FORT SMITH — The creation of a system-wide, online university catering to adults and other nontraditional students garnered unanimous support Thursday from the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.

FORT SMITH — The creation of a system-wide, online university catering to adults and other nontraditional students garnered unanimous support Thursday from the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.


"I think the time has come for us to do something," trustee David Pryor said before Thursday’s vote, held at the Fort Smith campus.


Dubbed eVersity, the effort will enable UA to "aggressively participate in this rapidly growing form of education, and to do so at scale," vice president of academic affairs Michael Moore said.


"Course work will be developed and taught by the same faculty that teach at our existing colleges and universities," Moore said. "Tuition rates will be set at a fraction of what is currently charged by for-profit universities, at a price point that is reasonably accessible to a working adult."


UA Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson noted that a quarter of his institution’s credit hours are already online-related.


"For UALR, it’s been an important part of our offerings for a long, long time," Anderson said. "I think it would be fair to say that our faculty has concerns about the launching of eVersity and what that might mean for our campus."


Anderson told trustees "anything that duplicates, displaces or somehow is competition potentially adversely affects us."


"But I think it would be fair to say the attitude of our faculty is we’ll work with it," he added. "We recognize we have a lot to lose, but at the same time we also recognize that much of the future is caught up in online education. We do not want to be left behind."


UA trustee Jane Rogers inquired about she called "the most obvious question," funding for the online university.


"At what point do we need to have the facts and figures and everything ready?" she asked.


Moore said $3 million for start-up costs has been secured for the estimated $10 million effort. UA leaders said they also will seek grants and other sources of funding.


The online university was proposed in response to a resolution the board adopted in 2012 tasking UA President Donald Bobbitt to expand online education system-wide.


"I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of anything that is more exciting and more of a higher education game-changer than the opportunity the eVersity presents to us," said Daniel Ferritor, UA vice president for learning technologies.


According to UA leaders, the online university will offer "career-relevant" degrees in fields like health care, business and information technologies. Courses will be offered in six-week periods eight times a year, Moore said.


Initial degree programs are expected to be offered by fall 2015 once the new university receives accreditation.


"Across the nation, there is a considerable concern about the state of higher education," Moore said. "Closer to home, Arkansas fares poorly compared to other states in terms of educational attainment. The Lumina Foundation reports that Arkansas ranks 49th in terms of percentage of the population with a college degree."


According to the UA, 85 out-of-state institutions already offer more than 1,000 degrees in Arkansas.


"Just a few weeks from now on April 25, an additional 16 institutions and 161 degrees are set for approval," Moore said. "The pace of growth of online learning has been staggering."


Moore said the UA System was responsible for roughly one-third of the state’s 38,452 degrees in 2012.