At the start of the new century, CUNY began working intensively with online instruction, supported by funding from the Sloan Foundation. Hundreds of faculty were trained to offer online courses to thousands of students. No campus or discipline was untouched; every kind and level of instruction saw some use of online courses. These courses were highly successful: in evaluations overseen by the Center for the Advanced Study of Education, both fully and partly online courses in CUNY reported high student satisfaction; more than 90% of the students declared them as good as or better than traditional courses; more than 60% found them better, largely because of higher levels of interaction.

In 2005, the leadership of CUNY realized it was time for a fully online degree, seeing something important about the potential for online learning — something terms like “distance education” have obscured. The problem that online education needs to solve for the students’ sake is not the problem of distance. It’s the problem of time. Too many have work schedules or family obligations that rule out sitting in classrooms and commuting to campus. These are just the students reached by the CUNY Online Baccalaureate, launched in 2006 in the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS). It offers a rigorous education to those for whom classroom-based instruction is simply not an option because of work schedules, child-care duties, physical disabilities, or other considerations.

The CUNY Online Baccalaureate carries on CUNY’s pledge of access and excellence by 21st-century means. It has proven a great success in its three years of existence. It already has graduates who have gone on to better jobs or graduate school. The students share the same demographics as those of CUNY students generally. Most (almost 75%) report in evaluations that they are working harder and learning more than in classroom-based courses, largely because the courses stress interaction and active learning. These courses tap the very best CUNY faculty, and that excellence does tell.

In 2008, a second degree was launched, an Online BS in Business. (The first degree was a liberal arts degree, an Online BA in Communication and Culture). In 2009, CUNY’s first fully online graduate degree, an Online MS in Business and Management, was launched. Two more bachelor’s degrees, an Online BA in Sociology and an Online BS in Health Information Management, were launched in 2011, and three more degrees, an Online BA in Psychology, an Online BA in Disability Studies, and an Online MS in Data Analytics were launched in 2012.

The success of these online degrees by SPS has created plans to offer other online degrees at the campuses. It has also inspired a CUNY-wide initiative to increase the number of online and hybrid (partly online) courses in CUNY, with hybrid courses in particular benefitting from a University-wide Hybrid Initiative. CUNY has reached a point where over half of all its degree students are users of its online course management system, Blackboard. (Courses that are not fully online are often web-enhanced when not bona fide hybrids.) CUNY does seem at a tipping point where much of the instruction will be partly or fully online in the immediate future, and it is particularly advantaged in having this instruction integrated in established curricula at all the campuses.