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Are Alternative Online Credentials a Threat or Opportunity?

Episode 70

September 7, 2021 37 minutes


EAB’s Jackson Nell is joined by LSU Vice President of Online & Continuing Education, Sasha Thackaberry, to discuss the rapid growth of alternative online providers.

These for-profit entities, including Coursera, Guild, Udacity, even Google, offer everything from certificates to micro-credentials to full degrees, either in partnership with or independently from colleges and universities. Thackaberry explains why collaboration between these online upstarts and traditional higher education institutions is blurring the lines and creating both risk and opportunity.



0:00:11.7 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. On today’s episode, we explore the world of alternative providers and the cornucopia of education credentials they offer a public that is frankly starting to wonder whether it’s worth their money and time to pursue a traditional four-year degree. In contrast, short form bootcamps, certificate programs and micro credentials, their promise relevant job skills training sound pretty enticing. Our guests discussed the extent to which this trend represents a real threat to higher ed, and whether the right move is for colleges and universities to adapt and compete or even partner with companies like Coursera and Guild to help build out their online offerings. Thank you for listening and enjoy.


0:01:03.1 Jackson Nell: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Jackson Nell, and I’m an Associate Director at our Strategic Advisory Services, where I serve on our financial sustainability and blueprint for growth research teams. Today, I’m joined by a very special guest, Sasha Thackaberry, Vice President of Online and Continuing Education at Louisiana State University or LSU. Sasha is a widely recognized leader in the online learning space with a variety of publications and conference presentations to her name, and has been leading LSU’s innovative and expanding online platform since 2018. Sasha, welcome to Office Hours. It’s great to have you here.

0:01:38.5 Sasha Thackaberry: Thank you for inviting me. I’m really excited for our conversation.

0:01:41.0 JN: I know, I’m so excited all for the week and I was like, “I’m talking to Sasha on Monday, I can’t wait for this conversation [chuckle] to get her thoughts on this very exciting space.”

0:01:50.6 ST: Awesome. Fellow alternative credential geek. There you go.

0:01:53.8 JN: Yes, this certainly is a geek term for both of us here, so again, looking forward to that, and the space that we’re talking about it is very newsy, to say the least, and it’s often poorly understood and very confusing, and that is the kind of quagmire myriad world of alternative providers and credentials. And I think there’s a lot of forces percolating at this topic to the forefront of our industry, but maybe that date back to a decade plus, right? And it’s really centered around the conversation among the industry around faster and cheaper alternatives and education pathways to some of our traditional offerings and traditional institutions even. So, these so-called alternative providers are often companies, for-profit companies, which offer types of education, often credentials, but sometimes various different flavors of that, everything from degrees to micro-credentials to say the least, in partnership with traditional institutions or increasingly independently of them.

0:02:49.2 JN: So when we’re using those term alternative providers, to give you some illustrations, some of the actual beings or things out there, we’re talking about some of the big tech companies moving into this space, IBM and Grow with Google, for example, to some of the in-between innovative models like Udacity or Udemy and then some of the partnerships, the groups that work with traditional institutions in the OPM, OPX evolution space, such as Coursera and edX, and so these kind of myriad providers are attracting significant industry attention as well as investor funding consolidating more frequently through M&A, and maturing their business models and making big bets on the future of their products and making bids to seize and expand their market share. So lot’s going on here for sure, Sasha. But let’s start with a little bit more on that, “Why now?” What is driving the interest in alternative providers in our industry, and what does it tell us about the state of online education and higher education more broadly?

0:03:46.9 ST: So this is a why now that’s been 10 years in the making, I think a lot of this started even before we saw the MOOC-like platforms appear, I think there’s been an acceleration in it, an acceleration of interest because of COVID and some of the professional development that companies used to have in-person or bring in with trainers, that model needing to change, but in general, I think it’s the relevance of the skills and expertise that businesses need right now, and the fact that the pace of those skills developing and changing, it just keeps increasing, and curriculum relevance and transformation happens much, much slower at traditional institutions, even fully online institutions, and I think that’s a lot of what it’s peeking towards, and yet you see these platforms really trading on the brands and the familiarity of those brands in the marketplace to sell, you know, sell their interest or get interest. So it’s a little bit of a fascinating situation where in, yes, the credentials are getting smaller, they’re getting more work for relevant, they’re adapting themselves faster than I think most institutions of higher education ever could, and yet [chuckle] they are using the brands to leverage what they’re doing in a lot of ways, which is probably really good for them, I’m not so sure good for colleges and universities.

