Earlier this week the ArmyTimes reported that the Army is shutting down eArmyU. eArmyU was initiated 10 years ago in 2001, with the purpose of opening a virtual gateway to provide soldiers access to a college education.
When I read the headline, “Army to shut down eArmyU,” I was really taken back. Not because the Army had decided to move on from eArmyU to www.goarmy.ed, but because I was there, like many of you, when the discussions first started about the formation of eArmyU. Many of us were working hard to find programs that would benefit both our institutions and eArmyU. For those of us who can still remember, these were heady times for distance education — it was still seen by many as this great experiment. Could you really offer courses, not to mention complete degree programs, through distance education? Many of us were wrestling with which LMS to employ; do I go with a vendor or an open source?
I also remember being very much in the business of recruiting faculty and departments to be part of this grand experiment. For me it was like déjà vu all over again. I remember doing this in the late 1980s with audio teleconference, the 1990s with two-way video, and then came the ability to deliver courses online. I have to admit that I was a reluctant adopter of online learning, primarily because of my experience with audio and two-way video teleconferencing. I had convinced myself that students at a distance needed to be in groups so they could interact with each other; in Wyoming I think we called them outreach centers. But over time and after doing our own experimenting, I not only became a believer but a vocal supporter to the point that when I was in North Dakota we became part of the Demonstration Project. I mentioned the Demonstration Project to one of my younger colleagues in the office and she said, “Oh yeah, we studied that in one of my grad classes.” Ouch.
In one article about the shut down the author indicated that eArmyU had simply outgrown its mission and that the new portal, GoArmyEd, will allow the Army to expand on its mission of providing soldiers access to a college degree.
I think that shutting down eArmyU is also a time to pause and celebrate. One of the reasons why eArmyU had outgrown its mission is that institutions of higher education have stepped up to the challenge and the need of providing access to higher education online. To measure this, I compared the 2001 and 2008 NCES reports “Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions.” I didn’t have to read very far to see the growth. In 2001 it was reported that 56% of 2 and 4 year institutions were offering courses using distance education. In addition, we’ve seen skyrocketing growth in terms of enrollments, 3.1 million in 2001 and 12.2 million in 2007. Finally, what I believe to be the most telling statistic is the growth in the percentage of institutions offering degree and/or certificates completely at a distance: 19% of the intuitions reported doing this in 2001 and 29% reported this in 2007. The significant increase provided so much more opportunities to soldiers and to all students that a portal like eArmyU was not longer needed.
In so many ways I tip my hat to the Army for recognizing the need to establish a portal for the soldiers to have access to a college education. And I am also proud of all those higher education institutions that are making efforts to provide great access to a higher education. I know we have a long way to go, but heck, tonight I celebrate.
Parsad, B., and Lewis, L. (2008). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2006–07 (NCES 2009–044). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. 2008.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000–2001, NCES 2003-017, by Tiffany Waits and Laurie Lewis.Project Officer: Bernard Greene. Washington, DC: 2003.