See more of the story

ST. CLOUD — After hitting pause on St. Cloud State University's plans to launch about a dozen seven-week "accelerated online programs" aimed at adults with unfinished bachelor's degrees, the Minnesota State system is allowing the regional university to move forward in a tempered way with just a few of the requested programs.

Last year, the university entered into an agreement with Academic Partnerships, a Dallas-based for-profit company that promises to recruit students and help retain them through graduation. Under the agreement, the company receives 50% of tuition dollars.

The university had planned to launch 11 undergraduate programs this fall. But after cutting dozens of faculty positions and suspending 70 academic programs in the spring, the Minnesota State system asked the school to halt plans while it reviewed the proposal.

The review process examined shared governance and student engagement in the decision-making process, academic integrity, intellectual property safeguards and the business model, said Satasha Green-Stephen, the system's senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

Green-Stephen notified St. Cloud State administrators in October that the system has conditionally approved the offering of three undergraduate programs. She said the university can decide which three to pursue.

The 11 proposed undergraduate programs were community health, general studies, psychology, general business, finance, marketing, management, cyber security, software engineering, land surveying and mapping sciences, and a bachelor's degree completion program for registered nurses.

As of Friday, St. Cloud State leaders had not formally announced which programs will be offered, spokeswoman Kathryn Kloby said.

In an email, Kloby downplayed the reduced programming, saying the school is "delighted to move forward" and appreciative of the system's guidance.

As part of the conditional approval, the university must annually report enrollment numbers and revenue, as well as student completion rate information. It must also submit research on student interest and demand, and a description of the effectof planned retrenchments in any of the programs.

Green-Stephen's letter states the university may submit three additional undergraduate programs for review after "two years of successful implementation and evidence of sustainability of the three original conditionally-approved undergraduate programs."

Critics say for-profit online program management companies often push low-quality programs that disproportionately target marginalized student populations while taking tuition dollars away from universities.

"We still have concerns, but I am appreciative that the system office is taking a really measured, careful approach to this," said Jenna Chernega, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents professors at Minnesota State universities.

"The reporting requirements will allow us to see what the impacts are to students, faculty, campuses and the rest of the system."