0:05:26.4 JN: Yeah, definitely wanna talk about that in further detail in just a second, but I think you’re absolutely right, there’s a lot of forces really driving this to the forefront, and I think what’s really different than maybe 10 years ago, is it’s the creation of these new intermediaries, the big go-to-market providers that exist.

0:05:42.5 ST: Absolutely.

0:05:43.1 JN: And the iteration that’s now occurred in online learning, that’s been slowly happening, but dial certainly accelerated and a big variable that I think a lot of folks run in, and one that you mentioned is the COVID accelerant. In the last year, we saw a tremendous uptake and utilization on a lot of these platforms, if you look at the Google Trends data, there’s this big spike in people searching for things like Coursera and edX, and during lockdown of last spring, and I think it’s often tempting for us to write off some of this interest as COVID induced surge or blab, but I’m curious to get your thoughts here about how much of the interest recently is attributable to COVID and how lasting do you actually think that the employer, and learner interest is in faster and cheaper alternatives regardless of COVID?

0:06:29.1 ST: Oh, yeah, so for the second part of that, I think employers are always interested in faster and cheaper, I think part of it is a question of how reductive can you get or how small can you get and still have lasting transformation in terms of skills and expertise that you need out of your employees. I don’t think much of it is… Well, let me rephrase that. I think some of the acceleration recently in usage was due to people not being able to go outside and do other fun things, so if you’re bored and sitting at home, you may as well learn something useful, but I think we’re gonna see a lot about, if people found value in that, if they were interested in learning, they’re probably gonna continue. The acceleration might slow down a little bit, but I think it will still keep accelerating and those intermediaries, their entire motivation is to get more people to take these smaller credentials, because their game is volume. So like the mega university’s game is volume, but these intermediaries, their whole game is volume, and so they are trying to get as many people doing this as possible, so they wanna see the value add for businesses.

0:07:51.1 JN: Absolutely, and I think that there’s a desire by the Courseras, the edX, these big players to convert that sugar rush from COVID and their utilization into a lasting presence and build on that name recognition and submerge their market share, and I think that that’s something we can speculate is starting to happen, but also I think will have trickle effects down the adult learner space in particular, as folks think about who are the preferred partners of choice when looking at an education offering, what does the user experience look like? What are some of those things that we become familiar with in a digital, native digital first world that continue on as we evolve or hopefully move beyond some of that immediate pandemic surge.

0:08:31.1 ST: 100%. And one of the things that those MOOC platforms have done, or MOOC-like platforms have done, that traditional higher education has not been successful in is in terms of that user experience, like the platforms, they dedicated a lot of time to the platforms, I think in some cases, moreso than the actual learning experience design. But they’ve really come a long way in terms of that, but folks who are busy, they wanna be able to download their quick little videos and watch them on the plane or on the bus or in their living room and learn something new that they can apply right away, which has always been historically the poster national online degree marketplace. It’s competition. I don’t think people realize that.

0:09:17.0 JN: Yeah, and so much of it is consumer-driven. I just think about how you can watch courses on your Coursera mobile app, you know, the vast majority of their learners are actually engaging on the app, which is not how the vast majority of our learners at a lot of our institutions are engaging with our online platforms.

0:09:31.3 ST: Not at all. [chuckle]

0:09:32.6 JN: And there’s also, I think of the outliers and the master classes of the world, it’s almost entertainment, there’s so much good stuff on it that you have these celebrities, professors or you have high quality content videos that it’s almost enjoyable and it nerds ourselves, Sasha, like sometimes I find myself just wanting to watch a good video and learn something from it, even if I don’t get the credential out of it.

0:09:54.1 ST: Absolutely.

