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participants' responses to this interview.
chief academic officer,
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington,
April 16, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); David Broden, Janis Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland
(phone), Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald (phone), Jim Olson (phone) and Bob White
Key points made by
Online and for-profit colleges and universities are the fastest growing
component of the post-secondary education industry. They are growing in
quality and appeal, serving many students for whom traditional settings do
not work well. Increasingly students in mainline post-secondary schools
are taking online courses as a supplement, or instead of, traditional
classroom options. One way
could enter this market could be to start its own online public
university, with an executive team separate from the management of
established colleges and universities.
A. Welcome and introductions—Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced David Clinefelter, Chief Academic
Clinefelter has a B.A. from Graceland University, Iowa and a master's and
Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. He has joined Walden University
within the last two weeks. Between 2002 and today he was vice president of
academic affairs and provost, Kaplan University. Before joining Kaplan,
Clinefelter was president of
in his career he worked in K-12 education as a teacher, high school
principal and superintendent of schools.
B. Comments and discussion—During
Clinefelter’s comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the
following points were raised:
1. Distance learning has a
advent of the Internet (with online education) has made major expansion of
distance learning possible. Distance learning, both (for-profit and
non-profit) has been present for years in the form of correspondence
courses, Clinefelter said.
I was at Graceland, we had started a distance learning program in
nursing—the first accredited program of its kind. At that time in the
‘80’s it was correspondence," he said. "When I became academic dean at
Graceland we expanded our online offerings out from nursing. Then I
migrated into the for-profit side. There had always been proprietary
schools and career schools operating for-profit. Since the early days of
our country there were schools like this, preparing people for trades and
business. If you went to college it was to be a minister, doctor, or
3. Steep growth in recent
years in online and for-profit universities--Kaplan
Inc., which had been best known for its testing services, moved into
higher education by purchasing another company called Quest Education
Corporation. Quest owned a couple of schools in Iowa, including Hamilton
College and the American Institute of Business, Clinefelter said. He
joined Kaplan in 2002 to help turn the American Institute of Business into
their online school, using the existing structure and accreditation as a
platform. From this base Kaplan expanded to 60,000 students in seven
years, he said.
Walden is based
here in Minneapolis
and has no campus’ it’s all online. Walden began in the early 70’s, with
doctorate degrees. Its niche was to tailor the PhD degree to people that
needed independent study and non-traditional schedules. Walden grew
quickly as well after being purchased by Laureate Learning Systems—from
5,000 to over 40,000 now. Laureate is an international corporation that
owns 40+ universities around the world.
of Phoenix is best known nationally. It was founded by a university
professor who wanted to serve adults. Phoenix is the largest educational
institution in the world, with more than 450,000 students online or on
Capella is also
based in Minneapolis
and is like Walden in that it focuses on doctorate and masters degrees.
Most others focus on undergraduate and professional certifications. The
big programs are business, criminal justice, paralegal studies, nursing
and information technology.
DeVry, Strayer, ITT and
Corinthians are others. “There are about a dozen of these universities
that are online, for-profit. Some have campuses and some are all online,”
Nine percent of the
undergraduate students in the country are attending for-profit
universities. They are growing rapidly. “When I came into this industry
(for-profit) it was 3 percent. In just under ten years the share of
students in the country has tripled.”
A study published two years
ago in 2008 by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that
in the 2006-07 academic year, two-thirds of 2-year and 4-year institutions
reported offering online, hybrid/blended learning, or other distance
education courses. Sixty-one percent of 2-year and 4-year institutions
reported offering online courses, 35 percent reported blended courses and
26 percent reported other types of college-level credit-granting distance
The most common factors
cited as reasons to pursue distance education are the demand for flexible
schedules, access to college for students who would otherwise not have
access and more available courses.
Find the report at:
Role of non-profit colleges and universities in online learning--Graceland
was an early leader and a traditional non-profit, he said. Today almost
every public university has some form of online courses. MNSCU has
programs that students can go to and take classes online and get a degree
without ever entering the classroom.
The liberal arts colleges
have been the slowest to get into online learning. Online doesn’t make as
much sense for their business model, which is about the campus experience.
“Since I’ve come into this
business there has been more and more acceptance of the idea of online
learning,” he said. The environment was hostile at first. The number of
students attending online classes is going up dramatically, both
for-profit and non-profit. There seems to be no end in sight for this
“There may be a student in a
dorm room, on the U of M campus, taking a class online instead of going
across campus. Universities have had to restrict this,” it is so popular,
A member observed that
“non-profit” institutions still must make money and meet costs. The
thought processes are not much different between non-profits and
These schools are legitimate, accredited and on equal standing--A
member asked Clinefelter how traditional institutions view the course
credits from online, for-profit schools.
“There used to be a very
strong bias against online and for-profit. But now with so many schools
offering online programs it has faded.”
The key thing for transfer
of credit is not so much online or ground-based, but the accreditation.
There are two forms of accreditation—regional and national. Regional is
the most stringent. If you’re the student of a regionally accredited
institution, your credits will travel from one to another. But even though
credits may transfer they do not always count because they may not work
toward a particular degree program.
This is becoming an issue,
as it is common for students to piece together their education from a
variety of sources. “More and more students in the country are graduating
with more credits than they need.” It’s an issue because these credits are
paid for, by them and by the taxpayer through federal financial aid.
New models of learning are
made possible, by technology. Some online courses do require in-person
interaction, so schools may run a ‘residency’ program. Walden requires
20-day residencies for their PhD’s. They rent +-hotel conference rooms for
4-6 days at a time and hold meetings.
