SM: It seems as though your learning outcomes are similar to a corporate vision.
WB: We have five institutional learning outcomes: Lifelong Learning, Information Literacy, Communication, Academic Skill, and Critical Thinking. They were developed by our faculty as the key learning outcomes. We do tests and assessments to see if our students are doing well. All of our seniors have to take the Measurement of Academic Proficiency and Progress exam. It is administered nation-wide, and since we have began administering it our seniors have always scored above the national average. It’s a math test that measures critical thinking.
Students who are business majors or criminal justice majors are required to take those exams in their discipline. We assess if they are achieving at or above the national average for seniors in those programs as well.
SM: Between 2003 and 2005 you worked on regional accreditation, which you gained in 2006. You were obviously increasing the number of students at the same time. How did you market that program to civilians?
WB: In 2002 we received a private equity investment that allowed us to put a lot of money, millions of dollars, into systems. It also allowed us to hire some people with expertise in certain areas of marketing. We basically began to purchase keywords on Google and Yahoo!. We also rebuilt the website as our previous one was not tailored for crawlers looking for keywords.
We built a both interactive marketing and non-interactive marketing departments, which were designed around marketing our programs to people who were in position to be key influencers. Culturally we have never left the philosophy of the founder, which is to try and build relationships. That is one of the reasons our marketing costs per student is one of the lowest for online students. We philosophically believe in building referrals.
Last year over 50% of our new students indicated on the survey we administered that they heard about us from a friend. We are big on building a community; yet at the same time we do spend money on the Web. We continue to refine our online process. We have spent some money on conventional advertising as well.
SM: Your primary method of customer acquisition is search engine marketing?
WB: Our number one source of new students is referrals. That is 50%. Internet marketing is number two at 35%. The other 15% is mixed between print and other media.
SM: How do you charge for your programs?
WB: We charge per credit. We charge exactly what the military reimburses. Our founder had a philosophy that enlisted service members did not have disposable income. If we charged more than what the military reimbursed, we would not be serving our students or their families well. Our undergraduate tuition has not increased since 2001 and it has not increased because the military has not increased their reimbursement.
SM: What is that rate?
WB: It is $250 a credit hour.
SM: How many credits are needed to get a degree?
WB: For an undergraduate degree it is 121 credit hours. For a master’s degree it depends on the degree. A standard masters of arts is 36 credit hours. Some specific degrees, due to special accreditation requirements, are a bit more.