0:09:55.2 JN: So, definitely a lot to unpack there, and I would be remiss if we didn’t actually talk about micro-credentialing, I think that fits into the broader umbrella but certainly is a topic that we could spend not only a whole podcast, but a whole MOOC long session about, right? But curious to think about one of the challenges that has occurred in micro-credentialing is just how fragmented it’s been. There’s various definitions of standards, a lot of institutions are really experimenting, throwing terms around here, but nothing really has taken off, at least at a consistent level, but one thing the alternative providers have been starting to do is really commodifying the language around here, in some of the offerings. I think of edX’s MicroMasters for example, or Coursera’s specializations as two examples. Do you think this is helping the micro-credential market take off or is it in some ways giving the power to the intermediaries at the expense of the institutions to always set the terms of what the micro-credential market looks like?

0:10:48.6 ST: So that’s really interesting. I think that when folks still look for these, when your direct-to-consumer market, the thing that still has the most value to it, or that’s the most searchable is still certificate, so it’s seen as being workforce ready or workforce applicable. People aren’t really searching for Nanodegrees as much, and yet people are making bets in what’s going to ring true in that space, so like MicroMasters. I love that, I love what it communicates right there; however, to traditional institutions, that’s far too reductive, and it leads into accreditation. “Okay, well, can we call that a Master’s, if it’s not a Master’s degree, right?” And then also what institutions will ingest shorter form credentials that don’t come from them. So I know MIT had this issue with anyone who comes and completes are… I forget what it was, MicroMasters or something, can get into and passes these assessments, can get into our program while there’s far too much demand and nano space at MIT. So some other institutions have started accepting that as credit.

0:12:06.6 ST: Surely, someone who is able to be admitted at MIT can be admitted at a lot of other institutions, and yet, then you’re taking the revenue from your Master’s degree down to what? 50% of what it was going to be and transfer credit usually isn’t a thing at the Master’s level. So I think there’s a lot of question marks there. I know that we actually at LSU, we trademarked the term micro-creds.

0:12:35.2 JN: Yes.

0:12:35.7 ST: So anyone’s interested in that, you can’t have it. We already trademarked it, but the MicroMasters was trademarked as an image, now they may have been updated, but I don’t think it was trademarked as a term, and I actually think there may be value in that because if you’re them, you want other people to recognize MicroMasters as a thing or Nanodegrees as a thing, or specializations as a thing. People are really trying to drum up interest because people search for things like degrees or certificates, they’re not so much searching for intermediary, specifically named thing, and there’s so much variation in this space and that’s where I think us on the higher education side get really lost in the weeds, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is the size of this credential, what is its relationship to contact hours, if we’re going to accept it for credit at some future point. Well, that defeats the purpose of being skills and knowledge-driven. So I think there’s just so many things that we’re approaching from diametrically different lenses, higher education institutions are approaching them from the point of reference of what will this potentially diminish or put at risk as part of who we are or what our core value proposition is?

0:13:58.7 ST: Whereas on the other side, they’re really approaching it from an opportunity perspective, a market-driven perspective, because it’s new for them, this new market that they are getting into and gobbling up large parts of, and unfortunately, most higher ed institutions, I don’t think are yet there, in realizing that the competition of the future is not just other higher education institutions.

0:14:23.1 JN: Yeah, no, an excellent answer. On just the narrative of what the credentialing archetypes look like and just how confusing it really is, and I think to your point about the controlling of the terminology, the trademarking of a lot of these terms too has been a centralizing force, but to your point, it’s one that really is built into the business models of the intermediaries is more so than the institutions themselves, and that has complications, and I think it goes back to the point about accessibility, and also getting folks to be bought in, it’s one thing to convince employers and consumers, it’s another thing to convince tenure-track faculty of what this is and the terminology around it and accreditors, and I think lots of jargon to say the least. One term that I’ve used that I don’t know if everyone is familiar with, is the term MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses for reference, that was the buzz phrase that existed back in 2011-12, it’s died out and petered, but has evolved into these platforms that we see today in the direct-to-consumer market environment. So I just wanted to clarify that for folks on the line, what we’re talking about.

0:15:24.6 ST: Oh, yes. And I use the term MOOC-esque a lot because these things are not… They’re usually freemium, now. So you can try some version for free, but they’re not truly meant to be free, they still are massive and they’re still not facilitated in the way that a traditional course would be more hands-on, facilitated, sort of “Taught”.

