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There’s no place like home to get a bachelor’s from UF

Published: September 3 2013

The size of the University of Florida’s freshman class has always been limited – until now.

UF begins accepting applications Sept. 3 for its online institute, among the first in the nation to provide fully online four-year bachelor’s degrees at a public university. The first online classes for freshmen start next summer for anyone anywhere who has what it takes to be a Gator.

Each year UF turns away thousands of applicants who meet the university’s rigorous admissions standards because there’s no place to put them, even on a 2,000-acre campus, without sacrificing the quality of the educational experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way, said Provost Joseph Glover.

“If you believe you can succeed at the University of Florida, we want you to apply,” said Glover, whose office oversees the online institute. “We’re in the opportunity business, and the online institute is an unprecedented expansion of opportunity for high school graduates to gain access to a UF education.”

The online institute will start with five baccalaureate majors: business administration, criminology and law, environmental management, health education and behavior, and sport management.  Each year, UF will add additional majors to the online institute.

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The idea is to give access to a four-year UF education to students like Tanya Gorniewicz, who graduated from high school two years ago, before the online institute began.

Gorniewicz, 20, had wanted to be a Gator, just like her mother; she just didn’t want to be one in Gainesville. A self-described introvert, Gorniewicz preferred her home in Port St. Lucie to the throngs and the bustle of the state’s flagship public university. So she went to two years of state college. Then she transferred to UF’s online microbiology program, and she does her lab lessons at a UF research center in her community.

UF began breaking down the barrier of geography decades ago with distance education programs, starting with the correspondence course that evolved into the modern Web-based class.

Yet ZIP code still mattered when Gorniewicz started college two years ago. To start a bachelor’s degree program at UF, you had to be at UF. The new online degree programs make it possible for any high school graduate to start university studies from anywhere without waiting until he or she gets an associate of arts degree.

Applicants for online programs must meet rigorous admissions standards, and access to a UF education is still conditioned on ambition and achievement. But the online opportunity means applicants won’t be limited by address – or financial assets.

The Florida Legislature capped tuition for the online institute at 75 percent of the cost of residential programs.

Gorniewicz achieves her biggest savings, though, by living at home. Not moving to Gainesville saves her an estimated $9,500 a year in room and board. She’ll graduate with no student debt.

Cost aside, she would have gone online for her UF degree anyway.

“I don’t mind talking to people one-to-one, but I don’t like huge crowds,” she said. “I get really drowned out in big classes. When these big classes are online, my option of direct contact is via email, so that helps a lot. I would probably have to do the same thing if I were a student on the main campus.”

UF isn’t just putting classes online. It’s developing a Gator experience that creates community through technology, and it’s striving to set new standards in online student life.

The university has a special orientation for new online students, fitness videos, a transition success course specifically for distance students and even a pilot program that offers online therapy for anxiety.

Combined with the quality of the teaching, it may be this type of student support that helps set UF online apart.

“We value the social and emotional life of Gators as much as we do their academics,” Glover said. “We really think we’re going to be a groundbreaking university on this front.”