Higher-education leaders are learning that starting a virtual program is a wholly different venture than opening a traditional campus, and the recipe for success requires a different approach. Among the chief mistakes many schools make: Not investing heavily enough in marketing and recruiting, and not getting faculty buy-in and support.

Last semester, nearly a year after its launch, an $8.6 million online campus created by the University of Illinois had just 121 students enrolled in only five degree programs--far short of the 9,000 students that officials had anticipated within the project's first five years.

Earlier this decade, New York University's online school


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