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U. of Texas System Plans to Close Its Central Distance-Education Arm

The University of Texas system announced late Thursday afternoon that it plans to close its central distance-education arm. Online education at individual campuses has matured to the point that the services offered by the current system-level office aren’t necessary, a university spokesman said.

The 12-year-old UT TeleCampus is a veteran in its field, one of several state or system-level efforts begun in the late 1990s. It does not grant degrees, but it encourages campuses within the system to put programs online, facilitates collaborative degrees that pool courses from different campuses, and offers services like marketing and faculty training.

In announcing the move Thursday, the university put out a news release with the headline, “UT Institutions Use Distance Education to Teach More Students, Improve Graduation Rates.” The release described the TeleCampus changes as a “restructuring” that will better support the campuses. When asked by a reporter whether the university was shutting down the TeleCampus, a system spokesman, Anthony P. de Bruyn, had this response:

“The decision has been made to cease the operation of the UT system administration TeleCampus, yes. And the reason for that primarily is because the sophistication of distance-education courses at the various UT institutions has really matured and grown over the last 12 years since the TeleCampus was created.”

He added, “Their mission is completed and has been successful. … There’s no need for the current structure of the TeleCampus and what it currently offers with regard to services to the campuses.”

Twenty-three employees will be laid off, said Mr. de Bruyn. They will be eligible to apply for work in a new, smaller office, he said. As the news release described it, that new office will support “campus efforts by serving as a central clearinghouse for innovations, implementing start-up programs, and assisting with distance-education marketing and recruitment efforts.”

Asked how the changes would affect students, Mr. de Bruyn said, “I believe they won’t see any change in service.”

The future of the TeleCampus had been uncertain for months as the University of Texas, the biggest system in the country’s second-most-populous state, phased out a major subsidy for the program. The system had supported the TeleCampus to the tune of $22-million over more than a decade, money that came from endowment earnings. The recession has also driven other states to stretch, diversify, or cut those types of programs.

David B. Prior, who has jurisdiction over the TeleCampus as the system’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, told The Chronicle in May that “the system role vis-à-vis the campuses is to stimulate activity on those campuses and then get out of the way.”

He added then, “We are indeed pursuing aggressively continuing activities in distance education on our campuses. But we’re just going to be doing it a different way.”

When the TeleCampus was created in 1998, the campuses largely lacked support, such as instructional designers and technical expertise, for building distance-education courses, said Michael K. Moore, senior vice provost at the university’s campus in Arlington.

“That’s changed,” said Mr. Moore. “The learning-management systems are easier to operate. You don’t need as much technical expertise to build an online course today as you did then. And the campuses now have more resources perhaps to support their own initiatives.”

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