COLUMBIA, S.C. - The University of South Carolina is among more than 30 colleges and universities nationwide participating in a program to make classes and research available to students regardless of their location, a school official said Thursday.
The colleges will participate in the Global Campus project led by computer giant IBM. The program is designed to make higher education more accessible through online computer programs.
George Terry, University of South Carolina vice provost and head of the school's library, said more than 10,000 students already are taking classes off-campus for Columbia campus credit. Most of the courses are offered via television.
"But as these computer networks get more and more sophisticated, ... the computer networks - both on this campus and throughout the USC system - will become integral parts of distance learning," Terry said.
People working in the field say distance learning is an uncharted and complicated concept.
"The sociology is more difficult than the technology," said Diana Oblinger, manager of academic programs for higher education for IBM.
But Terry said it's old hat at USC, which has seven satellite campuses around the state. "My worst fear is for us to lose ground in an area we're so far ahead in," he said.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University are the other Carolina schools participating in the project.
By next fall, UNC-Chapel Hill officials hope to offer the school's first online courses. The Internet classes should help the school with an expected enrollment boom to 40,000 students by 2005.
"From our point of view, this is big news," UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Michael Hooker said. "It enables students at distant locations to take courses and so meets a need that we know exists."
The schools will use combinations of technologies, consulting and other services, and will share the results with other participating institutions.
Next fall's courses at UNC-Chapel Hill probably will be limited to professional development classes for doctors or lawyers. But Hooker envisions expanding offerings to include many undergraduate classes. Community college graduates or nontraditional students with jobs or children could take classes to receive bachelor's degrees from Chapel Hill.
Wake Forest, which already provides new students with notebook computers, wants to supplement and enrich on-campus classes with electronic course material and discussions from other schools.
Other schools to participate include Boston College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the 23-campus California State University System.