SALEM -- Students at the constantly evolving Salem International University will have a variety of academic choices, including graduating without ever setting foot on campus.
SIU President Dr. Richard W. Ferrin unveiled yet another series of changes at the school Monday, at least the third major announcement in the last few months.
Among the major announcements Monday were a move to have a year-round calendar based on eight-week modules and a 35 percent cut in tuition costs.
However, the school also will offer less academic and athletic scholarships, which seemed to offset the lowered attendance costs. The thinking is that the restructured education system will attract more students, thereby actually increasing overall tuition revenues, Ferrin said Monday.
Most of the past changes have been aimed at cutting costs and increasing revenues, but Monday's announcement seemed designed more to feature new aspects of the institution.
To get back to the school's history as an international university, Salem must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Internet, Ferrin said.
To that end, Ferrin has envisioned a school with "blended" learning, where students take some classes on campus and other on their home computer.
But, for the first time, Ferrin acknowledged that students need not ever actually attend a class at Salem to get a degree.
"We project the number of SIU Online students to grow to 1,500 by this fall and several thousand in the next two to three years," Ferrin said. "While most of these students will complete their entire studies online, we have created incentives for them to come to campus for at least part of their time and graduate here, both at the undergraduate and particularly the master's level."
Online courses have been used successfully for several years in Salem's master of arts and education degree, said Dr. Mary Harris-John, dean of the school of education.
Since most of those students are professionals aged anywhere from 30 to 55, online classes seemed to make the most sense, she said. And that type of education is attracting more and more students each year, she said.
"We need to take a look at different delivery systems because students' lives and needs are changing," Harris-John said. "I have not only high hopes it will work, but I have proof it will work because of the way we've been doing the master's program."
Late last week, the school's 25 remaining faculty members were informed that all contracts will be voided at the end of the academic year.
Monday, Ferrin said the move was part of the administration's re-evaluation of the school's entire curriculum. A task force has been established to examine all programs and determine which ones need additional resources, which ones need to be revamped and which ones need to be eliminated.
"It will be a tough process, but we'll be pulling all that together over the next month," Ferrin said.
A layoff of 14 additional staff was announced last month. All of the changes are aimed at giving the university better cash flow, Ferrin has said.
However, there are concerns among the faculty that "the model of education at SIU will switch from primarily full-time faculty members to part-time instructors," Bruce Edinger, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, has said.
Edinger could not be reached for comment Monday on the latest announcements.
Following a Jan. 28 meeting, the full-time faculty members unanimously approved a no-confidence vote in Ferrin and James Mayfield, chief operations officer/chief financial officer.
But Monday, Todd Breland, director of admissions, said there is a general feeling among the faculty and administration of "hesitant optimism."
"I get encouraged more and more every day as we hear new things," Breland said. "I think we're heading in the right direction and change is never easy."
Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org