Tuesday, October 31, 2023 - Jeff and Michael are joined by the CEOs of Academic Partnerships, Fernando Bleichmar, and Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda, to talk about the future of online learning, including a new study on ROI, the role of degrees vs. credentials in the job market, and what AI will mean for online ed. This episode is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ascendium Education Group.
Jeff and Michael are joined by the CEOs of Academic Partnerships, Fernando Bleichmar, and Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda, to talk about the future of online learning, including a new study on ROI, the role of degrees vs. credentials in the job market, and what AI will mean for online ed. This episode is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ascendium Education Group.
00:00 - Intro
04:58 - ROI of Online Programs at Universities
10:45 - Online Education and Pricing with Coursera and Academic Partners
16:04 - Future of Higher Education Partnerships
21:01 - Online learning, Certifications, and Their Value in the Job Market
26:27 - The Impact of AI on Higher Education.
33:17 - Higher Education Innovation And Online Learning
36:42 - Disruptive Innovation In Higher Education With A Focus On Pricing
40:29 - Higher Ed Partnerships And Their Impact On The Future Of Online Education
47:09 - Education and Government Regulation
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Future of Online Ed Transcript
Lowering costs, extending access, increasing value. That was the promise of online learning, Jeff. And there have been a number of universities that have delivered on those promises, but it hasn't been nearly as widespread as perhaps many of us would've liked. Or frankly, the evidence hasn't always been that great.
Yeah, right Michael, there's been all this growth in online higher ed. But also many questions, at what cost? So today we're going to talk with the CEOs of two companies that partner with institutions on getting their online programs up and running, to better understand what is the future of Online U?
This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org. This episode is brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Working to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation, data and information, policy and institutional transformation.
I'm Michael Horn.
And I'm Jeff Selingo.
Michael, so you like what I did there with the future of Online U?
I love it. It's cute, Jeff. As long as we don't actually change the name of this podcast.
Well, we still have way too much swag to give away to do that. But in all seriousness, we've talked a lot about online learning in the six previous seasons of the show. We've also discussed value, and the ROI of the college credential. And we've talked about OPMs, online program managers that partner with colleges and universities to create and market their online programs. So it seems all three topics, online ed, value and external partners, continue to drive the conversation in higher ed with an opportunity to really reshape what's next. So it's likely this isn't the last time we're going to be discussing these issues.
And get this, Jeff, from data I recently pulled, 70% of students in higher ed, in accredited higher ed, 70% took at least one online course in '21 '22 academic year. And Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University, they both now have over 200,000 enrollments.
And Michael, where I'm a special advisor at Arizona State, it has more than 60,000 online students. But what I think gets lost in those mega numbers, is that a lot of institutions are doing online education now. 13 years ago, it was largely the for-profits. Then online ed, I think, moved mainstream when the brand name universities like Harvard and Michigan did MOOCs in 2011, 2012. And then after that, it became much more acceptable. And you had all these companies from 2U to Pearson, to academic partnerships helped colleges get online in the last decade. And then of course, COVID accelerated the move online.
Yeah, for sure. And so this seemed like the perfect moment for us to get an update on where online education goes from here. There's talk of short and stackable certificates, artificial intelligence, of course, pricing. And yep, one of our favorite topics, Jeff, ROI and value.
Yeah, Michael. And as a former editor, I'm always asking for a news peg. Why are we talking about this now? And recently, one of the OPMs, Academic Partnerships, released a report that we'll link to in the show notes with a very clear methodology for measuring value to the learner. Not in some high level qualitative way, but in a deeply quantitative set of measures. And it caught my eye, and I thought it would catch yours too, Michael.
Yeah, it did. I was glad you flagged it for me, because frankly, we see a lot of impact reports in higher education, but I'm always a little bit suspect of them. But this one actually felt pretty different, and so I wanted to learn more, and we thought it made for a great time to check in on the deeper state of online learning and where the puck is going, if you will. And Coursera has also been doing some really innovative work as well. So we thought let's bring the CEOs of both academic partnerships and Coursera together on the show, to talk about the future of online learning.
