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Governors planning online university

Western states are working together to open the first virtual university.

While a growing number of educational institutions are using personal computers, email, and the Internet to assist students in their course work worldwide, a plan is taking shape in the Western states to open an entire university that will exist only in cyberspace.

The governors of ten states met in Omaha, Nebraska, today to forge an alliance to create an accredited "virtual university" where students would earn their degrees online, The New York Times reported today.

The effort is being led by Governors Roy Romer of Colorado and Michael Leavitt of Utah. The other states represented in the initiative include Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. All are looking for a way to meet the rising demand for educational resources that their states are not financially equipped to handle through traditional institutions.

Leavitt was quoted as saying he believes that virtual universities will be "the way the world is going to work in the future."

The Western states' plan, which would eventually offer degrees in every discipline and at every level offered by traditional institutions, is the most ambitious of its kind. Each state has pledged to contribute $100,000 to the planning process.

Overall, the start-up costs are expected total between $6 million and $10 million. Although that funding has yet to be secured, the governors have set June 1997 as a target date to begin operations.

The concept of distance-learning is not a new one. Television has long been used as a teaching medium, and the use of the Internet is growing increasingly popular for college professors to post everything from course syllabi to assignments, lecture notes, exams, and multimedia textbooks, as well as to conduct online discussion groups.

The University of Texas at Austin maintains the World Lecture Hall, a Web site with links to pages created by faculty from colleges worldwide who communicate online with their students.

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