It is indeed an event, as George points out, when a university board and president back, instead of try to stave off, the for-profit/online approach to delivering higher education.
It will be interesting to see if and how the University of Illinois, the system now buying in to this model, intends to offer liberal arts education. Such entities of course already exist, for instance, the thriving University of Phoenix. However, to date their focus has been on professional and vocational education, such as business and computer technology. Yet for-profit/online campuses could well offer high-quality, undergraduate-focused, outcomes-oriented liberal arts education – which one hopes, by way of example to the rest of academe – will be central to the mission of UI’s new institution.
It will also be interesting to watch what UI spends on this program, which by its nature can forgo the usual array of costly non-instructional amenities (climbing walls, etc.) and can exploit the relatively low cost of online instruction. Thus this program can utilize the very finest, but fewer, faculty – a prospect heretofore threatening to the professoriate and the cause of its resistance to this innovation.
On both counts, this will be an interesting experiment to follow.