From Academic Partnerships, we have Fernando Bleichmar. Being named CEO of Academic Partnerships, Fernando led the US Higher Education division of Cengage, which is of course for longtime listeners of this podcast, they'll maybe remember, that's when we had him on this podcast a few years ago during the pandemic. And our other guest is also someone we've had on this show, back when we taped live at GSV before the pandemic. He's none other than Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of Coursera. Fernando and Jeff, you've both been on this podcast with us before, so welcome back to Future U.
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Likewise. Thanks, Michael. Thanks for having us.
So Fernando, I want to start with this new study that you had all done at Academic Partnerships. It breaks down the return on investment, the ROI of the programs that you support, and it shows some really promising numbers for these online programs at a variety of universities. Can you tell us what the study showed? How many programs and students are we talking about? What did you find? How did you go about collecting the information and verifying it? And really, what's the bottom line? What's the headline set of findings on ROI?
Yeah, of course. And we're very excited about this analysis that we did with our partners. It's the first time from Academic Partnerships, that we do this type of analysis. And we felt it was very important given the conversations that are happening, and should be happening around returns, about debt crisis, affordability crisis, et cetera, that we said, look, this is how we think about it. This is how we think about return on investment. And we commissioned a leading research firm, Ipsos, that does work with Reuters and ABC News, because we wanted them to do the methodology, and talk to a thousand recent graduates from across around 25 of our partner universities.
And we were very happy with the results. I think it reflects the type of partner universities we have, and the value that they provide to their students and their community. I think headlines for me, the most important one is the payback, which means how much did your salary increase after you did the degree divided by how much did you pay for the degree? The payback was 1.2 years, which I think is amazing. And then the other thing that was really interesting is that the average student debt for students was around $6,000. So very high return with very low burden, if you will. And we focus on regional public universities that provide highly affordable, high quality programs. So it's not surprising, but it's really good to see the impact that our partners are having.
Let me stay with that for a moment, Fernando, because this study seems a little different in some important respects from some of the other impact reports we've seen in the past. Why in your mind, is it important for the OPM in this case and not the institutions themselves necessarily alone, to be transparent across the programs that you represent?
Yeah. Look, I think everybody should try their best to provide information about the value of programs to students. I think some of our university partners do their work, I know Jeff and Coursera do work, we do work. I think more data, more work is actually very useful for the dialogue. The reason that we did it is for a couple of key considerations. One is we have scale, so it would be hard for our regional, public, some of our partners to try to hire Ipsos to commission research, et cetera. We have a scale that allows us to do it.
And secondly, we have at Academic Partnerships taken a very strong view that, look, we are a mission-driven company. We are trying to improve students' lives. We have to have our own view of are we fulfilling our mission. And that's why we did this, we're going to now do it on a recurring basis. And we are giving the data out publicly, that we're not trying to hide anything, we're trying to show all the data. Because I think it's an important part of the dialogue.
So Jeff, I'm curious about your take on this question at Coursera. How do you think about ROI as a measure specifically? Because there's a lot of talk right now, not only among government entities and institutions, but also the public at large.
Yeah, I think it's really important. When we think about where Coursera started, it was with MOOCs back in 2012, where the primary objective was access. How can we provide access to anyone in the world to get in front of great educational content from the best professors, in the best universities in the world? The cost is so low that it's like $49 a month. For the open content, it's about $49 a month. You could watch the lecture videos for free. It's really been much more about access.
But even when you're charging $49 a month for say, a professional certificate from Microsoft or Google, you want to get some sense of whether people are finding it to be valuable. So we basically do surveys of our professional certificate completers. We just finished ours in 2023. It was 55,000 learners in 190 countries. And 77% of the learners said that they got some career benefit, 91% of learners in developing economies said that they got a career benefit. And when we think about people who are unemployed, a third of them said that they were employed after completing it, and almost all, more than nine out of 10 say that this was really beneficial to me. So, the cost is just really low.
What we're seeing that's pretty exciting is we have ACE credit recommendations, and soon ECTS credit recommendations for many of these professional certificates. And now universities are allowing students to take them as career electives when they're pursuing a degree program. So not only is it flexible and kind of job relevant, comes from industry, it also can count towards your college degree.
Jeff, I think we want to come back to that in a couple of beats. But before we leave the ROI conversation completely, it strikes me that an important piece of this that perhaps distinguishes both of you, Coursera and Academic Partnerships, is that the programs that you support, they're not just thinking about the R in the ROI, but you alluded to it, in addition to the numerator you're also thinking about the denominator. How do you make sure that the investment is low? That this isn't going to cost a lot? Fernando, you talked about the low debt number that these students in the programs you support have.