In blended learning
environments, students may come to class one day a week and online two; or
classroom two and online one.
6. Facing critics and
skeptics of online education--“I’ve
had battles throughout my career,” Clinefelter said, “with critics that
say it’s not ‘real’ education. Or that the relationships are lacking.”
Online learning has a few
advantages to the student, he argued:
-- You have to be engaged.
You can’t fall asleep in the back of the room.
-- You have to be active, participating in the discussion and
communicating with classmates or faculty.
-- It is conducive to
different learning styles: the time, format and location.
-- You can learn at your own
time, on your own time.
-- A lot of your biases go
away when you’re online—you deal with people based on their ideas, not
their race, gender, or social or economic status. That’s a powerful idea.
The US Department of
Education commissioned a lit review of studies on online learning,
published in 2009 (http://tinyurl.com/yc9yd7u).
It found that in terms of student engagement, “blended” classroom/online
learning turned out to be the most effective, followed second by online
learning and, third, the traditional classroom.
Online discussions can be
measured and thought-through, or live and spontaneous. There are benefits
to being measured, but it is slower too. Online schools can do live
discussions and blended programs can have spontaneity in the classroom
“At Kaplan we had a 1 hour
program each week, where students would enter a live chat room with the
7. Question of student
member asked, what percentage of students at online schools fail? “This is
a huge question,” Clinefelter responded, “that for-profit schools talk
about daily.” The main metric they use is completion. Most for-profits do
not talk about their graduation rates because there are many qualifiers.
Part of the challenge is
that graduation rates have a lot to do with the type of student that
enrolls and how schools filter during admissions. For-profits in general
have higher-risk students: working parents, people that have not been in
learning for a while.
At Kaplan they were
comparable to an open enrollment, public university. That would be the
30-40 percent range.
Quality control is a common
concern. “When I came to for-profit I was worried and skeptical. Would
they abuse students? I found that it is precisely the opposite. The
for-profit motive drives you to provide good customer service. You can
take shortcuts on courses and quality, but you’ll be put out of business.”
8. Recommendations to
are here, a member said to Clinefelter, and they are working. What should
the government do? What would be your guidance to the legislature on what
ought to be done to work with for-profit schools?
“It’d be fun to give a
practical and impractical response…
“Practically, provide better
access with an online government university.” Lay down something like the
University of Maryland, University College. That school was set up by the
state not as a subsidiary of an established university, but as its own
“I’ve been involved with
these public schools that are designed to serve adults—dealing with entire
demographics that are not served well by most schools.” They fit a
particular mission and they provide access and educate people that the
states need; and the states do need them badly.
Clinefelter advocates that
the state create something like this. “Create it new and let it run. The
United States needs more people with college education. We’re slipping
dramatically in the world rankings of people with a college education. We
have 28 percent in the country with a four-year degree. To be competitive
on the world education stage we need 45-50 percent.
“The one thing the
for-profits fear is a public online competitor. The publics have a brand.
If the U of M created a good online program they’d be very tough to
In Maryland, what is the
atmosphere between the online and the traditional learning systems? “They
don’t feel like they’re competing, because they’re working with two
different demographics.” They each have their own management.
MnSCU now delivers a very
significant portion of its classes online—something approaching 25
percent. “Maybe they are the place where this component of public
education will reside.”
9. Online schools can be
must cover costs, a member observed. Tell us about the differences in
financing between online and bricks-and-mortar.
Infrastructure is much less
expensive at online schools. Faculty work from home. The for-profit folks
have been very good at holding costs down because they hire many part time
faculty. “But they must have the full time support staff,” he said.
Online schools separate
course preparation from the teaching of the courses. One group of
professionals develops a course and its content. The teachers, then, all
work from that developed material. All students take that same course and
sometimes move at their own pace. “It is much more efficient,” Clinefelter
said, than each professor creating his/her own course.
A typical full time faculty
member at Kaplan teaches 14 courses in a year. At a liberal arts college
it maxes out at 8. And online they have up to 30 students in a course. Yet
through the course structure the students communicate more with each other
and with the professor than is often the case in the traditional setting.
There is a movement around
the United States and around the world to create free material—called open
source. There is a video on You Tube that shows a person explaining
algebra in a way that is clear and makes sense. It has been viewed
millions of times. Materials like this are beginning to replace expensive
textbooks and free individual faculty members from designing their own
Blended learning opens the
proposition of productivity. “This question comes up in the defense
industry” a member observed. “How are we going to train our engineers? The
answer to which many are arriving is cooperative relationships with
Lab courses may be taught
virtually and are very impressive. There are programs that do chemistry
experiments online that are too dangerous or too expensive to do in
person; like landings in a flight simulator. You’re absolutely right there
are some things that can’t be done online, but the technology is getting
better and better. Who knows what will be possible?
“This costs much less to the
state. The cost is shouldered by the consumer, not the taxpayer.”
10. Change is inevitable--“We’re
just seeing the start of a revolution,” Clinefelter said in closing. The
technology is moving in such a way that it is going to dramatically remake
learning whether the legislature “lets” it or not.
This is called the long-tail
phenomena. It’s happened to news media and books, retailers and will
happen to education. More and more quality educational material is going
to be available for free. Wikipedia is creating a Wiki-University, where
people can go and learn things from experts, for free. There is a company
called Live Mocha that provides free foreign language instruction in part
by linking two speakers in different parts of the world.
In this new context, the
role of the university changes from providing to also validating the
credit. “This is going back to when you just needed to be learned in the
law, and pass the bar, to be a lawyer.”