Q. Now that all our classes have moved online and everyone is concerned about shoring up future enrollment, there is intense interest in putting nearly all courses and programs online. Business deans are particularly keen. Our online division has always prided itself on picking the right programs for online development, not just responding to random enthusiasm. During this unprecedented time, should we change our strategy?
Our advice is to hold the line on which programs to put online. Throwing everything online will diminish returns, stretch resources, weaken quality, and confuse the market. There is also the risk of a duplication of effort and unhelpful internal competition. Better to use this moment to stimulate collaboration across university system campuses to produce best-in-class online programs, and rationalize the number of programs that systems want to invest in or even sustain. The current crisis will severely test institutions that have bloated program portfolios and do not use this time to integrate related programs and drop others.
If a certain business program is already online, can other campuses with similar on-ground programs help (over time) to make the online program better, and in the end it becomes a systemwide program? If a school wants to put a current on-ground program online, could their on-ground students start to enroll in online courses in a similar program already available from another system campus (and split the revenue)? Can on-ground faculty help teach/support an online program if enrollment is spiking?
No institution or system has the resources to develop scores of high quality online programs right now. Instead, focus on the production of truly compelling exemplar programs (e.g., largest enrollment programs and courses for the biggest impact) and work with leaders across campus to explore how these templates could be adapted efficiently at the local level.
More from the Wake-Up Call…
Over the past couple of weeks, the tide has shifted optimistically toward plans for an on-campus fall semester. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 68% of colleges now say this is their intent.
As the weeks go by, higher education leaders face the looming prospect of a fall semester during a pandemic amid the sharpest economic contraction in nearly a century.
The past six weeks have transformed higher education and introduced many unknowns. Things taken for granted are now suddenly up in the air. Questions about going online, communicating with prospective students, preparing for fall, and shoring up the right technology suddenly have new meaning in the age of COVID-19.