October 10, 2001

eCornell Holds First Courses

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eCornell, the University’s wholly owned for-profit distance learning corporation, was controversial from the onset, as critics accused the University of blurring the distinction between academic prestige and financial gain.

But with the first round of courses launched over the summer and the second round set to begin next month, talk about eCornell has quieted around campus, as downturns in the economy have threatened the fate of distance learning programs at other universities.

J. Robert Cooke, dean of the University faculty, said the Faculty Senate’s complaints were largely reconciled after the Board of Trustees voted last spring for Cornell to fund eCornell as a non-credit, non-degree program.

“The serious hot button issue” had been whether Cornell could safeguard the quality of its distance learning programs, Cooke said.

“The faculty members were greatly relieved that the funding for eCornell is coming from University sources, because that means the academic reputation won’t be compromised,” he added.

Cornell has agreed to spend $36 million on eCornell over the next three years.

Founded in September 2000, eCornell targets professionals who are early to midway through their careers and need to advance their job training. The courses are offered in areas where Cornell has a distinct professional reputation, according to Roy Swanson, vice president for business development and corporate sales for eCornell’s Manhattan office.

“We’re not pursuing some pie-in-the-sky project to recreate the University online,” Swanson said. “eCornell is targeting specialized areas with strong existing market demand.”

eCornell began its first round of course offerings over the summer with the Hospital for Special Surgery at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College in New York City.

100 people registered for the two courses: Orthopaedic Conditions and Osteoporosis, each costing less than $100.

Beginning on Nov. 1, eCornell is offering an online Human Resources Studies certificate program, with other certificate programs and courses slated for next year. Courses set to debut in the coming months include Human Resources and the Law, Fundamentals of Employee Benefits and Salary Administration. These courses, which are longer in duration, will cost several hundred dollars.

The start date for the second round of courses was delayed one month due to the Sept. 11 tragedy, which temporarily put the eCornell office out of commission, according to Swanson.

This delay comes significantly at a time when the economy has hit a downturn and a lot of universities are struggling with the future of their distance learning programs, according to Cooke.

Edward P. Henry, associate dean for finance and administration at Columbia University Business School, admitted that Columbia was worried about how the economy will impact its partnership with UNext.com to create an online distance learning program.

UNext laid off 42 percent of its 325 member workforce last month. The firm — citing a shift in resource allocation — also cut 52 jobs last March, according to The Columbia Daily Spectator.

“There’s no question that it’s a difficult time,” Henry said. “We’re moving slower than we anticipated. Creating a quality program takes more money and time than many people anticipated. No one knew fully what we were getting into.”

Columbia Business School has been using distance learning courses for about one year now. Twenty courses have been completed and 10 are currently in progress.

UNext sometimes spends as much as $700,000 to create the equivalent of a full-semester course, according to Henry.

Unlike eCornell, which is a non-degree program, UNext offers credit courses through an M.B.A. program affiliated with Cardean University, a UNext subsidiary.

UNext has similar deals with the University of Chicago, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and the London School of Economics.

Henry said the agreement with UNext has worked out well up to this point financially, because Columbia has already received two million dollars in licensing fees without having to invest any money.

Barbara Krause, secretary of the Board of Trustees, would not comment on whether Cornell is adjusting the rate of its distance learning expenditures to cope with the changing market.

The University plans to expand eCornell’s course offerings to include selections from the School of Hotel Administration by the end of the year, according to Swanson. He could not say whether eCornell would expand beyond that point.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts