Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual University: A new utility company in Kentucky

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Is it a portal? Is it a clearinghouse? Is it a stand-alone institution? These are the questions we receive most often about the new Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual University. Like a clever objective question, the answer is "none of the above", and well, maybe okay, "all of the above plus some."

The KCVU is best described as a new utility company for Kentucky citizens and their higher education institutions, bringing the customers easily and rationally to the resource providers and vice versa. We imagine a potential student somewhere out there who wants to plug in a laptop wherever and whenever and have the "power" turn on: the power to make an informed choice about potential colleges, to view and understand certificate and degree program opportunities, to read course descriptions and faculty bios, to apply, register, and attend class, perhaps at several different institutions at one time, all at one plug-in site. Additionally, services such as financial aid application and submittal, academic and other advising, bookstore, electronic and hardcopy library resources, reference librarians, study groups should be available. In other words, the student carries his/her college education in a laptop slung over the shoulder.

KCVU is a stand-alone institution, that is, it is separate from the other universities, but its business is to assist in training faculty members to develop an Internet curriculum and to deliver this curriculum electronically in the most comprehensible way to students. Accreditation resides with the Kentucky colleges providing the curriculum.

The overriding question that drives all our policies and procedures is "How does the customer make sense of that?" To that end, we have put all the processes for matriculation plus the actual courses and faculty interaction at one website. And we are available to all the private, public and proprietary colleges of Kentucky. The hardware and software infrastructure has been constructed so that students registering at KCVU have their records electronically downloaded and synchronized with each participating institution's Student Information System, so that enrollees become regular students of their chosen college(s), demarked only by a section number for their course. Students receive transcripts from the colleges in which they are enrolled.

Developing a statewide virtual university that seeks to connect individuals and colleges shines a light on many bureaucratic quagmires that higher education has developed. While many procedures were instituted to ease the matriculation process of students at an individual college, these same procedures can become variable and sometimes oppositional when providing registration opportunities for individuals at all of the colleges. For example, until KCVU, students who wished to apply to 4 or 5 universities needed to complete 4 or 5 different application forms and pay several fees. To register at multiple institutions required the same multiplication of effort. Now, through KCVU, students need only fill out one application form, pay one application fee, and complete one registration form. Students enjoying in-state tuition because of a reciprocity agreement between their state and an individual institution, were discouraged to find at another institution they would have to pay out-of-state tuition. We changed that so that all institutions honor each other's reciprocity agreements. The effect was to create, de facto, no distinction between in-state and out-of-state tuition for all surrounding states, and many non-contiguous states. The next step will be to look at expanding that to all students everywhere.

We are seeing not just a paradigm shift, but an orbital shift in the traditional practices of higher education whereby instead of the student revolving around the institution, the institution revolves around the student and practices easy access to institutional resources.

Enrollment and Demographics

In its inaugural semester, KCVU enrolled 265 students (324 enrollments) in 21 courses. All courses were part of one of seven certificate and degree programs. In spring semester, more than 1600 students have registered in about 140 courses (1800 + enrollments).

KCVU successfully reached its target market - nontraditional students in the 23-50 age range - who make up more than 70 percent of the Spring 2000 enrollment. The student gender ratio, too, reflects predictions that KCVU would have significant appeal for women in the targeted age range, with female registration outpacing males by more than 2-to-1 for the spring 2000 term.

KCVU is also meeting its goal to provide higher education access to all Kentuckians with in-state students registered for Spring 2000 representing 116 of the state's 120 counties. Out-of-state registration also increased from eight non-resident students from four states in fall 1999 to 122 students from 16 states and four foreign countries registered for classes in the spring.

Undergraduates make up 82 percent of KCVU's spring 2000 students with graduate students at 16 percent, and extended education students at 2 percent. Students are registered and/or pre-registered for a total of 4,041 credit hours. Projected tuition revenue to participating institutions exceeds $527,000.

Current and future efforts will be directed toward expanding and improving existing services and developing new program areas with KCVU partners to address the workforce needs of the state.

KCVU Student Survey Reveals High Satisfaction

KCVU conducted a survey of its charter class students in December 1999 to ascertain student satisfaction levels and solicit input to help enhance the KCVU experience for students through improved programs and service delivery.

The voluntary survey was conducted anonymously to encourage candid feedback. With more than 30 percent of KCVU's Fall 1999 students responding, the survey found:

91 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the instructor provided helpful feedback and 88 percent said instructor feedback was provided in a timely manner

88 percent said the amount of interaction with their instructors was about right, 78 percent rated their level of interaction with other students as about right and 92 percent said the pace of courses was about right compared to a traditional classroom

99 percent said the online course delivery systems, chat rooms, and forums were always or almost always available when they logged on; 93 percent of respondents rated download speeds acceptable and 98 percent said they were comfortable using KCVU’s online system

The KCVU Help Desk also received high marks as 93 percent of KCVU students responding agreed or strongly agreed that the Help Desk was available when they needed assistance. Further, 95 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the Help Desk answered their questions and helped solve online problems.

Perhaps the most significant indication of student satisfaction revealed through the survey was the 87 percent who said KCVU had met or exceeded their expectations. Eighty-two percent indicated they would like to take another KCVU course.

KCVU will use information from this survey to make ongoing quality improvements in our service to students.

KCVU Nominated for Computerworld Smithsonian Institution Award

Each year, the Computerworld Smithsonian Program identifies and honors innovative projects and innovators whose visionary use of information technology produces positive social, economic and educational change. In October 1999 the Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual University was notified of its nomination by the BellSouth Corporation for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award. As an award candidate KCVU has been afforded a place in history as part of the Smithsonian's 2000 Permanent Research Collection.