0:15:48.2 JN: Absolutely, and they also then fit into these MOOC-pace degrees that you see the iMBA even and some of the more disruptive traditional online degrees, where you can say the least there, so that’s a conversation for another day. Potentially, but a lot of activity there [chuckle] to say the least, but one thing I do wanna go back to, Sasha, is something that you raised is the blurring of lines between traditional providers and these alternative providers, and I think that this really is a game that’s you see them on the elites of our industry, so you have big schools like MIT, Harvard, the University of Michigan, etcetera, making big bets and partnering here and essentially licensing parts of their brand out and their offerings into the space, you also see them building multiple internal business models, so to speak, that are often divergent with other core parts of their business model and living with a form of what I call cognitive dissonance, [chuckle] but they are essentially secure enough to do this and able to capture the marketplace. But my question for you here is, is this setting itself up to be a winner-takes-all market where these big players with the big brands run with the partners and then push out everyone else? Or do you think that there is still space for a Murad or a lot of different players to exist here, more so than just the big names?

0:17:03.9 ST: Yeah, so I think there is a huge danger in it being a winner-take-all, or rather winners like the top winners take all of these platforms, they’re bleeding also into the OPM space, so in some ways they’re offering upsells on marketing and all of those pieces. I’m not so sure what the ROI on this is ultimately for most institutions, for some of the folks who were like MITx at the very beginning or HarvardX, they’re not paying into those platforms the way a different institution would need to be, so and they could never charge tuition again, and they’d still be fine, I think for most State institutions, it’s a little bit different if you look at the majority of their brands, they’re more high value State institutions. Some of them private institutions, but those are also the same institutions that are generally speaking, not great at tracking all of their expenses and figuring out what an ROI actually is, because if you divorce the faculty expense of creating and maintaining the course along with the administrative expenses of the coordination, creation and maintenance of the course, along with the expenses of instructional design, if you’re taking off all of the direct and indirect expenses and not tracking them, I think the ROI may be very close to zero for some of these institutions.

0:18:37.8 ST: And in fact, there might be a lost opportunity cost, because you’re not getting those millions of leads are going to edX or they’re going to Coursera, like University of Michigan, ain’t getting lead lists that are millions of leads that they can personally market to, but that’s also part of the value of your edXs and Courseras of the world, is that they’re marketplaces, most of us don’t want all of our degrees and credentials to have exactly the same name on it, right? That’s why they generally say, don’t go to the same institution for your undergrad, your Master’s, your PhD and everything in between, you want some variety and that is an advantage that edX and Coursera have, you can have something that refers to Google Analytics and something that refers to Amazon Cloud, and something related to University of Michigan or somebody else. It gives you a variety, but a single provider, which I think it is just ease of use. And you see this too in the Common App. Undergrad students apply to essentially a marketplace of universities and colleges, but that’s very different, like multi-year, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipments, and a very different audience.

0:19:56.4 ST: But I think that’s one of the core values of them, and for sure, the Guilds educations of the world are also getting into the content business, and edXs and Courseras of the world are also trying to get into the benefit space or paying for education through benefit, so I think it’s gonna be interesting to watch which of them survive this Game of Thrones.

0:20:21.5 JN: Yeah, I think there’s certainly a wave of consolidation that probably will come forward too, and you talked about so much, Sasha, and I think one thing that stands out to me is this increasing market placing phenomenon that we’re starting to see, right? If you go into FutureLearn, edX, Coursera, Udacity even, it’s almost like login on to an app store of courses, right?

0:20:40.4 ST: 100%.

0:20:40.6 JN: And providers, right? And that is a commodifying force, that you lose a lot of agency ad and only the biggest brands arguably can compete at that to some degree, right?

0:20:50.4 ST: Absolutely.

0:20:50.5 JN: You know, if you have a thousand institutions offering the same course in IT Instruction, it reminds me of those old flashlight apps that used to exist on the iPhone that you could get, there were a thousand of them. And then Apple launched the iPhone button, or the flashlight button and they went away, right? That seems to be some of the dynamics that you see in this place, is it is a very different competitive game than I think a lot of us are used to in the undergraduate space, but even in the adult and grad.

0:21:16.5 ST: Absolutely.

