Maintaining Branch Campuses and Online Offerings Maximizes Institutional FootprintRonald Nordone | Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at the LeBow College of Business, Drexel University
The business and management education marketplace is fiercely competitive, and institutions have to push harder than ever before to attract highly qualified prospective students from across their service areas and beyond. While many institutional leaders are trying to decide between offering programs through branch campuses or online, the diversity in today’s student demographic suggests that it might be best to not approach this as an either/or” question. In this interview, Ronald Nordone shares his thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of branch campuses and online, and discusses how Drexel’s LeBow school leverages both modalities to offer programming.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for business schools to expand their reach beyond the students in their immediate local areas?
Ronald Nordone (RN): Every university has enrollment goals, and we’re all working to expand our reach domestically and internationally. The market for highly qualified graduate business students is more competitive than ever, particularly in our region, with an ever-increasing number of schools recruiting from a smaller pool of prospects.
It’s important to provide more flexibility in our graduate programs given the increasing demands on our students’ time. Online and hybrid programs allow you to reach these markets and deliver the same, high-quality programs as you do on campus in face-to-face classes.
Evo: How effective are branch campuses at helping business schools to create this new tier of accessibility?
RN: Drexel LeBow also offers graduate programs at branch campuses through a combination of courses delivered face-to-face, online and via videoconference. Online delivery allows us to connect our students at all our branch campuses with our students studying on main campus. It also allows us to expand our course offerings, particularly elective courses, to students in secondary and tertiary markets while reducing delivery costs.
Evo: Conversely, how effective are online degree programs at helping business schools create accessibility for prospective graduate students?
RN: As a college, we realized early on that you can provide the same high-quality program online that you do on-campus. We also recognized that you can create in an online setting the same cohesiveness that students benefit from in a face-to-face class.
We do this by delivering programs in a cohorted format, where groups of students advance simultaneously through a program. The formula works, as consistently 90 percent to 100 percent of each cohort graduates. Our consistent Top-15 ranking in the world by the Financial Times over the past two years demonstrates the success of this approach and our program. This particular ranking is important to us, as it’s our alumni who provide the feedback and discuss their return-on-investment from the program.
Evo: In your opinion, are online programs or branch campuses more valuable for the business school when it comes to expanding reach?
RN: Like most schools, we are always trying to identify the most cost-effective way to expand our reach into secondary and tertiary markets. Our goal is to deliver the optimal learning experience while being cognizant of the costs associated with delivering high-quality programs.
In some cases, we’ve strategically placed centers in key locations to deliver face-to-face courses. While there are obviously additional fixed costs associated with opening and maintaining a center, we’ve been able to keep our costs of delivery down by incorporating hybrid and/or online modules into the learning experience. In other markets, it proved to be more effective to simply promote online offerings.
In the end, we believe we’re able to deliver the same high-quality programs whether on-campus, online or off-site because we use the same faculty regardless of the mode of delivery. We’re proud that we’ve been able to freeze our graduate business tuition rate again for the 2015-2016 academic year by focusing on the overall cost of delivery.
This interview has been edited for length.