And so, it seems to me that you both are supporting programs that are not just accessible because they're online, but they're also priced much lower than lots of other online programs out there. I'm curious about how you think about the types of programs that you support, and how you work with the colleges and universities in actively pricing them in a low way, and you get the logic behind those price points. So Fernando, let's start with you, and then Jeff, we can turn to you after.
Yeah, I think it's a really good point, Michael. And obviously a lot is written about the, call it crisis in higher education in the US. And sometimes we mix a debt crisis, with an access and affordability crisis, with a value crisis. And for me, the most important one is the value one. And value, you all know the data of what percent of Americans are saying education might not be worth it, advanced degrees might not be worth it. At the end of the day, the core for me is on the student and the value. And for a student, the value is based on this equation of how much do I have to pay, and how much do I get back? But the how much do I have to pay cannot be prohibitive, if you will.
For us, it is very important, this idea of what's the cost? And we think of cost in two ways: one way is money, and the second part, which I don't think is talked enough about, is time. Most of the students we serve, I think 85% have a job. For them, when you ask them what matters to you to where you choose the degree you get in getting a degree, they say, well, obviously the recognition of it. Will I be able to improve my life with it? Second, can I afford it? But third, how do I complete it in my own schedule as quickly as possible? And for minority students, this is even a further consideration than for the average student.
We purposely focus on helping partners that are working to solve that affordability, high quality and flexibility problem for students. We don't do the pricing. The universities we work decide the pricing. What we get to affect is which universities do we choose to partner with? And our sweet spot is universities that are targeting that nursing, education, business student that is working and that wants to get a high value added, low cost, high quality degree as quickly as possible.
Fernando, actually just staying with you for one more beat. I was talking with someone who was in one of your programs, and it was interesting because it was nursing, they made the observation that the quote unquote, perceived prestige of the program was not the point. It was the learning and then the ability to upskill and get the credentials, so that they could do a higher salary job in the nursing profession. And so therefore, I guess price could really be lower. Is that a criteria you're thinking about in which academic programs you decide to support or not?
Yeah, I think nursing education obviously have very linked kind of certificates and completions. Other areas like business are not as clear, but there's value in the employer. What we're focusing more is areas that meet critical workforce needs, that really allow the university to really help students and help the communities. I mean, there's a lot, everybody knows about the gaps in nursing and number of nurses, same with teachers. It's almost that we go where we think there's high demand, and the high demand is more based on macro factors and based on the local needs of different communities. That's how we think about it.
No, that's super helpful. Jeff, let me turn to you on this. I'd love to know how you think about the question of which programs you will support, and how you get universities to say, we're not just going to use this online program as a cash cow to perhaps support all the other costs that we have as university, but really price this at a lower rate, perhaps, to serve the students that need access. And it strikes me, you've worked with some pretty prestigious institutions that have then launched some online programs at a significant discount rate to what they otherwise would've probably done.
Yeah, it's a great point. I really agree with what Fernando's saying. It's about value, and you want to make sure there's a good return. We really focus on partnering with programs that are mostly in business, technology and data science. Not only those three, but primarily those three categories. And then we don't have our choice of any school, but we certainly get to choose who we work with and don't. And to Fernando's point, we don't set the price, but we don't take on programs that are really expensive. It's not what learners on Coursera are looking for, and that's not where we think the world is heading, so we just don't do those programs.
And to your point, Michael, in the US you've got universities like University of Pennsylvania offering a master's in computers and information technology for $25,000, with a similar on-campus degree program that is multiples more expensive. And there's a different kind of student, a working student, as Fernando says, who can't make it to campus and isn't looking for some of the residential elements of the program, that frankly really find that super valuable.
And what we're seeing as well is when you think about this internationally, we have really started expanding more to India. And there's some really great IITs, Indian Institute of Technology, and India Institute of Management universities. We just launched a master's in data science with a specialization in AI from IIT Guwahati, which is a top five technology school in all of India. It's $4,500. And this is not only available to people in India, this is available to anybody in the world. And of course, it's in English.
