University of Montana pushes to expand online education

The University of Montana wants to stake a claim in the online market for "distance learners."Last semester, UM issued a request for proposals from companies interested in "the planning, preparation, delivery, marketing, and support of online educational activities for residential and distance learners."In April, Wiley Education Services and Pearson Online Learning Services will visit the campus for interviews, and a rough timeline aims to have a contract in place this semester.UM has lost students and faced deep budget reductions since 2011, and across the country, campuses like the Missoula flagship are competing for a pool of high school graduates projected to be flat or shrinking in many states.Many higher education institutions are turning to online offerings as a way to reach another market and grow revenue. Provost Jon Harbor landed at UM last summer from Purdue University with experience in digital education, and he said the region holds "enormous potential" for UM to grow online. The competition, he said, will only stiffen as time passes."It's part of the modern educational landscape, and you either move in that direction to add that to your portfolio, or you're going to struggle as a modern university," Harbor said in a recent interview.

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