Launching a new virtual campus when one already exists: strategy, marketing, and scale

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

UCF recently re-branded its suite of online programs under the new banner UCF Online. This required a comprehensive internal initiative involving senior administration, distributed learning staff, student support, and marketing/recruitment. This case study will share how one university eschewed a partner and built their own brand new virtual campus.


Thomas Cavanagh, Ph.D. is Vice Provost for Digital Learning at the University of Central Florida. In this role he oversees all classroom technology and the distance learning strategy, policies, and practices of one of the nation’s largest universities, serving 68,000 students, where online learning represents more than 47% of the university's annual credit hours. In his career, Tom has administered e-learning development for both academic (public and private) and industrial (Fortune 500, government/military) audiences. He has been recognized with a number of awards including the WCET Richard Jonsen Award, the USDLA Outstanding Leadership Award, and been named an Online Learning Consortium Fellow. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and serves on a number of national advisory boards. He is also an award-winning author of several mystery novels.

Extended Abstract

The University of Central Florida has a twenty-year history of award-winning online learning. Yet, UCF’s history has primarily been one of extending the boundaries of the physical campus, with less focus on the university’s suite of fully online programs.

However, an analysis of student registration patterns clearly revealed a trend of a growing population of fully online students in fully online courses. The university was approached by several OPM partners interested in helping to launch or manage this initiative. However, UCF ultimately decided to invest in itself and build the required capacity internally.

As a result, UCF staff prepared a plan for re-launching the suite of 70+ fully online programs under a new banner called UCF Online. This new online campus would include the following new elements:

- Elimination of campus-based fees, resulting in savings of over $51 per credit hour (UG) and $60 per credit hour (GR)

- Approval of a reduced out-of-state online tuition rate

- Development of a dedicated student success Connect Center, staffed by Enrollment Specialists, Enrollment Coaches, and Success Coaches.

- Because the data analysis revealed that the vast majority of fully online undergraduate students were transfer students, UCF has forged intentional partnerships with state and community colleges across Florida to conduct pre-advising and success initiatives to help placebound students interested in UCF Online earn their AA degrees.

- UCF Online would be exclusive to transfer and graduate students. FTIC students could still enroll in online courses, but only as part of a campus-based experience.

- An interim revenue sharing budget model between internal units while the university was developing a new overarching budget model.

- Intentional marketing efforts, including the hiring of a dedicated UCF Online marketing leader.

This initiative required significant coordination, political acumen, and execution across a wide group of stakeholders.

A key aspect to this launch was the development of a comprehensive marketing plan. Making most effective use of limited resources and media budget, the Associate Director responsible for UCF Online marketing prepared a strategy to maximize returns.

This included multiple campaigns for selected programs, overall brand, and transfer students. Various digital strategies were implemented including search engine optimization (SEO), a website redesign, and social media.

One year after launch the initiative UCF Online has exceeded its target by nearly 700 students.

This Education Session will provide the background of the UCF Online development and launch and then transition into a deeper dive into the specific marketing strategies that have been implemented.