So you're going to start seeing, and I don't know that people realize this yet, but when potential students look at what's available, it's not only going to be what's available on campus where they live, and not only what's available online from US institutions, it's any university in the world who puts up an online degree and wants to offer it to anyone in the world. These students can do what workers are now doing, which is learning remotely, working remotely across borders. And so, I think that the availability of degree programs sometimes at far more affordable rates, is going to be really exploding across borders.
Okay. So I want to talk a little bit more about the future of the partnership model. I just recently was at the P3 EDU conference at the University of Colorado in Denver, where there was a lot of discussion about public-private partnerships. And I want to see where both of you think this is going. We've seen Wiley and Pearson both exiting the market. We've seen a lot of regulatory pressure from Washington about partnerships more broadly, what does the future hold? And Jeff, let's start with you.
Yeah, sure. Partnership, one of the ways that I look at it is partnership looks a lot like collaboration. Collaboration is when basically institutions or individuals who have different skillsets, come together to accomplish something that you couldn't really do on your own. And I think for hundreds of years, many universities and colleges have been able to put together curricular programs and meet the needs of students, and ideally meet the needs of employers when those students graduate, doing everything themselves. From hiring the faculty, to setting the curriculum, doing the instruction, housing the students, building a football field, having gyms. If you really think about it, that is a very vertically integrated value chain, with one institution doing everything from hoteling to research.
As the world moves faster and career opportunities change faster, they disappear more quickly than they have before, they open up and emerge more quickly than before, and even to do the same job you need to learn new skills faster than ever before. Just look at ChatGPT and generative AI. There is a tidal wave that's just beginning to build around the total transformation of almost every company in the world, to retrain people on how to do their jobs differently with this new technology.
Universities are not designed to have the kind of agility to keep up with this kind of pace all on their own. We are seeing much, much, much more open receptivity from universities saying, there's no way I can build chatbots, do AI tutoring, build coursework, take my thing online, keep up with industry needs, deal with the globalization of talent and cross-border deployment opportunities for my students, speak in multiple languages to serve audiences across the world. It is just happening so fast that universities are saying, I'm going to partner in order to make sure that I have all the capabilities I need to build the value of my institution and to serve the mission of my institution.
Yeah. Really interesting, and similar to what I heard at the P3 conference. Fernando, I'm kind of curious about where you see this market going in terms of partnerships.
Yeah, no, I completely agree with what Jeff is saying. The future requires more flexibility, more nimbleness. You have consolidation and concentration of those that have and those have not. And at the same time, you have tremendous opportunity of student demand. Jeff, you've heard me say this many times, that a lot of universities think there's a demand problem. And I keep thinking there's a supply problem, meaning there are enough students that want to advance their careers through education. You just have to offer the right programs, get them when they're in need, help them get into the program, get through the program, et cetera.
That requires in the digital world in which we are, a lot of sophistication of how do you do marketing, how do you do enrollment, how do you help students? And as the world gets faster, I agree with Jeff that flexibility and nimbleness is important. Scale and resources are also very important. You now have the era of the mega-online university. And if you're a regional university in Nebraska, you have local demand for your programs. It's just very hard to compete on airwaves, on marketing, et cetera, and it's going to be hard for you to do it by yourself. So sophistication and scale also require private-public partnerships in my point of view.
I want to turn to the future of online learning more broadly, and where you both see this going. And Jeff, let's start with you on this one. You referenced it earlier, industry certifications are becoming a much bigger deal, stackable certificates that result in a degree, micro-credentials, much more. But as you know, there are also a lot of questions out there. Anne Kim recently wrote for the Washington Monthly about earning a Google certificate, for example, but then not even getting a job interview at Google. Google is a partner of course, of yours. But leaving aside her specific critique, I just want you to orient us more broadly. Because I think people are trying to make sense of this world of certifications and stackability, and where the value will actually be, to the earlier conversation. Just help orient us, and take us out of the noise into some clarity perhaps.
Yeah, good, thanks. Well, it's interesting. When Coursera first started and these MOOCs came along, people were like, what are these things? These massively open online courses? And after the hype cycle, a lot of people are like, oh, MOOCs are dead. But over the last 10 years, I said to Wall Street, we're going to do more than $600 million of revenue. It's all based on MOOCs. But these online courses are basically like Lego building blocks, and you can just build really interesting things with them.
