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Cannibalism in Higher Education?

To tap into the underserved market of adult students who would like to enroll in post secondary programs, colleges and universities need to reimagine programs and deliver in new ways. The alternative for many of these students is not attending at all.

A recent

(IHE) described Georgia Tech’s efforts five
years ago to make its Master’s Degree in Computer Science available to far more
students by using a MOOC strategy. In fact it had an audacious goal of enrolling 10,000 students by the
third year.

Georgia Institute of Technology began a bold experiment -- to take a
high-profile graduate program, put it online and offer it to students at a
fraction of the cost of the in-person degree…. The tuition was $6,630 -- about
a sixth of the cost of an on-campus degree. It was a huge gamble. Could an
online degree really match the quality of a degree taught on campus? Would the
institution cannibalize its in-person degree applicants? Would the program make
any money?”

summarizes the analysis by two researchers published in
, a journal
focused on school reform and concluded that the report

“suggests that the gamble
paid off.”

We found
these summary points in the IHE article the most persuasive that this was a
groundbreaking effort

has grown from 380 students in spring 2014 to 6,365 this spring”... “widened access to education by appealing to
a group of people who would not otherwise have pursued master’s degrees.
access to education by appealing to a group of people who would not otherwise
have pursued master’s degrees."
thought … that Georgia Tech was going to cannibalize its own revenue stream.
But the profile of people applying online is so different, there’s virtually no
“.. typical
applicant to the online program was a 34-year-old mid career ..., while the
typical applicant to the in-person degree was a 24-year-old recent graduate
“Of the
18,000 students who applied to the in-person and online degrees, less than
0.2 percent applied to both…”

The most
intriguing point we read in the IHE summary

admitted to the online program typically had slightly lower academic
credentials than those admitted to the in-person program, but they performed
slightly better in their identical and blind-marked final assessments -- a
finding the study hailed as “the first rigorous evidence that we know of
showing that an online degree program can increase educational attainment.” 

Several current surveys and reports have found that Competency Based Education programs achieve these same kinds of results; they are as effective as traditional programs in terms of student demonstration of mastery of material.

The article
reports that Georgia Tech strongly feels that one of the biggest results of
their efforts was

It is true that many institutions have been serving the unmet needs of working adult students who
desire programs that fit into their personal situations and match their career
and life goals. Unfortunately and too often these are simply Online courses and programs that are
duplicative of on campus programs; requiring structured attendance, inflicting too high of a cost, and are not well enough connected
to the job needs and career aspirations. Its imperative that traditional colleges and universities create programs that will appeal to these students, if not their enrollments will continue to decline.

There is need for a rethink, a redesign, and a purposeful consideration of technology that can support these learners in an online or blended learning experience. 

One of the most promising trends at traditional
campuses is the creation and delivery of Competency Based Education programs. Any college and university can design and launch a CBE program, they do not need the level of resources that Georgia Tech acquired for its MOOC program. But they do need to consider the right tools for the job (like GA Tech did for its program). We need to stop putting all programs in one size fits all traditional LMS built to manage courses.

CBE courses and programs come in a variety of flavors but share certain fundamentals. 

-- Designed around the needs of the individual learner, not a course

-- Measure achievement and mastery, not seat time (the learning is constant, the time is variable) 

-- Allow students to work
on their own paces and paths while engaging with all material. 

-- Insure students are always fully supported, but supported exactly when they need it, not when the course schedule dictates. 

-- Create relevance that students seek; academically sound but clearly connected to the skills, knowledge, and competencies required in job and career path.

Almost any
college or university can pursue this model, it doesn't require the level of investment that Georgia Tech made. It does require a reach out to the employers you serve for support.  If you
plan and collaborate with employers around competency based learning programs,
they are very likely to offer assistance and encourage their employees to

Many colleges do worry about disrupting existing programs. But it seems that new programs designed for an underserved audience do not cannibalize from your current programs. They appeal to a segment of students whose other choice is no program at all.

About Strut Learning

Founded in 2014 Strut offers proven, award-winning services and products that enable clients to innovate, transform and grow enrollments. Flexible, complete, high-quality GE, AA, BBA, MAOL accredited degree programs and a next-generation technology ecosystem radically reduce cost, complexity and time to market. Strut is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) learning company focused on enrollment growth. Our work redefines student support, retention and success required to attract techno-savvy millennial and generation-X students and grow. What’s a Strut? In short, we combine out of the box best in class LMS technology with an internal OPM model that empowers colleges and universities to efficiently deploy popular, high-quality online and hybrid programs in under 100 days; proven to grow enrollments. Strut invested $110M in a world-class technology platform designed to provide institutions with the power to rapidly (under 100 days) deploy a disruptive technology ecosystem and complete quality degree self-paced programs (GE, AA, BBA, BSIT, MAOL). Strut’s award-winning technology ecosystem is already in use at leading public and private institutions. Unlike others, who leverage third-party vendors to assemble a viable ecosystem - Strut delivers a proven and complete platform - able to effectively and efficiently provide instruction at scale. To help our partners modernize and optimize online offerings, we offer expert instructional planning and design services. Learn more about Strut Learning’s award-winning technologies and services by visiting our website.

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