The University of Maryland's University College, together with the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, has adapted successfully the decade-old British Open University concept by teaching American college courses over television nationwide.
Working with a $400,000 grant from the Carnegie Corp., the two groups put together the National University Consortium or NUC directed by Dr. Allan F. Hershfield.
NUC teaches college courses leading to bachelors degrees by providing materials for instruction to its students through agreements between member colleges and universities and local public or cable television stations.
Each member university -- Linfield College, Pennsylvania State University, California State University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Southern Vermont College -- is paired with a participating TV station which has agreed to air specially produced college-level courses on a scheduled basis. Students enrolled with each school pay that institution the usual tuition fees and are responsible for a regular college-level workload.NUC has designed the program to allow completion of a four-year degree in five to six years.
"All the signs on this project are positive," said Hershfield. "Faculties generally love the courses. They're intellectually demanding and exquisitely produced."
Five different courses, three per semester, have been offered to students under the one-year pilot program. The program's first semester was a success, according to Hershfield, and indicates how much the use of public and cable television in off-campus, degree-oriented study has increased.
"We began with 375 students last September, and this semester we have at least 450. That's an increase of about 23 percent," said Hershfield.
"The performance and enrollments in this first year have been nothing short of extraordinary."
To assist those studying via television, member universities have made various arrangements to provide support services. These services include on-campus tutoring, toll-free hotlines, special libraries and access to regular course materials and professors.
"The students we have are without exception highly motivated people who dearly want a college degree," said Hershfield.
One major sign of the program's success is the number of educational facilities that have applied for membership in the consortium -- more than 30. Four additional pairs -- the University of San Francisco with Kqed, Texas Tech with KTXT, Rhode Island College with WSBE, and Wichita State University with KPTS -- were selected from these applicants to participate in the current academic semester. Other pairs will be added as the program continues.
"We are creating a nationally organized but locally based system of distance learning institutions consistent with the American tradition and structure of higher education and public broadcasting," explained Hershfield.
"Our ultimate goal is to have 100 universities and colleges paired to PBS or cable television stations within the next six years," he said. "Over the next six or seven years, we have made a commitment to offer enough college-level selections to provide arts or sciences degrees in the humanities, social and behavorial sciences, technology and management."