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Bonuses for struggling venture rile some

Ten employees of the University of Illinois’s Global Campus were rewarded with performance bonuses while the online program struggled to attract and maintain students, according to reports that followed a May 21 announcement that the program would be reorganized and operate on a smaller budget.

University trustees voted May 21 to decentralize the Global Campus initiative, giving more power to the system’s three campuses and trimming the annual budget from about $9 million to $1.75 million, according to a report detailing Global Campus changes released by a group of eight university officials.

The Global Campus currently has about 400 students–thousands less than once expected–and has struggled to gain traction since its launch during the 2007-08 academic year. Empowering each Illinois campus to manage its own distance-education program could attract 5,000 new students and start 15 new programs within five years, according to the restructuring report, which stressed that the nation’s economic downturn would not longer support "duplication of … offices and services" that could be construed as an "unnecessary luxury."

"Resources are scarce, and greater consolidation and efficiencies within the university need to be explored," the report said. "…We need to pursue a thinned-down, more flexible and efficient structure, drawing from an enhancing existing resources and efforts rather than trying to remake them in a new guise."

The university paid out more than $120,000 in bonuses for Global Campus employees, according to a May 22 report in the Chicago Tribune. University President Joseph White told the Tribune that the employees earned the bonus payments, but a source close to the university’s Global Campus restructuring told eCampus News that college officials were "shocked" by the revelations.

"Bonuses are most rare at public universities," said the source, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of bonuses for the struggling online program. "We have annual raises, equity raises, et cetera, but not bonuses. A successful employee is rewarded by praise or successfully completing the process for a promotion. So, it is shocking to faculty and staff members that bonuses–especially of this magnitude–were doled out at the University of Illinois."

Tom Hardy, a spokesman for the university, said in an interview with eCampus News that the bonus payments were built into the fiscal 2008 budget to provide incentive for employees to ensure a successful launch for Global Campus.

"It was the plan to provide these performance incentive payments based on work that had to be done to get Global Campus up and running," Hardy said, adding that the bonuses averaged $8,000 per employee and were a one-time incentive. "The reason for the program was to inspire some entrepreneurial, personal, and professional investment on the part of the team there."

Since Global Campus enrollment stagnated last year, Illinois decision makers eliminated the bonus program, he said.

"While many other things were working well for Global Campus, the pipeline of products in terms of course work was not filling up as robustly as had been anticipated," Hardy said. "When there was disappointing enrollment, it makes it hard to provide incentive payments."

Ray Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning, said the Global Campus 2.0 effort would incorporate the expertise of online-learning authorities across the university system.

"People with experience were not very involved with the [original] Global Campus," Schroeder said, adding that officials will focus on attracting community college students to the revamped distance-education courses.

Current Global Campus students, Schroeder said, will not see their academic schedules or coursework affected by officials’ decision to redo the online initiative.

"It should be seamless for the students who are enrolled in the Global Campus," he said.

Global Campus 2.0 is expected to begin in January, officials said. The report outlines strategies for bolstering enrollment over the next five years, including the start of online degree programs in environmental science, criminology, and psychology.

The current Global Campus offers two undergraduate degrees–in business administration and nursing–and four master’s degree options. The university has eight separate undergraduate and 30 master’s degrees that can be earned online.

Schroeder said more details of the new Global Campus will emerge after the July 22-23 Board of Trustees meetings, where chancellors from all three Illinois campuses will submit plans for how and when to expand online degree options.

Material from the Associate Press was used in this report.


Global Campus 2.0 report

University of Illinois Global Campus

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