And so, if you look at a professional certificate like the one from Google that you mentioned, that's a series of four or five courses. Taught by instructors from Google, very, very high quality, highly relevant to doing the job. And they're all job-based. The professional certificates are all oriented around a job. You can learn how to do software engineering from an engineer at Meta who's a software engineer. You can learn how to do UX design from a UX designer at Google. And if you take these on your own, it's $49 a month and it's really valuable. It certainly does not guarantee you a job. I think for the investment that you're making, you're learning skills, you're getting a credential. The credential's not as valuable as a college degree, but it's important to recognize that these professional certificates are getting ACE credit recommended, are now being integrated into college degree programs.
And so, it can be misleading if you think of them as a one-use kind of product. The professional certificate is being used by employees in companies in Egypt to train their employees how to do IT. It's not in a college, it's not on Coursera.org, it's in a company. It's being used by unemployed people in the State of New York to learn the skills, and then the credit for these certificates can count towards SUNY Empire. You can do a workforce development program using a professional certificate in New York, paid for by the Department of Labor. You can go get placed in a job with an employer in New York or elsewhere. And then if you want to, you can actually enroll in any one of 120 online degree programs at SUNY Empires, and get credit toward that online degree for the work that you did in the professional certificate.
One more use case is that if you are a student at University of Texas Austin, you can take one of these certificates while you're a student on campus. It's not like you're always doing it online. Sometimes it's part of a degree, sometimes it's part of a workforce development program, sometimes it's something you just bought on Coursera.org. And I think that kind of flexibility, and using it in different use cases for different audiences, is a huge part of what allows us to meet so many needs and to move so quickly.
Yeah. And I guess that helps with the speed customization, and the points you were making earlier about universities. If you're a full-stack vertically integrated model, that's actually really, really expensive to do what you just described, right?
Yeah. So Fernando, what's your take on these questions? And what's Academic Partnerships doing in this space of micro-credentials, stackability, industry certifications and the rest?
Yeah, I think the first thing that I think we should always remember is that this is very new. The traditional degree has existed for much, much longer than this type of micro-credentials, stackables, et cetera. A lot of it will evolve. And then I think the second thing, and Jeff mentioned this, is use cases. And the use case of someone that needs to do coding in Egypt, is very different than the use case of nurse who's trying to get a specialization that requires a clear degree, so that she can advance her career.
We are very focused on the degree market, and we think there's a lot of opportunities in, especially in nursing, in teaching, in business, which is the areas where we focus mostly in local programs for local schools, local communities. But I agree with Jeff, our numbers are similar. 85% of students say that their degree was worth it. Over 80% said that it helped them advance their career. And Jeff's number says of his population, 90% said it was great. It's just not always the same population. I think sometimes people think of these things as alternatives, rather than compliments. And in terms of what we're doing, we are working with our partners of how to think, especially around stackability, in a way that works for the university and works for the students. And that's what we are doing, I think. We have some certificates with our university partners, et cetera, but where I feel we're really trying to do something that could be very great for students, is around stackability and how to build up to that degree.
Michael, just one more thing to Fernando's point. We did a big survey, a global survey of 3,000 students, 1,100 employers, and then about 200 university administrators, asking perceptions on professional certificates. The employers said in every country, if I could hire someone with either a college degree or a professional certificate, I'd hire someone with a college degree. And for all those people who say... but what they said was, but I'd really rather have someone who has a college degree and a professional certificate. Why not get someone who is broadly educated, and specifically skilled in a job that I need them to do? That's the best of both worlds. And students say the same thing.
And so, when people say... they're often so binary, they're like, what's going to win? The college degree or the micro-credential? And I say, well, how about a college degree that has the adaptability to incorporate a micro-credential? That's going to be the best of both worlds. And if you can make it flexible and affordable, that's going to be a winning solution. I think there's just a level of creativity and flexibility that's happening, at a pace that people don't expect, that they're still kind of thinking in an older, more binary and rigid way.
No, perfect answer, Jeff and Fernando. And it's always struck me that healthcare ought to be the ultimate remixing and laddering up over time, and stackability. Because there are a lot of discreet skills that build up to different levels of whether you're a nurse, and doctor and so forth.