0:21:18.2 JN: And one thing you touched on too is the monetization opportunity here, and I think one of the challenges, I think for a lot of our large public flagships, for example, is balancing their public and access mission here with the reality that a lot of this is occurring in kinda this for-profit intermediary space.

0:21:36.5 ST: Right.

0:21:36.9 JN: And at the same time, a financially sustainable model is really hard to create here, right? I would wager that very few schools are making significant ROI when they cover all of their direct and indirect costs, and a lot of this is essentially just really good strategic marketing. You’re getting top of funnel lead gen, building relationships with students to kind of upsell, cross-sell them into your traditional degree offerings.

0:21:56.6 ST: Right. Right. Absolutely.

0:21:57.5 JN: That’s Coursera, edX’s business model in a nutshell, right now. I’m curious, what do you think about the monetization opportunity, more generally speaking? What is really the ROI of launching and competing in the space, and how much of this is that kind of strategic marketing frame of the value here versus a true stand-alone business model?

0:22:17.9 ST: Yeah. So I think that for your edXs, your Courseras, all those folks, they’re essentially sort of re-selling product that they get dirt cheap, right?

0:22:32.6 JN: Yup.

0:22:32.9 ST: If you’re thinking of the [chuckle] educational experiences as product, they’re getting them… Like, you’re paying retail for them, but they are getting them, incredibly inexpensively from the colleges and institutions, and I would argue a lot of times that it’s not in the institution’s best interest, they should protect their brand and/or get more out of it, right?

0:22:53.5 JN: Right.

0:22:54.9 ST: I think they should ask for more, and frankly, if the Courseras of the world don’t have products that has brand names on it, then they can’t sell it, right? So I think the universities and colleges have more leverage than they think they have. I think there is a lot of opportunity for public institutions to be a lot better in this space. There’s a whole bunch of challenges obviously, but to me, the mission shouldn’t be one of them, like if LSU were a land grant, a sea grant, and a space grant institution. We also have multiple institutions in the LSU system, and they all have slightly different missions, they’re good at slightly different things, and so, we can almost create our own sort of marketplace where there’s a path for every student at LSU, right? But not every institution has that strength of brand. So I think people really have to decide what is gonna be their area of expertise, but they’ve gotta move faster.

0:23:58.2 JN: Yeah.

0:23:58.9 ST: And you’re wondering why these publics are buying for-profits, it’s because they can’t move fast enough. Nobody went out looking for a for-profit institution ’cause they thought that would be best for them in terms of their relationships with faculty at their university. They do it out of desperation, or I don’t wanna say desperation, maybe strategic concern. Let’s call it strategic concern.

0:24:22.4 JN: Yes.

0:24:22.9 ST: And they’re gonna get left behind, and a lot of these institutions are. I think the publics, the big brand publics are, generally speaking the worst of this, because they’ve been insulated from some of those enrollment concerns. I think there were some sleeper cells that we’re gonna see in some of our regional institutions that are growing, and nobody is really paying a lot of attention to them, but we’re terrible at tracking how much something costs. That is one of the things that we did very differently at LSU is we capture how much it cost to do everything. Like, down to how many… We do billable hours, so that we can figure out, is the course costing you more over time or is it highly maintainable? So, those are some of the things that if we approach them differently, but as I said before, usually the revenue that comes in from these online programs is divorced from the expenses, and you get as a continuing ed unit or as a fully online unit, you get a separate stream of funding, and it’s not related in any way, I mean, how do you know when you get to ROI?

0:25:31.0 JN: Yeah, no, that’s such a great point. And then you add in the complexities of budget modeling, and then you add in OPMs and profit sharing or fee-for-service structures, it really gets complicated to get a sense of how do you manage this enterprise, let alone do it sustainably from a financial standpoint? And I think a lot of folks may actually be losing money and they don’t necessarily realize it, which is also a concern too, right?

0:25:51.6 ST: Yes, for sure.


0:25:53.5 JN: And I think to your point about publics, I think there is certainly an opportunity for the flagships to differentiate themselves, build out what their core value is, is you have such a strong brand within your home markets and regions, that that’s something that really can’t be replicated in the services that you provide, the alumni networks, the vast kind of infrastructure that exists. Like, we have to figure out a way as an industry to sell that or at least communicate that effectively to students, but certainly seems to be one that I think a lot of schools are experimenting with and doing more here as well.

