Donald R. McNeil
The University of Mid-America was the United States federal government's most ambitious -yet unsuccessful-attempt to create an open university on a traditional institutional base. The rise and fall of the University of Mid-America (UMA) is an interesting case study of the problems inherent in consortia activities-especially consortia made up of large influential universities, facing a host of demands and priorities placed on them by constituencies such as their state legislatures, governing boards, faculties, and students.
The University of Mid-America was the brainchild of D.B. (Woody) Varner, then President of the University of Nebraska. Early in 1971, with Jack McBride, general manager of Nebraska's educational television network, Varner obtained federal funds to experiment with a 'State University of Nebraska' (SUN) in order to test the British Open University concept. Varner's objective was to enhance access, to bring the opportunity of a complete college degree directly into the homes of the state's residents via television and radio. McBride, a television producer by background, was captivated by the prospect of being able to blend the talents of specialists-producers, writers, researchers, and instructional designers-to guarantee a high-quality product.
But the United States was not like Great Britain. America's higher education system is pervasive and local access to conventional higher education was relatively feasible. In the 1960s, community colleges were being built on the average of one per week. Large land-grant and state university systems added campuses in all the population centres. State colleges expanded to take on a larger share of the increasing student population.
Still, the federal government perceived a great demand from those who could not or would not attend classes at regularly