Sramana Mitra: In what kinds of disciplines are you seeing the maximum online adoption? Is it engineering, nursing, or business?
Todd Hitchcock: Traditionally, there has been a lot of growth in business and engineering. We see a tremendous amount of growth in healthcare professions. We see growth in degree programs that are associated directly with professions rather than traditional academic degrees – that may lead more to someone to move to pursue their PhD or more of an academic path. I see less growth in those currently than we do in degrees that are more aligned with what we consider professional degrees.
Sramana Mitra: I think one of the big drivers of online education especially for universities is that people are doing them in tandem with a job. Often, they’re enhancing their skills and trying to improve their career. You have to be professionally oriented.
Todd Hitchcock: You’re right. You actually touched on something there that is worth underscoring. The demographic of individuals are exactly as you described. It really crosses the entire range but we see professionals who are working while studying. This is different from the traditional university experience that I may have had. As we look at that demographic, there are many things that they need as support structures that traditional on-ground students don’t necessarily need. That’s where I mentioned where the student services is so critical. We coach each of one of the individuals with all of the behavioral things that they need. We stay with those students from the time they enroll until the time that they graduate.
One of things that I really enjoy is that I receive notes from all of our students every day. We constantly keep getting emails from our students about how we helped them all the way through to graduation. The student advisors will stay with the student throughout. They build a tremendous bond. They literally become their coach and advisor to help them with the degree. When you put a program online for the first time, there’re a lot of nuances on instruction strategies. Therefore, that’s an extremely important service when we think of critical success factor for an online program.
Sramana Mitra: Are these student advisors then also advising on careers or are the student advisors pretty much focused on how to leverage the online degree program best?
Todd Hitchcock: It’s more of the latter. We’re focusing more on student success.
Sramana Mitra: Success within the program?
Todd Hitchcock: Right.
Sramana Mitra: Do you also have a career development function?
Todd Hitchcock: For this possible vertical, we don’t. Of course, we have information with regards to the viability of the degrees. We use that upfront in our consulting framework with the school. Working directly with students, we don’t currently provide that service.
Sramana Mitra: Given what we do, one of the big interest areas for our audience is what’s happening in the domain of entrepreneurship education? What are you doing and seeing? What is the demand from the customers?
Todd Hitchcock: I’m going to change my hat here for a moment. I’ll move back to my former role. As I mentioned, I was managing our online learning strategy for the US. We had been working with a number of small colleges and universities. We had built a number of online courses and course content in the business field and had worked with individuals to adapt that to essentially create performance-based assessments specific to entrepreneurship and specific to case base methodology.
Student success performance is very high and students were very engaged. What was interesting to us, at that time though, was that they tend to be more localized type of programs. Whether you’re in the northeast, southwest, or the Midwest, we found that school tailored their entrepreneurship programs to be more focused on that closed region. When we look at the macro level in building a comprehensive online program, the model breaks down a little bit, in the sense that, because of the focus on the regional nature, it’s difficult to get large numbers of enrollment in more of a macro-type of program.