LSU is set to extend its campus beyond Baton Rouge on Monday with the launch of LSU Online, a new, completely Web-based, distance-learning initiative. Administrators hope it will increase enrollment, generate revenue and build the university’s “brand” nationwide.

The initial launch offers graduate students a choice of three master’s degree-level programs in business administration, construction management and human resource leadership and development.

Two more degree programs in higher education administration and educational leadership are expected to launch later this year, possibly in May.

The foray into the online market goes along with what LSU system President and Baton Rouge Chancellor William Jenkins has been preaching for the last several months.

A 2011 Sloan Foundation Survey found that more than 6 million people, or nearly one-third of all college students, are taking at least one online course on their way to a degree.

Jenkins has repeatedly said LSU will have to embrace the online market or risk being left behind.

Public colleges like LSU are also beginning to face competition from startups like Coursera, an online education company that enrolled more than 2.7 million students in free online courses since its April launch.

Initiatives like Coursera don’t offer the traditional degrees employers typically look for, but their no-cost model and affiliation with prestigious institutions such as Columbia University, Stanford University and Princeton University have them positioned as an intriguing option for an increasing number of students.

Unlike Coursera, however, LSU Online is being marketed by the Dallas-based Academic Partnerships company as an option strictly for degree-seeking students.

“We know there are a lot of people out there who want graduate degrees, but can only work it into their lives through the online environment,” said Ed Holton, LSU’s interim associate dean for distance learning and leadership.

LSU Online courses are created and taught by LSU faculty and designed to be completely asynchronous, or self-paced and able to be completed on a student’s own schedule.

“What’s unique is about this is that you have a large state research university offering their degrees online,” Holton said. “We’re bringing top-tier faculty into an online environment.”

“If a student wants to take a class at midnight, they can,” he added. “If they are early risers and want to take a class at five in the morning they can do that too.”

Holton said he expects between five and 20 students to enroll in each degree program initially as the initiative’s popularity spreads.

So far, LSU has secured permission to offer courses to students in 24 different states, he said.

Gil Reeve, LSU’s vice-provost for academic programs, said LSU Online represents an evolution from the synchronous method the university has offered for years.

As part of that model, out-of-town students would have to log-in to computers from remote classrooms to watch in-progress lectures in Baton Rouge, or another method where students were shipped videotaped lectures stored on portable hard drives.

Coursework will be taught in intensive seven-week sessions rather than the traditional 16 weeks, Reeve said. New courses start every eight weeks, giving students an opportunity to sign up for new classes six times per year, he said.

Courses will each carry three credits allowing online students to complete the required 36 credits needed to graduate in two years — the same as traditional students, Reeve said.

Tuition for online classes, however, will differ from traditional courses, Reeve explains, because the university is competing for students in a number of different markets.

The industry standard for the cost of an online MBA degree falls between $35,000 and $50,000. LSU’s program falls near the middle at $43,900. The programs will cost students about $15,000 each with the exception of the construction management degree that is priced at $27,000.

Academic Partnerships, which is in charge of recruiting students who wouldn’t normally enroll at LSU, will share 50 percent of the net tuition revenues with the university, he said.

“This is a different kind of service and there are different demands on an institution,” Reeve said. “When you go online you become market driven because other institutions are offering similar programs. We’ve determined our prices to be competitive.”

Reeve said LSU is doing a market analysis study to determine what other online courses to offer in the future.