November/December 2002 // Case Studies
Institutional Challenges in the Creation and Delivery of an Online Degree Program
by Karen Kaminski and William D. Milheim
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Karen Kaminski and William D. Milheim "Institutional Challenges in the Creation and Delivery of an Online Degree Program" The Technology Source, November/December 2002. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

There are extensive issues within an institution that must be resolved for innovative online programs to succeed. Frequently program developers must address internal politics while convincing administrators that a new program will benefit the institution. Extensive teamwork throughout an institution is also necessary. In order to illuminate these issues, we will describe how we and our colleagues designed and delivered an online social sciences bachelor's degree in liberal arts via a Course Management System (CMS)—in our case, WebCT—at Colorado State University (CSU) between spring of 2000 and summer of 2001.

Program Development and Approval

The CSU Division of Educational Outreach (DEO) had managed a social science degree program where the faculty members drove to Denver to teach face-to-face evening courses since 1998 (see Exhibit 1 for an outline of program course requirements). However, in order to better serve community college students in rural Colorado, university stopouts (students who take time off but who intend to continue their education rather than "dropout"), and other Colorado residents, the Office of Instructional Services (OIS) and the DEO presented a proposal to CSU's provost in the spring of 2000 to provide this program online. The proposal included a request for $400,000 in development funds to create 20 courses (60 credit-hours) that would fulfill the upper-level undergraduate course work for a bachelor's degree. Lower division courses, up to 60 credits, would be transferable from various community colleges, other institutions, or various programs within the university. The provost and the vice presidents at CSU, as well as the Dean's Council and the Executive Budget Committee, allocated $300,000 for the first 15 courses as follows:

  • $5,000 per course paid to faculty for course development (equivalent to liberal arts faculty pay, including benefits, for teaching one course).
  • $5,000 per course to hire student assistants to help with instructional research and data entry.
  • $10,000 per course for instructional design support and materials development, including digital audio, digital video, graphics, animation, and copyright clearance.

The program chair decided to use any revenue generated by offering these courses to finance the development of the remaining five courses that were not funded by the original allocation.

Staff from the OIS and DEO met with the dean and department chairs in the College of Liberal Arts to select the courses to be developed. This consultation became quite complex. Although Colorado State University is a land-grant institution, and there is pressure from the state to increase online course/program offerings, CSU has not adopted a policy that requires faculty to develop or teach distance courses. The fact that CSU faculty participation in distance courses remains optional complicated negotiations to develop a balanced list of courses for the degree. Through a number of meetings with department chairs and faculty, the staff finally established a tentative list of course offerings.

Once the courses and faculty were identified, syllabi, schedules, and outlines for each course were submitted to the University Curriculum Committee for approval of their content and nontraditional delivery format. While committee members eventually approved the courses, they raised numerous questions related to the maintenance of interactions between instructors and students, student testing, and student course evaluations. For example, faculty members needed to explicitly explain how students would have as many hours of contact (seat time) in the online course as they would in the face-to-face course. This was accomplished by describing how online discussions would be managed and specifically how students would be held responsible for interaction with the content, participation in discussion, and presentation of their learning. In regard to student testing, faculty described how they would use multiple evaluation tools such as reports, quizzes, tests, projects and participation to evaluate learning. To further alleviate the committee's concerns, OIS met with the committee and demonstrated how the CSM tools would be used. For instructor evaluation purposes, CSU has a requirement that all faculty use the Associated Students of CSU course survey for student evaluation of their courses. Students completed these on ScanTron forms. OIS created an electronic version of this survey in which the data will be merged with the data from the scanned forms used on campus.

Finally, in order to facilitate the overall design of these courses and to help ensure that they were as rigorous as their on-campus equivalents, the OIS created a template within the CMS to help ensure that each course would contain, at minimum, a syllabus, a course schedule, relevant course content, communication tools, general resources, and a help function (for access to sample WebCT courses at CSU, click here). An additional challenge for faculty and instructional designers was to create effective courses requiring minimal computer competency, while at the same time including high-quality multimedia components.


After the academic approval process was complete, marketing that focused primarily on recently graduated and currently enrolled community college students became the primary concern. We also recognized that courses in this program could be attractive for traditional CSU students, especially since they could register for these courses through the DEO. While such enrollments could have a negative impact on several on-campus university programs, this effect is mitigated partially because students must pay full DEO tuition at the time of registration, with the cost of these courses coming in addition to their regular tuition.

With the primary focus on marketing these courses beyond the CSU community, the DEO worked through partnerships with various Colorado community colleges in the Colorado community college system (e.g., Morgan, Otero, Larmar, and Pueblo community colleges, among others) where courses were already offered via videotape. Initial marketing for this group included a targeted ad campaign in specific geographic regions associated with each of these community college partners. While the overall process worked quite well, the program's developers found it challenging to develop full marketing efforts based on existing university deadlines while the program was still defining various details and developing specific student support systems.

Online Student Services

To provide up-to-date information, the OIS created a Web site to inform students about the program, various procedures, and specific deadlines. Key information on the site included:

  • procedures for beginning the program,
  • Colorado State University application processes,
  • methods for contacting advisors,
  • course enrollment procedures, and
  • links to other support services.