0:26:23.0 ST: Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s thrilled to be… They don’t put like they’re in the active Coursera Alumni, because there’s no football-related get togethers, [chuckle] You know, how people are. It’s more of the brand of the institution, which again, is something that they’re trading on.

0:26:40.4 JN: Right. And you can collect a lot of brands, right?

0:26:43.2 ST: Oh, yeah.

0:26:44.9 JN: Like I could go on a platform and get a micro-credential from Yale and Harvard and then put it all in this portfolio, but what is the value of that? I think is still a big question, and if you’re going for a higher education credential and you wanna high touch, high ROI experience, it still seems a lot of those traditional pathways are gonna be more lucrative in the long run for us, just given the saturation and over-commodification, potentially parts of the market. We talked a lot about what we should be worried about, and there’s a lot of scary things I think in this space. [chuckle] I always ask folks who’s there up at night competitor, and they always will say a traditional institution, but increasingly I hear folks say Google, IBM, some of those even bigger companies. But I’m curious, how worried are you more generally about losing market share to some alternative providers here? Or do you think there’s a world where the market is actually expanding and that they’re finding new opportunities, that maybe we have underserved historically, and therefore, it’s not us losing market share, that it’s just an opportunity cost for us?

0:27:44.2 ST: I think a little bit both and… But let me explain that.

0:27:48.5 JN: Okay.

0:27:49.6 ST: So, for the first piece, I do worry that folks are gonna get smarter and I kinda want them to, because it’s gonna push the rest of us, right? We need to have a higher level of concern. They’re gonna figure out that there are short form credentials, specifically ones that lead to certifications or some other third party, again, other than a higher ed institution, sort of verifying their skills and knowledge, and some of those, you can make a very good living at. One of the higher cost-ish sort of explanations of this or examples of this rather, is with the bootcamps, right?

0:28:29.3 JN: Yeah.

0:28:30.3 ST: So, it’s a lot of money, “A lot of money.” I mean, I don’t know that these people have thought a lot about the cost of a degree, because that’s a lot of money too, and you can never declare bankruptcy and get out of those loans. But the ROI on some of these bootcamps is remarkable. There’s even programs at the community college level that have really strong ROI, and we’re gonna see people increasingly figure that out and take advantage of it, which is good for that. What I wanna make sure we can do is, those highly qualified motivated people, I want them to come back and finish their degree so that they can get promoted. So, in a weird way, it could expand our opportunity if we move fast enough. If we get it, we get it going. So, I also think though, that the total size of the market is gonna continue to grow because of what technology is doing to work with large. Anyone who thinks that they’re not going to have to get another credential or take another formal learning experience at some point in their lives is kidding themselves now, if they wanna have a family sustaining wage and true career opportunities, because we just need to learn so much faster. I mean, I feel like I’m constantly learning.

0:29:47.9 JN: Yeah.

0:29:49.4 ST: That market is gonna continue to grow just because of our world, right?

0:29:54.1 JN: Right.

0:29:54.5 ST: How fast our world is moving, what we need more of, less of? But we have to keep our value proposition of those networks, those relationships, right? We have to keep that going, otherwise that I would be much more concerned that even in this expanding marketplace, we’re gonna have less and less of them. In terms of specific competition, like brands that keep me up at night, I would say some of them may get universities too, because they’re also realizing these threats from those…

0:30:29.1 JN: Yeah.

0:30:30.7 ST: Right? And some of it’s, if you can’t beat them, join them. So we’ve seen some also high profile partnerships in that mega university space. But I will also say that we still have as a culture, a relationship between exclusivity and value. So, I also think that those folks have a danger of, if you’re always, always, always, always growing, what becomes the value of that credential when it’s “more common?”

0:31:04.3 JN: Right.

0:31:05.7 ST: So, I think that’s a balance that people really have to think of. I mean, is the goal perpetual, unfettered growth. Why?

