Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016-11-03: Jones International University: A Look Back at a Controversial Online Institution

I’m currently teaching the undergraduate CS 462 Cybersecurity Fundamentals course which is delivered online using a combination of Blackboard and ODU’s Distance Learning PLE (personal learning environment). Although I’ve taught both online and on campus for many years, I was curious as to which institution initially helped to trigger the transition from physical campuses to the virtual environments used today. While people are paying a lot of attention to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) these days due to the sheer size of their enrollment, online learning has been around for quite some time. In the 1990s and 2000s, distance learning using the Internet was embraced by many universities seeking to include alternative modes of instruction for their students. I happened upon this interactive infographic created by a team of Ph.D.’s and NASA scientists at Post University which depicts “the Evolution of Distance Learning in Higher Education.”

One milestone in the infographic notes one particular for-profit institution, Jones International University (JIU), as the first accredited online university; offering degrees primarily in business and education. Although, JIU was a small and not very well-known university, its accreditation was met with criticism and fostered much debate regarding the sanctity and overall mission of higher education outside of traditional brick and mortar institutions.

If you visit the homepage of JIU today, you’ll be greeted by a dialog box which states the university is now closed and all student information has been turned over to the Colorado Department of Higher Education. So, what happened here? If we proceed a little further into the site, we learn that JIU was a fully functioning university from 1999 through February 2016. Located at the time in Centennial, Colorado, the school was forced to shut down following a 55% drop in enrollment during the period between 2011 and the end of 2014. Another factor which contributed to its demise was increased competition from traditional four-year colleges entering the online education market.

As expected, the website for JIU is no longer active, but what did it look like before the university shuttered its virtual doors and windows? When we check the Internet Archive, we find there isn’t much historical content available prior to 2005.*/

However, there is an archived study “Lessons in Change: What We are Really Changing by Moving Education into Online Environment”, published in April 2001, which provides a glimpse into the heated discussions in academic circles which surrounded the accreditation of JIU. Lack of sufficient, full-time faculty ratios, low academic quality, and civil disputes among the administration are all documented.

When we look at the first available archived web page dated October 30, 2005, we see that many of the embedded images cannot be retrieved and the alternative text is displayed instead. It's ironic that we cannot fully visualize the page given the articulated goal of the school’s founder, media mogul Glenn R. Jones, “to develop and deliver rich content and learning to adult learners across the world via the Internet and Web.”

As we delve further into the university's history, we take a deeper look at one of those early days in 2008 when the web site was crawled numerous times. Here’s what the site looked like on July 31, 2008. We see richer graphics in the design and there’s a section for online classes and even a self-assessment which evaluates a student's capacity for online learning.

Here, we see the last fully functioning web page for JIU which was archived on March 28, 2015. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the last pages posted by the university includes a caption which states “dreams don’t have expiration dates” given that the school’s closing was imminent.

And, finally we see the notice to students of the impending closure which was first archived on November 24, 2015. Students with a year or less left were “able to complete their courses and graduate from JIU.” The remainder of the student body was given the option to transfer to other institutions which offered many of the same courses.

The accreditation of the now-defunct Jones International University as an entirely virtual academic institution was historically significant when first announced back in 1993. Although the school’s brief history is only sparsely documented in the Internet Archives, we can still obtain some sense of how the university began, the critical reception it received from other academic professionals and ultimately how it was forced to cease operations.


-- Corren McCoy

1 comment:

  1. I finnish Information Science and Libriarianship on polish Pedagogical Academy. I see the Libriaries connect us :) and good music of course:) take care