In order to use the university's online application system and enroll in this distance-based program, all prospective students had to enter a specific degree code on their application that identified them as a distance-based student. While this process is important for the provision of specific support and follow-through with these students, several problems arose that related to the inclusion of this code, which required the development of special instructions for these students as part of the regular application.

The DEO, OIS, and Academic Computing and Network Services also worked together to establish systems for tracking the students enrolled in the distance program. Specifically, student registration information needed to be loaded into the WebCT global database (which served as the instructional recording system for all students who enrolled in distance courses) once they were enrolled as official students through the CSU information systems database.

In addition, the original budget did not include any funding for student advising. Since this type of advising is critical for course planning and degree completion for distance-based students, the program redirected almost $11,000 to the College of Liberal Arts for a part-time advisor to assist students take the courses needed to complete their degree within two years. Advising could be complicated as the program offers five courses each semester and repeats the overall sequence each year. Part-time students would need guidance in selecting courses so they would be able to schedule offered courses for each semester of study.

Faculty Issues

While distance-based teaching is becoming more prevalent in many higher education environments, Woolcott (1997) indicates that the use of technology and the development of distance courses still does not typically play a significant role in most tenure and promotion processes. Given this situation, interested faculty members had to consider their overall teaching load, any limits on supplemental pay enforced by their institutions, and the amount of time this work would take away from their research and traditional teaching. Surprisingly, half of the faculty members developing the courses in this case were full-time, tenure-track faculty.

At CSU, faculty members receive compensation for developing courses as supplemental pay. Although the original budget called for $5,000 for faculty development and $5,000 for student assistants, the program decided that the $10,000 available for each course would be used to provide faculty members with up to $7,000 per course, with the balance being used to cover various overhead costs and graduate student support. With respect to intellectual property, CSU retains ownership of a specific course if the faculty member has received pay for developing it. Royalties from course offerings were based on gross revenues, with faculty members receiving 5% after the first $50,000 in revenue, 7.5% after $100,000, and 10% once a course had generated $150,000 in revenue. Some faculty members preferred to develop a specific course while receiving no compensation or royalties so that they could retain the intellectual property rights to the content.

This issue becomes complicated, however, when the faculty member who owns the rights to a specific course leaves the institution or is not available during a given semester when the course must be offered. Based on this issue, the faculty member and the institution agreed that courses could be offered as long as the individual faculty member remains at CSU. If the faculty member leaves, either a new agreement must be made for rights to continue delivery of the course, or a new faculty member must develop a replacement course. In a similar manner, Katz (1999) reminds us that there is a definite need to rethink the ownership of faculty course materials and the incentive systems for faculty participation in course production. CSU's solution to this problem was to create a memorandum of understanding between faculty members and the DEO that governs the development of online courses.

Initial budget analysis by the DEO predicted a need for 30 students to enroll in each course to ensure that income from tuition would cover expenses for the course. However, faculty members requested a maximum of 20 students based on the distance-based teaching requirements and their need to gain experience with this environment. After significant negotiation, a sliding pay scale was devised, with faculty members receiving somewhat lesser pay for classes with smaller enrollments.

In general, faculty members worked in a team environment with instructional designers, students, and other faculty members, including a new Web developer hired for his experience with overall Web design and with WebCT. Faculty members attend monthly group meetings where they share overall program information and discuss instructional design processes, and this collaboration, information sharing, and peer support continue to be important aspects of this program.


Colorado State University's Division of Educational Outreach has been delivering distance courses via electronic technology since 1967. Their success in distance learning is illustrated by student interest in the liberal arts program described above, which has generated more than 300 student inquiries since its inception. From this original pool, 40 students have followed through on the application process, while the program maintains a database of the remaining students' names for possible future contact.

The next steps in institutionalizing this program include expanding the bachelor's degree in liberal arts beyond its original 20 courses, developing a comprehensive assessment of individual courses and the entire degree program, and adjusting our current CSU guidelines on promotion, tenure, and merit as additional degree programs consider course delivery through distance-based media formats. Expansion efforts have already begun with the receipt of a grant from the Colorado Institute of Technology, which has allowed us to develop nine additional online undergraduate courses to provide an information technology minor. This includes such courses as Technical Journalism, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Computer Information Systems. These courses can be used to supplement the Liberal Arts program. In turn, we are developing a process to assess the undergraduate courses based on student feedback and content evaluation. This information will be used for continual refinement of the degree program, and will allow us to adapt it to the changing needs of the student population. With the addition of the new technology component we have also begun looking at institutional policy. These courses are based out of an Interdisciplinary Studies program for on-campus students which has its own board. This has opened up opportunities for discussion of faculty compensation and recognition for their efforts to incorporate technology into their teaching. Ongoing efforts in all facets will improve the institution's overall ability to offer additional online programs.

[Editor's Note: This paper is modified from a presentation at the 2001 WebCT conference in Vancouver, BC.]


Katz, R. N. (1999). Dancing with the devil: Information technology and the new competition in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wolcott, L. L. (1997). Tenure, promotion, and distance education: Examining the culture of faculty rewards. The American Journal of Distance Education, 11(2), 3-18.

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