0:31:16.1 JN: Yeah. No, that’s very, very helpful context for us, Sasha, and I think you’re absolutely right that the status quo is changing in regardless of whether we want it to or not, and whether or not the market is shrinking or we’re losing market share or it’s expanding. There’s just a lot of not staying the same anymore, and I think we all as institutions have to at least recognize what this means more broadly for us. For some of us, it may mean doing very little or nothing, but for a lot of us in the adult and grad space, I think there’s going to be new imperatives and new competitive intelligence frames that we need to run out and consider more from a risk and opportunity standpoint. But knowing that we’re almost out of time here, I would love to get your thoughts on, what do we do about this? And I know you’re doing a lot at this, thinking about this and rolling out some new initiatives at LSU in recent years, would love to get a sense of what’s going on on campus, and then what advice would you give your peers and fellow institutional leaders about understanding and competing in this marketplace and what do individual institutions need to do coming away from today?

0:32:12.0 ST: Yes. Really, really good question. Okay, so I think the first piece of this is, it’s the not sexy part, [chuckle] which is not about the curriculum or the relevance of the credentials or degrees, though that is important. I’m gonna come back to that in a minute, but we have got to make it easy for our students to come to us. For some reason, we’re still sort of stuck in this, we can’t act like the student is a customer space. We shouldn’t act like that, when they’re in the virtual classroom, but we should act like that before and after they’re in the virtual classroom. You know, I don’t know any other industry that makes it so hard for people to take advantage of your services, other than traditional institutions. We make it hard to do transcripts, we make it hard to do transfer credit, and you’re looking at the folks who are growing in this space, are the ones that have figured that out and simplified things. So I think on a practical standpoint, fix your transfer credit, fix your application, make it fast, staff it, do whatever you need to do, get the right technology to make it an easy to use experience. Because man, you can go on edX today and start a class today and register for… You know? And it has to get that easy, because that is part of our competition.

0:33:33.7 ST: The other thing I would say is really approach everything as stackable. There should be no end of education, even with the credential, that credential should move towards another credential. We’re talking about teaching professionals or X-shape leaders and all of that stuff, we should be focused on learning for transfer, because that’s gonna be the most important thing is, can you take a skillset, transfer it to a new situation? Add to your skillset, transfer it to a new situation, like, how are we applying this? And we can’t forget our mission, right? Our mission of education, particularly in public, looked different 50 years ago, it looks a lot different now, but we haven’t made the necessary changes. That mission is still the same. And then in terms of advice for peers and fellow institutional leaders, I would say, first and foremost, specifically a Publix or at non-profit privates, where you have, sort of, not a great deal of stability and executive leadership that stays for a decade. [chuckle] What you need is, you need absolute stalwart executive support. It doesn’t happen without it.

0:34:52.1 ST: I was very, very fortunate. My former Provost, Dr. Stacey Haney, she was just remarkable. She took the hits that needed to be taken. She used the levers as much as possible, because she saw the big picture, which is you have to invest now, you gotta get it straight now, because that demographic, traditional cliff is coming, and it’s gonna be a double cliff, because it’s not only a cliff of actual students of the age of 18, but it’s also a demographic cliff of students that are prepared for university or college level work. Which is also gonna change the landscape of higher ed, and so, that executive leadership, if you don’t have it, that’s a problem.

0:35:40.0 JN: Yeah. No, so helpful, Sasha, and I think about what our partners should be thinking about in this space? I mean, I don’t think there’s one thing to go out and do on this, but certainly a lot of macro considerations, and I think the first one really is understanding what’s happening here, or not putting it in kinda the side of desk. I read this in Inside Higher Ed and kinda write it off, but starting to think about how it transfers into our market points more generally and what it means from a macro market standpoint. So again, I so appreciate your time, Sasha, it was an absolute joy to have you on Office Hours today, and I think your endless wisdom, hopefully it made all of us a lot smarter at the end of the day. To our listeners, thank you again for joining us, and should you have any questions or want to talk more about the topic of alternative providers, micro-credentialing, etcetera, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at [email protected]. But other than that, thanks again, everyone, and we’ll see you on the next edition of Office Hours at EAB. Take care.

0:36:34.2 ST: Thank you.


0:36:41.8 Speaker 1: Thanks for listening. Please join us next week when our experts look at how law schools fared during the pandemic, and discuss some big changes they think are needed in terms of how we educate and license attorneys in this country. Until then, thank you for your time.