A Massachusetts company will take care of the information technology needs of West Virginia’s public universities and colleges.

The state Higher Education Policy Commission has signed up with the private company WebCT Vista to streamline online education programs for all 16 of the state’s colleges and universities.

Previously, each school had its own online learning system. Under WebCT, all of the schools will use the same technology.

Educators are hoping that by using a single system, schools will be able to save money on staffing by coordinating data collection, share course materials, and give students new flexibility in gaining degrees.

“It’s a costly undertaking, but should certainly pay off,” said David W. Johnson, executive director of distributed education technology at Marshall University.

Marshall initiated its online learning program in 1997 with six courses offered entirely online. By fall 2002, it offered 31 entirely online courses, 56 courses that were at least 80 percent online, and 473 courses that had some online content, according to the university.

Jan Fox, vice president for information technology at Marshall, said that 75 percent of students at Marshall now use some form of online coursework. She said the school’s internet courses appeal to students who live in rural areas or carry full-time jobs—and on-campus students like the courses because they provide more scheduling flexibility and online resources.