Finalists will be announced by the Smithsonian Institution April 12, 2000.

KCVU and the Kentucky National Guard Team up for Statewide Internet Access

On March 1, the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and KCVU will cut the ribbon for their new joint venture to provide Internet access to the most underserved counties in Kentucky. KCVU will provide workstations and printers for placement in three National Guard armories in the cities of Marion, Tompkinsville and Jackson. This pilot project is anticipated to evolve into a statewide dissemination of computers and Internet access in many armories to enhance programs and services currently offered by schools and libraries. The DMA conducted research in the fall to ascertain the counties with the least access to the Internet, and together, KCVU and DMA chose these pilot project cities.

The armories in these cities will be equipped with two workstations each, and the Guard will provide installation, network connectivity, security and initial maintenance in addition to support services for users. KCVU and the Kentucky Virtual High School hope to provide computer technology internship opportunities in these armories to local high school students. Also the workstations will be available to National Guard members who wish to continue their higher education opportunities while they are on duty.

KCVL Officially Launched November 1, 1999

The Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual Library was officially launched November 1, 1999. Part of the Virtual University, but even more, KCVL is available free to every Kentucky citizen, whether or not they are registered at KCVU. Since inauguration, KCVL has been inundated with users.

Databases Licensed

KCVL successfully negotiated on behalf of all Kentucky public and educational libraries licensing agreements for 32 electronic databases with close to 5,000 full text journal and newspaper titles and 11 online library catalogs with close to 10 million volumes.

In addition to the licenses, KCVL has inaugurated the Ariel system which allows internet faxing of journal articles held by Kentucky libraries and is preparing to inaugurate its statewide ground courier service in Summer 2000.

KCVL has provides a self-paced online tutorial to assist students to access information, including digitized Kentucky special collections and archives, and provides a virtual reference desk for both library materials and online government information.

The Kentucky Department of Education reported that KCVL is the major factor of the increased Internet traffic in Kentucky as captured from the proxy server that KDE uses. The number of hits to KDE’s proxy server went from 1.8 million hits per day in October 1999 to 6 million hits per day one week after the launch of KCVL in November. (see Figure 1.) Much of this increased traffic is also due to the reconfiguration of KDE’s server that had more Internet usage pointed to their proxy server, but the reconfiguration alone would only have accounted for about half of the increase.

The Future of KCVU

Virtual universities are sprouting up throughout the U.S. as statewide systems. Because each is constructed in a different way, we can all say at our inauguration that "we have the first statewide virtual university of its kind." No one is sure which model will be successful in meeting the goals for which it is created. While we are optimistic about the Kentucky model and its early success, we strive to refine and re-configure our operation to ensure its sustainability. Above all, we intend to maintain a small staff so that we can be agile and speedy when we need to take a different direction. We keep in contact with our counterparts both here and abroad to learn about their solutions to similar challenges; and we import ideas, products, and services, and implement and discard ideas and procedures as appropriate with ready abandon. Modeled after impertinent and inventive Internet companies, we at KCVU expect to evolve with our customer demands.


Critical Reviews

Critic ZZ

This is a very well written and informative piece - up  to the point where the survey appears. The section on the KCVU survey is by no means as interesting as the preceding material. The point of this  section may be stated in one sentence - surveys show that student  satisfaction is high.

The subsequent sections on the award, the National Guard, and the KVCL are not at all integrated with the rest of the piece. They really read like separate publicity announcements that were appended to an  otherwise well designed essay.

The sections on the National Guard and virtual library are = informative but just seem very different from what's gone before. As  noted, they need to be worked into the structure of a coherent essay. Doing so will produce an essay we should publish.

Critic II


I would recommend "Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual  University: A new utility company in Kentucky" for publication in the  _Technology Source_ with only a few reservations. The opening two  paragraphs, while engaging, read somewhat like an advertising/promotion  piece and this register strikes me as odd for the journal. For this  reason, paragraph three comes as somewhat of a surprise, switching from   the upbeat "goals" of the site being described to the complex challenge   it faces getting faculty to provide worthwhile information to its  creators. I'd like to hear more about how the site designers actually  "assist in training faculty members to develop an Internet curriculum,"  but the manuscript turns back to its focus on "the customer"  immediately. The "bureaucratic quagmires" are solved in the manuscript  but we aren't told how and through what processes, and this seems like  very important information for the journal's readers.

The issues above aren't entirely my own but, rather, the authors  conclude by raising them: "No one is sure which model will be successful  in meeting the goals for which it is created. While we are optimistic  about the Kentucky model and its early success, we strive to refine and  re-configure our operation to ensure its sustainability." If they're  going to chose to close pragmatically, they probably want to provide  readers with some of their reasons for doing so--as it's written, the  manuscript gives me few good reasons NOT to endorse online university   portals for everyone :-). But of course the authors have learned a great  many lessons about how difficult this goal is to accomplish  successfully; they're just not explicating them for us here?

A few local comments:

Critic JJ

I think it's quite good--not meant to be an article,  it's an announcement. The site it refers to is also quite well done  compared to some of the other ones some universities have. I think it is  fine. Seems to answer most of the questions that a reader would ask,  although it dodges, as all of them do, the No Significant Difference  kind of inquiry.

One interesting fact is that a very high percentage of them are  positive on taking another course this way--the Project 25 date showed  less than half wanted to take a second course in DL. I like it