Michigan Virtual School

The centerpiece of Michigan’s early efforts to offer online learning opportunities is the Michigan Virtual School (sometimes referred to by its original name, Michigan Virtual High School). It opened in 2000, when the state Legislature appropriated $15 million to the private, nonprofit Michigan Virtual University to develop and operate the school.[*]

MVS offers courses to middle school and high school students through remote teacher online and Internet-based instruction, some of which involves an online MVS facilitator. MVS directly employs its own remote instructors and facilitators, and it designs many of its own courses. The courses are aligned with varying instructional programs, including the state’s curricular requirements, Advanced Placement coursework, remedial instruction and summer school.[†] Nevertheless, MVS provides only supplemental instruction, meaning that students cannot earn a diploma from the school.[32] MVS is the fifth-largest state virtual school in the country in terms of course enrollments.[33]

In the beginning, MVS experienced moderate growth, and in its first six years, it averaged about 3,400 course enrollments per year.[34] From 2005 to 2010, however, MVS grew rapidly, with the number of course enrollments more than doubling.[‡] In the 2009-2010 school year, MVS had 12,709 enrollments in semester-long, remote teacher online courses.[§] MVS offered other classes as well, including Internet-based courses, and the school had a total of 14,837 course registrations that year.[35]

During the 2009-2010 school year, students from 423 charter, conventional public and private schools enrolled in at least one of the 288 different middle school and high school courses offered by MVS. About 1,530 home-school students enrolled in MVS courses as well.[36] Seventy-nine percent of the courses were high school courses,[¶] and the five most popular in 2009-2010 were digital photography, forensic science, study skills, career planning and economics.[37]

A significant portion of MVS’ funding comes from appropriations to the Michigan Virtual University from the Michigan Legislature. From 2000 to 2005, the Legislature appropriated a total of $24.75 million to MVU for the purposes of operating MVS, with the bulk of these funds coming from the initial $15 million grant in 2000. The average legislative appropriation to MVU to operate MVS over the last five years works out to be about $2.1 million. The state has also made a separate $1 million federal grant available to MVU every year since 2007 to foster partnerships between school districts and MVS and to increase the availability of online MVS courses to students.[38]

Other revenues come from course fees paid by school districts whose pupils enroll in MVS classes. Course fees vary by level and type. Remote teacher online courses range from $350 for Advanced Placement classes to $235 for most others. MVS facilitated virtual learning courses — specifically, MVS classes in which teachers act more like tutors than instructors — cost between $190 and $210, and pure Internet-based courses, which students may complete at their own pace within a four-month period, cost $89 per class.[**] Out-of-state students may enroll in MVS courses, and fees for these students range from $449 for AP classes to $370 for other instructor-led courses and $89 for “instructor-less” ones.[39]

[*] MVU is funded by state and federal grants. It also operates a number of “career development tools” for students, and it oversees “Michigan LearnPort,” an online professional development program for any  employee of a conventional, charter or nonpublic school in Michigan. Michigan LearnPort is largely funded by federal grants. “Report to the Michigan Department of Education on the Development and Growth of the Michigan Virtual High School, 1999-2005”  (Michigan Virtual University, 2005), 6, goo.gl/UEFUC; “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2010), 1, 8, goo.gl/CKD0R (accessed Jan. 12, 2011).

[†] “A Report to the Legislature”  (Michigan Virtual University, 2010), 3-6, http://www.mivu.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=RYiJyLr6CSM%3d&tabid=373 (accessed Jan. 12, 2011); Senior Development and Policy Advisor Dan Schultz, Michigan Virtual University, telephone correspondence with Michael Van Beek, Feb. 18, 2010. The state’s curriculum requirements are set forth in the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which is the set of courses that Michigan high school students need to complete in order to graduate. The newest set of required courses was signed into law in 2006.

[‡] While some of this enrollment increase may have been due to the new online learning graduation requirement, it’s unlikely that this mandate explains the entire trend. See “Expanding Virtual Learning Opportunities in Michigan”.

[§]; “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2010), 4, goo.gl/i1JVK (accessed Jan. 12, 2011); “Report to the Michigan Department of Education on the Development and Growth of the Michigan Virtual High School, 1999-2005” (Michigan Virtual University, 2005), 2, goo.gl/Lrya5. MVS describes remote teacher online courses as “instructor-led.”

[¶] “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2010), 3, goo.gl/SDwPW (accessed Jan. 12, 2011). The remaining MVS courses are for middle school students.

[**] “Pricing Information” (Michigan Virtual University, 2009), goo.gl/b86rH (accessed Jan. 13, 2011). MVS’ terminology is different from that used in this study. MVS courses that are remote teacher online, facilitated virtual learning and Internet-based learning would be described by MVS as “instructor-led,” “instructor-supported” and “instructor-less,” respectively. For more information, see: “Learning Online Is Challenging and Fun” (Michigan Virtual School), goo.gl/K62YL (accessed Jan. 4, 2011).

[32] “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2009), 1, goo.gl/0KV1u (accessed April 10, 2010).

[33] Watson et al., “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice” (Evergreen Education Group, 2010), 26, goo.gl/1FkIm (accessed Jan. 9, 2011).

[34] “Report to the Michigan Department of Education on the Development and Growth of the Michigan Virtual High School, 1999-2005” (Michigan Virtual University, 2005), 2, goo.gl/b49Q9.

[35] “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2010), 1, goo.gl/SDwPW (accessed Jan. 12, 2011).

[36] Ibid., 2-3.

[37] Ibid., 14-16.

[38] MCL § 388.1698(6).

[39] “Pricing Information” (Michigan Virtual University, 2009),goo.gl/OkYh3 (accessed Jan. 13, 2011).