But I want to go to the topic du jour. If last year was the metaverse, this year it's AI. And everyone's talking about it in different respects: how we think about teaching, how we think about academic integrity, what we teach, and more. But it could also be a powerful enabler of a lot of new online models that further lower costs and increase ROI, perhaps. Princeton and NYU just did a large study of which jobs, among 800 jobs, which jobs will be most impacted? 11 of the top 13 jobs that these professors identified as being most impacted, were college professor jobs. It's going to have a really big impact.
What we're doing, really there's six dimensions, and I'll go pretty quickly. One dimension is how will it change the learning experience? Well, we offered something called Coursera Coach. It actually is a personalized tutor that helps students understand the material and work through the course material for 6,000 different courses. It speaks multiple languages. It's stunning. It's stunning to see what this technology can do to help a student learn. We are now pilot testing something called Course Builder. This is using generative AI to help professors build courses, and mix and match components of existing materials with their materials, and then even generate custom and specific assessment questions for students. So the ability to create very custom tailored content for your students, is going to explode.
A third one that we're working on are new types of assessments. It's easier to cheat on many types of assessments that it was not easy to cheat on only a year ago. And so, the way that we assess students is going to change, and a lot of it's going to be more project-based, a lot of it'll be more group-based, and a lot of it'll be far more interactive. Kind of a Socratic kind of method where an AI might actually be... not might, we're working on this right now. It can actually challenge you, like you're defending your dissertation, or like they do in Cambridge and Oxford. This sort of tutorial method of challenging people's thinkings, and doing it at scale in a personalized way.
Another major focus for us is translations. We're using AI, we've already translated 2,000 courses into seven languages. By the end of the year we'll be 4,000 courses into 14 languages. Virtually everyone in the world will be able to take content from any professor on Coursera. Another major thing is teaching students about AI. There's a whole new set of courses on Coursera that teach AI, that our professors and our academic partners can use.
And then the final thing is what we call Career Academy, which gets back to these professional certificates. And I think this is a huge opportunity for higher education. The number of working adults who will so substantially be impacted by AI that they're going to have to get new careers, is going to be in the millions. Globally, it'll be in the tens or hundreds of millions. They're going to want to go someplace to get reeducated and get some credentials to get a new career. And by the way, I think healthcare and education are two really good places. Especially younger people, you cannot automate a primary school teacher or a middle school teacher. Nurses, care providers who are at your bedside, you cannot automate those jobs. I think Fernando's sitting in a really good position right now, and perhaps we are as well. But there's going to be a lot of re-skilling of working people, and so higher education should look beyond the traditional student to find opportunities to serve this growing population who are going to need more education.
Terrific set of thoughts, both of you. Just really appreciate you coming on once again on Future U and sharing the insights.
Yeah, thanks for having us, Michael.
Thanks so much for having us.
Absolutely, and we'll be right back.
This episode is being brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They are workers, parents and caregivers, and neighbors, and colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student-centered, at usprogram.gatesfoundation.org.
This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach, are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first-generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners and rural community members. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org.
Welcome back to Future U. There was so much in that conversation that was interesting, Michael. Let's try to stay short ourselves though, and let Fernando and Jeff's points do the talking, if you will. But what stood out most to you?
Yeah, well, brevity is not always our strength, Jeff. But I'll give you three thoughts. Number one, no surprise, but I really do like the rigor with which Academic Partnerships has attacked the ROI study. I thought the results were intriguing. I will say I hope they take a next step and partner with a third party auditor, or EQOS of course, Education Quality Outcome Standards Board that JFF runs, or someone like that to make them even more impeachable. But not only are the results really positive, I also think it shows a template for a much more meaningful impact report that I would love to see other entities like Academic Partnerships start to replicate, Jeff.
The second point that jumped out to me, I felt like Jeff was like reading from the Clay Christensen playbook of when you start to overshoot as a university fully integrated, then you start to see modular unbundled designs start to build out. And that move away from vertical integration and away from interdependence allows you to do some things that you couldn't do before. In this case, it's really online learning breaking trade-offs, and allowing you to take these modular pieces, these Lego blocks if you will, that Jeff used that analogy, to use them in a lot of different use cases for a lot of different jobs to be done. You can use them in stackable ways, standalone, to upskill, get in the door of an employer, whatever. And so, I think that's pretty powerful. You know I wish some of these blocks were a little bit more interactive, a little more active learning. But I think the point stands, and creates some pretty neat opportunity.
