating throughout the world. In the United States, Web-based schools exist in New York and California. Additionally, a conglomeration of western universities called the Western Governors Virtual University are already establishing their own systems. Universities in Australia and the United Kingdom have similar programs.
One difference between Minnesota’s initiative and other models is that the Western Governors system will directly grant credits and degrees. In Minnesota the individual colleges will maintain degree-granting powers.
For example, a student can take classes from a variety of colleges in Minnesota, but they will only get a degree from one college. Which college will grant the degree is still unclear.
Officials have a number of goals for the program’s future.
Wasko said he hopes the Virtual University Web site will contain a credit bank that allows students to track the credits they are taking and map out a degree program. Vinton would like to see more joint programs added to aid the development of new curriculums.
Engelmann said once the Web site is complete, a committee will adopt plans for a second phase, which will begin work after the year 2000.