Sramana Mitra: You said you have students taking your program internationally. Can you talk a bit more about where and what are the trends on that front?
Sher Downing: We have two types of international students. One is those who are obviously living overseas. We also have students who travel quite a bit extensively for their work. For people who live and are based somewhere else, once we get connected with them or work out any issues in terms of where they’re located, they’re pretty much set to go throughout their program.
The more difficult ones that we have are people that are travelling in third world countries or are travelling outside of a populated area. Perhaps they’re in Asia or South America, but they leave centralized cities that have WiFi locations and they end up going into external areas. We have to work with them a little more on a case-to-case basis and try to figure out how we get them what they need. The same is true for the military. We have a lot of students that are overseas in the military. That obviously becomes an issue anytime something changes globally due to some unrest. We may have to work with them as well. We have students in Europe, Asia, South America, and we deal with people travelling all over the globe at any given time throughout the year.
Sramana Mitra: Sounds like your students originate or have roots in America and they are travelling elsewhere. Is that correct?
Sher Downing: That’s a large portion of them, but we do have some that live overseas. We get students living in Germany, London, or China who want to take online programs. We also have an Executive Masters in Business Administration that’s housed in China. We take faculty over there to teach offline or on ground for companies that have individuals wanting to go through the program.
Sramana Mitra: You said you are one of the largest business programs of this kind?
Sher Downing: We are one of the largest business schools in the nation. There are probably larger online programs than ours. I haven’t looked at the numbers recently because online fluctuates so much. Overall – undergraduate, graduate, face-to-face, online – we’re one of the largest business schools.
Sramana Mitra: Which of your peers have large online business programs as well?
Sher Downing: That’s difficult to answer because it depends. For example, Penn State has one of the largest online campuses but Business is a very small portion of that. In terms of our peers, I’m not really sure who, numerically, we go up against. It’s more so of what programs are offered.
Sramana Mitra: There’s a real trend that I’m hearing about from multiple sources that the engineering schools, especially the large state engineering schools, are all trying to figure out how to teach entrepreneurship to their student bodies. Do you have any insight into this trend?
Sher Downing: I don’t have a lot of insight on that but I have heard that as well. Where they have had the opportunity to expand is with the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] programs. As they attract more people into STEM, students now have more choices in terms of electives and specializations. STEM allows them to have a little more growth in that. There are more and more engineering schools going online that also gives them a little more opportunity to offer different things. I think, overall, the trends are focusing on how people can get more out of their degree programs.
This segment is part 6 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sher Downing, Executive Director of Online Academic Services at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University
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