MURRAY — Five new online programs are on target to start in the fall 2020 semester at Murray State University.

Friday, the Murray State Board of Regents unanimously approved the timeline for launching the pilot eCampus programs for online classes. Four are within the Arthur Baurenfeind College of Business, while the other will be under command of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. 

One of the main points of discussion was Murray State’s Master of Business Administration (MBA)  program, which currently has 67 online students. However, Dr. Bob Pervine, associate provost, said that number could go up considerably if the program matures in the manner predicted. 

“This indicates we could conceivably see as many as 500 students in the MBA at the end of seven years,” Pervine told the Regents, adding that this figure was given by a vendor with whom the university is negotiating a contract to run the pilot. He said he could not name the vendor Friday because no contract has been signed. 

“This vendor, though, has worked with schools similar to the size of Murray State and I’d have to say this vendor has been very aggressive in reaching out to us and keeping the lines of communication open, while also showing flexibility in their normal contractual arrangement to accommodate things we want.”

Regent Dr. Melony Shemberger, who chairs the Regents’ Academic Excellence and Scholarly Activities Committee, which was overseeing this subject Friday, said she agrees that online is an area that the university needs to more frequently explore. However, even though she is part of a group on the campus called the Champions for Online Teaching, she expressed some concerns, namely with how this would affect faculty, who she represents as faculty regent.

“I’m trying to understand this, but teaching online is completely different from teaching face to face,” Shemberger said. “You’re trying to keep up with the same interaction and keeping involved in a course takes a lot more energy.”

Shemberger made her comments after hearing Dr. Tim Todd, who is acting as interim Murray State Provost, tell how, back in the recession of 2008-10, Murray State’s MBA program was the largest in Kentucky with about 330 students. That caused some classes of the MBA program to swell to 80 students.

“That puts strain on the faculty, including the MBA director (Pervine), the interim dean (Dr. David Eaton) and others, so I say all of that from the perspective of representing some concerns as we go into this,” Todd said. “But it is a test. It is a pilot and if we don’t like it, or it isn’t working out, we can opt out. And, in working with (Vice President of Finance and Administrative Affairs Jackie) Dudley, if we end up with 500 MBA students, are we going to have the resources to follow that? I think everybody understands that.”

Regent Eric Crigler said that at a time where the university is trying to push its enrollment numbers back to the 10,000 mark, this is a program that it would seem the university should try. 

“I’m familiar with an institution that has gone online and been very successful and done it at a very high academic level. I know also, from an academic standpoint, that it can be delivered and there are different things you can do online that you can’t do face to face,” Crigler said. “So if we want to continue to grow the MBA program here, I think it would be very difficult if you don’t have the online option. 

“We have discussed how 70 percent of our budget at this university is enrollment, so if we want long-term growth, this looks like a path we need to take.”

Pervine also addressed Shemberger’s concern about faculty being overwhelmed by having added online duties to their schedules. Specifically, one of her questions dealt with “Will students know who is teaching them?”

“It’s supposed to be transparent to the student, and from the student’s point of view, that all interactions will appear to be with Murray State, from recruiting to admissions to enrollment, (the vendor) will provide, for lack of a better term, ‘coaches’ who will monitor log-ins and determine, ‘OK, is this student logging in as often as they should?’ or ‘Hmmm, this student has been absent for a couple of days; we need to reach out and make sure they’re OK.

“They’ve also made it a point to us several times that, just from the marketing and advertising they will have in these five programs, it will raise awareness in Murray State University in general because they see a boost in the enrollment of traditional students at the schools they’ve worked with, simply because there’s more awareness.”

Along with the master’s in MBA, the other eCampus programs will be Master of Public Administration, cybersecurity, public relations and business analytics. The contract will last no more than seven years. 

The programs will start in fall 2020 provided that the Legislative Research Commission grants its blessing to the project. That is expected to be granted in January.