Without the status of the Ivy League or a top 10 rank, institutions of higher learning are finally taking a hard look at the traditional higher educational model and asking; how will we survive? As many institutions struggle to reconcile finances with the decreases in federal and state funding, the search is underway for creative solutions that will sustain legacies for decades to come.

Among the many strategies considered is how to successfully integrate an online learning component. Through research done with large public and non-profit universities in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, The Melior Group has found that there is a great need to reconcile traditional education models with the rapidly evolving expectations of students, alumni and employers.

Students today expect both online and traditional learning opportunities as part of their program of study. While it is still rare to find non-profit state sponsored colleges offering exclusively online coursework, universities exploring alternative revenue streams are finding online courses significantly more profitable than traditional models. Many are examining how to do more than just offer existing class work online and are considering strategies that integrate the old with the new, while still preparing students for the challenges of the workforce.


One reason why online components are now an expectation: the demographics of college students have changed over the past decade. The rising numbers of non-traditional students attending college, combined with changes in student aid and considerations for how to pay for a college education, has pushed the topic of online education to the forefront. College students are older (over the age of 23), are often working at least part-time to help fund their education and don’t necessarily live on campus. Their needs are simply different compared to the typical college student of the past. In research we’ve done with this non-traditional student segment, we’ve learned that they expect the schools to be accommodating to their schedules, not vice versa. An online component to education is especially attractive to these students because it allows the student to fit schooling around their lives, rather than having to fit their life around a rigid school schedule.


The success of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have finally shown universities that a successful online learning model is possible and the opportunities that arise from offering online curriculum (as part of a degree or free) can bolster an institution’s image, enhance the educational experience for students, and even encourage alumni engagement. [See the link for Colgate’s model below.]

There are now a number of institutions that have easily integrated online coursework in many academic disciplines. Yet, we recognize that the road to get there many have been a bit bumpy. Securing buy-in from key constituents (trustees, administrators, faculty, alumni), developing the technology, adjusting curriculum and teaching methods are just some of the bumps experienced. Understanding where potential sources of pushback may erupt can greatly reduce unexpected threats posed by administrators, faculty and alums who are resistant to change.


Armed with the right information, an institution can consider the factors that are likely to have the greatest impact on successfully implementing online offerings. Asking the right questions of key target audiences, and understanding how student expectations can impact program offerings before and during a reconstruction period, can bolster confidence in decision-making and support optimal use of resources.

For universities looking to reconcile a traditional education model with 21st century expectations, an investment in MOOCs may provide a competitive advantage. Upon initial consideration of an integrated program, it is critical to investigate internal boundaries, student expectations and employer preferences. This knowledge will provide a solid base from which to make the hard decisions and to craft a roadmap that fits the unique circumstances for each institution. With knowledge of the top factors that may present internal and external roadblocks, an implementation plan can include steps to cultivate internal buy-in as well as solve programmatic and logistical challenges along the way.

HAVE A QUESTION? Reach out to The Melior Group here for an answer at efoley@meliorgroup.com

Take a look at Colgate’s Model here.

Leave a Reply