And then third, I guess I'd say Coursera has just this incredible audience on their platform. They can take that with the modular blocks that they have, and really drive costs down, so now we're getting really affordable customization. And as you know Jeff, everyone loves to say, well, gee, online learning in higher ed, it's not like media or somewhere else, where we just haven't seen that price reduction so maybe it's not really disruptive. But to me it's always been a misreading of disruption in the use of technology.
And I pulled this quote from something that Clay Christensen and I wrote, get this, in 2013 for the New York Times for their education issue. And the quote we had was, "Like steam, online education is a disruptive innovation, one that introduces more convenient and affordable products or services that over time, transform sectors. Yet many brick and mortar colleges are making the same mistake as the once dominant tall ships. They offer online courses, but are not changing the existing model. They are not saving students time and money, the essential steps to disruption. And though their approach makes sense in the short term, it leaves them vulnerable as students gravitate toward less expensive colleges."
And so, I think that's what we're seeing right now, and what Jeff and Fernando are both pointing to, is that price is becoming a differentiator. And we see this in a lot of times when disruption is afoot, that first we see convenience and access, and then the market moves to becoming price sensitive. And that's what I think we're moving into right now. And so, it's not just let's talk about the return, but also let's lower the denominator of price. And I will say Coursera, what Jeff talked about, starting that master's in data science with a specialization in AI from IIT Guwahati in India, at a really, really low price by US standards, offering that to anyone in the world, that seems like a game changer to me, Jeff. Because that's a degree that employers already understand, that has real value. They hire engineers from that university. And so, lowering the price in that way, that is really interesting to me. What about you, Jeff? What stood out?
Well, pricing also stood out to me too, as one of the two things I want to talk about. As Fernando I think said, we pick the university partners and they pick the price. And pricing is clearly a big issue with regulators in Washington, especially with graduate debt now outpacing undergraduate debt, and with this regulatory pressure in Congress as well as in the Department of Education. And I think the winners going forward are going to be those that price the degree right, and have the financial models to make those work, both the university and the OPM.
Because if we look back, Michael, on the history of online education, particularly over the last year, over the last decade I should say, back in 2011, 2012 is when MOOCs came on the scene. They were massively open online courses, which basically meant they were free, and nobody could figure out how to make money on them. And then we had these really high cost online degrees, and everybody wondered, well, why are they so high cost if all the costs of educating people in person were out of the system and you could do it at much larger scale? It took us probably a lot longer than I think anyone expected to get to this point now, where the convenience, as you said, is now figured out, the technology is now figured out. And by the way, the cost of technology just continues to drop. Especially now with AI, where AI can start to build some of these courses and really help with faculty, help in terms of teaching assistants and things like that.
I would imagine that the next decade is really going to be focused on pricing. And universities, there will still be some universities with the perfect brand names that I think will continue to charge whatever they want, and there will be always a market for that. But as we think about the next 10 years in higher ed, I think there's going to be a lot more competition on price. And it seems to me that Fernando and Jeff understand that.
And then the second thing that came up is this idea that especially now with the demographic cliff coming, everybody talks about we have too many universities, in terms of colleges and universities, and there's just not enough demand for those institutions. And as Fernando, I think put it, it's not that we have a lack of demand, we just have a lack of supply. And not in terms of institutions, but in alignment of those programs. We're seeing, when we talk about enrollment drops at West Virginia University, which we talked a couple of weeks ago on this podcast, or Miami of Ohio announcing they're going to make some cuts, most of those cuts are in the humanities. And most of these online programs that are being created are not in those low demand programs. They're in high demand programs like healthcare, business and STEM.
And so I think that really, as we think about the next 10 years of online education, we should really be meeting demand in very specific ways, and not just creating programs to create programs. Because clearly that's how higher ed grew, in terms of continuing to just grow and add programs at colleges and universities, without really ever trimming those back, or without really a market need for them in all cases. Now somebody might just say, well, that's not higher ed. But I think in this case, this is a segment of the market. We're not talking about research here, we're not talking about necessarily higher ed for the public good. There's clearly a need for programs across the disciplines. There's clearly a need for research. And I think the universities could continue to do that, and by the way, somewhat with the money that they will be making on online education.
