5 Ideas to Jumpstart CUNY’s Online Efforts

If I ever had the chance to meet CUNY’s new Chancellor Millikan, I would love to talk about a topic of mutual interest, namely, Online Learning. From his days as Chancellor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Millikan has been an advocate for online learning and, I feel, genuinely wants to move online teaching and learning forward within CUNY. Consequently, what follows would be the main ideas I’d bring to him regarding “jumpstarting” CUNY’s online efforts.

1. Make CUNYfirst designations of hybrid/online uniform throughout the system.

An old adage, “what gets measured, gets done” applies here. Yet, there is no reliable way to measure hybrid/online activity within CUNY since CUNYfirst has ambiguous and overlapping categories that are used differently on different campuses. These designations include “online,” “partially online,” “hybrid,” and “web-enhanced.” Consequently, we cannot even determine with any certainty, what percentage of courses are taught online within the university. Without such information, we are steering the online ship without knowing our current bearings.

Solution: Have the Registrars and Provosts university-wide, meet to draft clear and uniform categories for hybrid/online learning (e.g., online means a course with little or no classroom time required). The Sloan-C definitions, used for over a decade, can be useful here.

2. Change PMP (Performance Management Process) reporting criteria for CUNY college presidents from “online courses” to “online programs.”

Imagine a student taking several hybrid or fully online courses as they pursue their degree.  This can be a good thing, but will not substantially change their time to degree or allow them to “time-shift” their academics around family or work responsibilities. Only fully online programs, or those programs specifically designed with sufficient hybrid and online offerings  for students, will have the impact we seek.  So why do CUNY college presidents get measured via PMP using the bar of total online or hybrid courses when their impact is minimal for students?

Solution: Include number of fully online programs in PMP measures (see report here) of college president’s effectiveness.

3. The Vision

Where is a vision for online learning within CUNY? If online teaching is important to you, as the leader of this university it is worthwhile formulating and promoting what that vision is. I believe such a   vision needs to be a bold statement of what is possible, and not a milk toast recitation of what is.

Accordingly, your recent statements that “It would be good to have all CUNY students take at least one online course before graduation,” or ” . . . with a CUNY school being a subway stop away, it is understandable that CUNY has not seen the need to develop online . . . ” should be dispensed with forthwith.  Instead, like SUNY’s chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, you might challenge your university to “enrolling 100,000 new online students within 3 years,” or planning with the inception of Open SUNY. What will be CUNY’s moonshot in this regard?

Solution: Develop and publicize a bold agenda for online learning at CUNY.

4. Is Online Strategic?

Closely related to vision, the latest Online Learning Consortium survey indicates that 80% of 4 year public colleges view online learning as strategic to their efforts.  Does CUNY? If so, this needs to be stated, and moreover, planned for at the highest levels within CUNY. Need we have a CUNY strategic plan for online learning or, jettisoning “strategic,” any university-wide plan for online within CUNY?


Choose the best representatives from CUNY who understand online teaching and learning and/or strategic planning. Create a compelling vision for online learning that all CUNY stakeholders can buy into (or at least not try to subvert).  See my blog post on this topic for ideas for such a vision.

5. CUNY Office for Online Learning

If online learning is important for the future of this university, then some central office needs to be guiding and supporting implementation of online at all CUNY campuses.  This entity currently doesn’t exist. I’ve written a blog post (link here)  as to why such an office is needed and what aspects of online learning they might be helpful with.


Plan for and create an empowered Office for Online Learning within CUNY Central to assist campuses with all aspects of rolling out online programs.


Allen, I.E., Seaman, J., (February, 2015), “Grade Level: Teaching Online Education in the United States, 2014,” Online Learning Consortium. Retrieved from:  http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf

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