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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why are Business Leaders Looking to Online Education?


A recent survey in Higher Edu entitled Ready or Not brings forward an interesting concept that business leaders and senior college leadership have widely varying perspectives on how well they are preparing students to achieve within the marketplace. It also discusses the impeding changes and how brand names of elite schools may be impacted by quality online educational programs. 

The Inside Higher Ed's 2014 survey of chief academic officers found that 96% believed they were doing a good job (1). They were adequately preparing students for life and helping them gain knowledge that will be useful in the market and their personal lives. It is possible to see this as a reflection of perspective of the function and responsibilities of academic leaders within higher education. 

A problem occurs when business leaders are saying something completely different.  A Gallop poll survey indicates that 14% of Americans and 11% of business leaders believe college graduates are fully prepared (2).  Business leader’s rank the knowledge candidates have as important (84%) and where they received the degree least important (9%).

That creates a fundamental problem.  The definitions and criteria used by college administrators, the general population, and business leaders are different. In some ways, this may heighten the higher education crisis the country is experiencing as it works through what the actual focus and purpose of college should be. Should it be broad and help students gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world or should it be focused to help business leaders employ graduates?

Both the broad and specific arguments have merit. Costs and economic considerations are pushing this discussion as practicality must meet functionality. Business leaders want a practical focus on their industry needs and college leaders want to develop the entire person. No right or wrong in each of the formations and when the puzzle is solved higher education will move forward into its next development. 

Online education is new, brazen, and is moving to higher levels development. Business leaders are open to the concept of online education if it meets their knowledge needs. We can see this in their high ranking of knowledge interests and low ranking in school name. Within the hallowed halls of higher education and research the college name means everything and those who have not attended an elite school are seen as less capable. 

 When online schools create market credibility they are likely to draw significant business interest.  If programs are focused on the practical aspects of modern working life, but also provide enough seeds to create a broader context to that life, they may find themselves in significant demand. Business leaders will appreciate the relevance and academic leaders can still fulfill their missions. The definition of a name brand education may change. For traditional schools this type of change may be more difficult.

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