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Teaching 50,000 Students Online: APEI CEO Wally Boston (Part 7)

Posted on Tuesday, Sep 29th 2009

SM: How do you keep your courses relevant and up to date?

WB: Every three years we hire a consultant to review our degree programs. This is a cycle that every degree program we offer goes through. We evaluate them to make sure the program meets the standards of accrediting bodies. A degree in a field such as English or history has been around for a while, and there are associations that have established standards. Our consultants make sure our programs meet the latest standards and conduct their meetings with our deans and program directors. The consultants produce reports which are read by the faculty teams as well as the dean and program director. Modifications are made as necessary at that point.

If you do this every three years, you do not have major overhauls. Most subjects do not have that tremendous of an advancement year after year. Information technology is really the one field that changes the fastest because of all the technology advancements, and that does require changes to the program. There we often find that we have to add new courses to make sure we are giving our students the opportunity to take advantage of learning about new technologies.

SM: How does the government look at you? We need to re-educate so many people due to our economy. There are a ton of people who want to go back to school. Is the government willing to fund educational loans or reimburse your students?

WB: The government has looked somewhat skeptically at online education for a number of years. The rules for federal student aid specifically required institutions that wanted to be eligible for the Federal Student Financial Aid program to offer more than 50% of its programs as residential programs. It was not until 2006 that Congress changed that rule, after the Department of Education had a demonstration program culminate after four years. They let online institutions participate in Federal Student Financial Aid. When the law changed in 2006, we were the first purely online institution to participate in Federal Student Financial Aid programs.

If you look at the Obama administration’s proposals and goals, they want the percentage of Americans with college degrees to go back to its levels when we were number 1 or 2, and do this by 2025, then you quickly come to the realization that we need expanded access. We need many more working adults to gain access because that is the only way to achieve those numbers. They have been very encouraging of online programs.

One of their initiatives is to fund the development of 55 online courses for community colleges, and they do not care if the developers are for-profit or non-profit. We have not decided if we want to choose to participate in that development yet or not, but they are going to make those courses available for community colleges nation-wide. We are encouraged by our online format as we think that it is much more attractive to many working adults than having to go to a physical location to classes.

SM: What keeps you awake and worries you at night?

WB: There are state and federal regulators. Sometimes politics get involved if enrollments at public institutions start dropping and for-profit educators are able to pick up the slack. Some states may not have a positive view of that. We are sensitive to regulatory changes. We hope that by focusing on quality, in the event someone comes down and argues against online education, we can convince regulators that we are an affordable alternative.

SM: What about international education? China and India have tremendous demands for education.

WB: We are not seeing demand as far as students who come to us. We have not deliberately sought out those students, either. We have a far better price point than our online competitors, which I think positions us well for that market. Price is a big issue in countries such as India and China. We have been growing at 40% a year since 2002. If we are going to go international, then we need to have a focused effort that allows us to replicate the same success. At this point that is a strategic thought but nothing we are working to implement.

SM: I have enjoyed listening to your story; thank you very much.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Teaching 50,000 Students Online: APEI CEO Wally Boston
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