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March 1982

Thirty Years Ago:  David v. Goliath
A Watershed Moment for Higher Education (and Distance Learning) in the USA

The widespread use of the internet in both K-12 and higher education might lead current online students think that "learning at distance" equals "web-based schooling."  Some students under the age of 30 might be aware that distance education a century and more ago meant  sending homework through the mail.  But they might not know how satellite transmissions, telephones and air flights laid the ground work for today's environment of distance education.

Before the Internet allowed us to learn online, there was a time when universities fought over students in court.   The legal conflict emerged because out-of-state universities like Nova University changed the paradigm for higher education.  Universities offered graduate level degree programs for educators in the traditional face-to-face classroom on a university campus.  For some potential students in larger states (Texas, North Carolina, Nevada), long commutes to get to the nearest campus often meant not enrolling.  Nova University met the growing need for graduate-level courses for teachers and principals by adjusting the time and place for the classroom.  First,  coursework that traditional universities offered one night a week over 16 weeks could be concentrated into a weekend once a month for four months.  Second, the classroom could be moved closer to the students being served.  If the campus was too far from you (graduate student), the professor could come to a rented space (a meeting room in a local hotel) near you, either by flying or via satellite transmission.  As today, consultations between teacher and students took place over the telephone.  

Nova University applied for a license to offer its program in North Carolina, like any other in-state university.  The Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina denied the license.  The key issue before the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1982:  Could an out-of-state university be regulated through the licensing procedure?  The larger (hidden) issue was economic:  Would the state's highest court favor the Board of Governors and protect the University of North Carolina from out-of-state competition?  

An anniversary is an opportunity to take stock and appreciate how far an industry (and civilized society) has come.  Programs need better design, teachers need more training, quality of programs needs improving, but overall, the state of our industry is better in many ways because we have robust competition via distance learning.   A look back might prompt us to give thanks to those who  laid foundations that we are often unaware of. We might use a different classroom management system now compared to thirty years ago, but the legal precedent of Nova v. Board of Governors (1982) established the right of out-of-state universities to compete with existing in-state universities.  The result:  more choices for students.

The next time you sit in front of your computer monitor or laptop screen, why not take a moment and think back to 1982?  Without that courtroom decision (or one similar to it), online students would not have the growing number of out-of-state (and international) degree programs to choose from. 

Nova University v. Bd. of Governors, etc. 287 S.E. 2d 872 (1982).