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TC Communique Issue 1, Number 4

Setting financial priorities at Teachers College, Columbia University

Ten years from now, some Teachers College students might not set foot in a New York City classroom. Instead, they might attend class by sitting in front of a computer in their homes or in a classroom hundreds or even thousands of miles from Manhattan.

That picture was presented by Peter W. Cookson, Director of the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation (CEO&I), and Ena Haines, Director of Computing Information Services, at the November 18 meeting of the Financial Priorities Committee (FPC).

Academic Programs, Student Life and Technology

On December 15, the FPC is going to review proposals on student life, departmental initiatives and expenditures on technology. Dean Karen Zumwalt will make a presentation on initiatives for academic programs and Associate Dean Bill Baldwin will discuss new programs for student life. Cookson and Haines will update their financial requests for investments in computer hardware and other equipment for distance learning.

The TC community can give feedback at any time to FPC committee members or by sending electronic mail to fpc@columbia.edu. There is also a newsgroup on Usenet (accessible via Pine, Netscape or other browsers), columbia.tc.fpc, where faculty, students and staff can discuss the strategic planning process at TC. Back issues of the TC Communique are posted on the TC Web site, http://www.tc.columbia.edu/~newsbureau/, and to the columbia.tc.fpc newsgroup.

Committee Members

FPC members are a diverse group. Many of the members are officers of College organizations. David Gomez, chair of the Alumni Council, is on the committee. Marion Boultbee, chair of the Professional Staff Executive Committee, and Michele Brown Nevers, chair of the Management Network, serve on the committee as well. FPC member Thomas Bailey is also on the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC). Another faculty member on the FPC, Ernst Rothkopf, is on the FEC Subcommittee on the Academic Program. The student members of the committee include Julie Orio, who is vice president of the Student Senate.

High Tech Competition

"We are at the beginning of a revolution in learning," said Cookson. "Individualized distance learning is becoming reality. Now we can actually do it." Online instruction is gaining in popularity. Examples of this growing trend include the University of Phoenix, which was featured in a recent article in Change magazine. Phoenix specializes in education for adults who want to retrain for new careers or advance in current ones. Convenience is a major selling point. Students can take courses at centers in 12 states and Puerto Rico or take online courses. The most popular courses at Phoenix include business administration, counseling, information systems and management.

According to the article, however, education programs are also in high demand, especially elementary and/or secondary teacher certification. Change said: "Since attendance at Phoenix does not impinge on the 40-hour work week, many companies are willing to pay the Phoenix tuition of $180 per credit hour for their employees."

An Investment in TC's Future

Cookson said: "TC has about a three- to five-year window of opportunity. Our choice is to become a leader in distance learning or a loser."

If Teachers College does not become a player in the learning revolution, the College could lose students and revenues to peer institutions that do invest in distance learning.

Cookson and Haines developed a budget request totaling $15.5 million. Approximately $10 million would be used to technology improvements to the College for faculty, students and staff. Computer laboratories would be constructed or upgraded, classrooms would be remodeled to accommodate the use of new technology, computer workstations would be build for faculty, the library and staff. The remaining $5 million would be geared for the development of a distance learning program.

Meanwhile, three online courses will be offered in the spring: "Computer-Mediated Communication" taught by Robert O. McClintock, "Instructional Design of Educational Technology" taught by Benjamin Bell, and "The Teaching of Writing" taught by David Schaasfma. The courses may be taken for three credits or no credit. Robert V. Steiner, associate director for leadership programs and distance learning at CEO&I, said: "While these course will be rich in human interaction and will include collaborative projects, course participation will be almost exclusively at the time and place of the student's choosing."

Increasing TC's Impact on Education

A strong distance learning program could dramatically increase the impact Teachers College has on education and education policy, according to TC President Arthur Levine. "We have the product," he said. "But we have limited means for distributing the product."

Tamara Webb, a doctoral student in anthropology and education, wanted to know how the College and its faculty would handle the increase in students. Would that affect human interaction between faculty and students who take classes on campus? She also wanted to know what proportion of the faculty would be offering online courses. "I like the diversity in styles of teaching," she said. "Are we looking for a version of this being a TC trademark?"

Dean Zumwalt said that the College would maintain the same standards for online instruction as it has for on-campus courses and that traditional on-campus courses would still be offered at Teachers College.

Costs vs. Benefits

Professor Bailey said it was clear that a distance learning program "means producing an infrastructure and a staff to produce and market products." On the other hand, he said, it is not clear how distance learning fits with the research mission of the College.

Jane P. Franck, Director of the Library, noted that increasing the number of students--even if they were only dealt with Teachers College offices by computer--would increase the number of students that would have to be served by the library, financial aid office and student service programs. In addition, she said: "One thing is missing from the budget--money for training."

Haines explained that the costs listed were operational costs.

Professor Rothkopf agreed with Franck and said that there needs to be a budget for staff development and training. He also questioned the need to construct two development and production studios.

Although Cookson predicted net revenues of $6 million after five years, Trustee John Irwin said frankly: "I don't know what the economics of this are. There's a cost to those revenues."

Joseph Brosnan, FPC Chair and Vice President for Development and External Affairs, asked Cookson and Haines to prioritize their budget request and to provide a little more detail about the ways distance learning could be a revenue source.

Be Cautious, But Move Forward

"We have every reason to be cautious," Levine said. "But we're not in the campus business. We're in the education business and we need to raise all the flags."

Distance learning is a way to raise enrollment--and revenue--without expanding the physical plant, Cookson said. "We are in the knowledge business and knowledge today is being created and transmitted through a vast global network of computers and other forms of electronic delivery systems," he said. "To compete, the College ought to be a powerhouse of new programs and a model for delivering these programs globally while respecting the needs of the individual learner."

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