How the delivery of education is changing things in the business office

Online Learning PictureWith the rise of MOOCs, competency based classes and centers of excellence, colleges and universities are changing the way educational content is being delivered. As students’ experiences are transformed, business office processes are also affected. Most institutions that are experimenting with new types of education delivery are also looking for ways to monetize that content, meaning traditional semester- or credit-based billing systems and other business office processes may need tweaking in the coming months and years.

At most colleges and universities, new modes of education delivery have not yet resulted in notable changes to the bottom line. But as various institutions experiment with new ways to monetize those delivery methods, business office personnel may soon be handling new types of payments, billing and revenue. “There is some anticipation that a lucrative business model will evolve [from MOOCs or other new education models,” says Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor and director of the Center for Online Learning at theUniversity of Illinois Springfield. “Anytime you have 30,000 to 50,000 or more customers, there surely is money to be made.”

Here are some of the possibilities to watch for.


While online courses have long been part of the revenue mix for most colleges and universities, it remains to be seen how the newer trend toward massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs, will affect the business office. The leading MOOC developers have various ideas for producing revenue from their content. Udacity, for instance, is pursuing a model that connects the top 5 percent of its students with employers, for a standard personnel recruiting fee, Schroeder says. Among Coursera’s monetization strategies is the plan to charge for certification exams upon completion of a MOOC. The University of Illinois-Springfield charges $50 for MOOC students to receive a certificate of completion after taking a course, but there are few takers thus far, Schroeder says.

In addition to these models, there is significant potential to sell advertising space within the online or MOOC classroom, similar to the ads that appear on the right column following a Google search, Schroeder says. And some universities are considering disaggregating content and selling it to community colleges and others as content to include in their general education classes.

California’s San Jose State University (SJSU) is already creating revenue with San Jose State Plus, a group of MOOCs available for credit to veterans, current SJSU students, or students in high school or community college, to provide online, accessible, affordable, engaging and highly effective courses created by SJSU faculty to be available at a very affordable price. These open, online courses help reduce bottlenecks in courses that are often over-enrolled, frequently repeated, and required for graduation. At $150 per course, San Jose State Plus allows students to take entry-level math, college algebra or elementary statistics at a lower price and without actually being on campus. While the idea was to give another option to students who must retake the courses, or couldn’t get into the on-campus versions, the majority of students taking these MOOCs are not SJSU students.

Competency-Based Classes

In addition to MOOCs, the trend toward focused career readiness has led more colleges and universities to develop more competency-based classes, which focus on achieving mastery of skills rather than traditional academic credits. Some universities are making significant revenue from competency-based offerings,Schroeder says, and others are working to develop such programs.

Western Governors University, chartered in 1996 by the governors of 19 western states, has used the competency-based learning model since its beginning. As other colleges and universities add more competency-based programs, they expect to see interest from employers and students who want to complete a certificate program and go straight to work, rather than working toward a traditional degree. “There is significant potential for revenue from these sources, but we are still a year or two away from a successful business model,” Schroeder says.

To be prepared for potential changes, business office professionals should stay aware of the trends and maintain ongoing communications with academic leaders. Those who find ways to smoothly adapt business processes to accommodate monumental shifts in the field of education will become leaders of a new paradigm.


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