Yeah. And they may make that up in scale, if not price premium anymore. And so, we'll see how that equation changes across. But last question for me, Jeff, we've talked a lot about partnerships also on the show. They talked about the value of partnerships here, and what they bring, and how they enable that modularity and customization, and really allowing for a more affordable offering, if you will, for universities if they choose to price it there. But I know that partnership has been on your mind a lot, so I'm just curious what else stood out to you about their conversation, how that's connected maybe to some other conversations you've had.
Yeah. Michael, I was recently at the P3 EDU conference, which Michelle Marks, who's the chancellor at the University of Colorado at Denver puts on. She used to be at George Mason University where she used to do that conference. And I really like this conference, because it brings together both institutions as well as those who partner, external partners with institutions including OPMs, and the money people. And I moderated a panel with Mark Becker who's now, former president of Georgia State, who's now head of APLU, the Public Land-grant Institutions. Allan Golston from the Gates Foundation, and Jamie Merisotis from Lumina. And what was very clear to me in that conversation and in other conversations at P3, is that partnerships are going to be the thing going forward, as you know.
Michael, we've talked a lot about M and A on the show, mergers and acquisitions, but we have also talked about how deeper partnerships are going to be the thing going forward. And I think that when people think about partnerships in higher education, they think about partnerships between institutions, not necessarily between institutions and external entities, which could be those that help them with stuff that's outside the core of the academic mission of the university. And I would say building and marketing online programs is outside the core. I would say building dorms, as well as dining halls are outside the core, and running those dining halls. I would say in many ways, the IT infrastructure is outside the core. Healthcare and health centers. We could go down the line. And all of those people, by the way, were represented at the P3 conference.
But what was interesting to me in my conversation with Mark, Allan and Jamie is that, first of all, Mark said increasingly, colleges and universities are becoming much more comfortable with sharing data with each other. So as a result, they know where they are strong and where they are weak, and that's going to increase partnerships in the future. But what was more interesting to me was what Allan and Jamie said, is that that's where we're putting our money. Meaning that's where funders, like the Gates Foundation, like the Lumina Foundation, they don't want institutions to do one-offs. They don't want institutions to just work with each other. They want institutions to work with each other, as well as these external partners.
And in fact, Allan said, "We're looking for opportunities where institutions are willing to come together to explore a problem together, and then Gates will come in and invest in the research and development of solutions, which often include these external partners." Jamie talked about a framework approach, and to build momentum so that some colleges that are working with external partners could then show others, hey, it can work.
I think the big question here, Michael, is the role of government. And I missed some of the folks from the education department who were there. But if the government is going to look dimly on this, which it seems like this administration is, I think that colleges and partners, just like in everything in life, they just want clarity. They just want to know, okay, if we do this, are we going to get shot down by our accreditor, or are we going to get shot down by the government? And increasingly, I think accreditors are starting to provide more clarity, but probably the more important clarity is the US government. And if the US government's going to start to act more and more like a Consumer Protection Bureau, meaning the education department, I think it might unfortunately dash the hopes of some of these partnerships, both between institutions and with external partners. And I worry about that, because not only will it, I think, slow down access for students, but it might mean that we're going to see some institutions fail, or at least programs and ideas at institutions fail.
Wouldn't that be ironic if Clay's prediction of failure in colleges was because of the government regulatory bodies? But I'll leave it there. And just a great conversation, Fernando and Jeff gave us both a lot to chew on. And so, I hope you enjoyed this episode, but make sure you go to futureupodcast.com where not only you can listen, but you can explore past episodes and subscribe to our newsletter. We send out the occasional email from Future U with updates on topics we've discussed, and what we're hearing from listeners. And so again, you can subscribe at futureupodcast.com.
And of course, if you want to follow along or learn more, you can find the show on social media at Future U Podcast. You can find me at Michael B. Horn, both on LinkedIn and X, the network formerly known as Twitter. And I'm @michael.b.horn on Instagram, and on the web at michaelbhorn.com. In addition to my Substack, which is also Michael B. Horn, you guessed it. And then for Jeff, you can find him on LinkedIn or Facebook at Jeff Selingo, and on Instagram and X @jselingo. Or of course, subscribe to his newsletter, Next, at jeffselingo.com. For both of us here, thanks for tuning in. We'll see you next time.