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Future Shock

The People?s Colleges

No Frills, No Debt, Good Deals
University Business, Nov 2009

SITTING ON THE ECONO-SHUTTLE (on the way to our Southwest flight) provides a new perspective on the current higher ed economic landscape. Faced with loss of jobs, and tapped out of collateral to secure sub-prime mortgages, the American middle class is now scrambling to avoid defaulting on their student tuition payment schedule.

If you think these trend lines are reversible ? think again. Doing more with less is no longer targeted on small postsecondary schools. These days we are witnessing a summer melt ? read as applicants with deposits on the line, walking away from traditional residential campuses to attend weekend colleges at no frills campuses closer to home and work.

Price points and value propositions rule the day. While risk adverse institutions debate the merits of no frills campuses, entrepreneurial schools such as Southern New Hampshire University, Wheelock College (Mass.); Drexel University (Calif.); Nichols College and Quinsigamond Community College, both in Massachusetts; Lone Star College (Texas); Roosevelt University (Ill.); Regis University (Colo.); ITT Technical Institute (Ind.); and Branford Hall Career Institute (Conn.) are cleaning the clocks of their competitors by providing highly functional and accessible satellite campus options for student consumers who expect more for less.

Doing more with less is no longer targeted on small postsecondary schools.

Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc weighs in on luxury amenities. “I’m not sure that it (luxury) improves education,” he says. “It just drives the price up. Not everybody needs it and, frankly, not everybody can afford it.”

As one of the fastest growing community college systems, and top producer of associate degrees in Texas, Lone Star has transformed the former million-plus-square-foot Hewlett-Packard office park into a contemporary, no frills, corporate training and executive education campus ? a key cog in Houston’s future economic and workforce development strategy.

In a counter-intuitive move, Wheelock College successfully launched a somewhat upscale version of a no frills campus in Singapore. With a special focus in early childhood development, Wheelock collaborates with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to create this unusual global polytechnic partnership.

At their new Sacramento campus, Drexel University officials cut the cost of its fall 2009 semester graduate school tuition in half for students who were laid off. These adult graduate students neither need, nor want to pay for the unnecessary frills of traditional residential campuses.

And, this megatrend is by not limited to non-profits and public sector schools. By way of illustrative example, consider ITT Technical Institute with over 100 modern, yet no frills campuses in 35 states, and an estimated 65,000 enrolled students. After a 25 percent increase in enrollment, it’s easy to understand why ITT Tech has rewarded its savvy investors with big time ROIs - (return on investment), and its students and employees with quality, impressive ROLs ? (return on learning).

In Southington, Conn., Branford Hall students study to be medical assistants, paralegals, medical information specialists, computer network managers, and professional fitness trainers. Impressively, even in a down economy, four out of five Branford Hall graduates land good jobs in their career fields of choice.

In our conversation with President Debra Murphy Townsley, we learned about Nichols College’s bachelor completion partnership with Quinsigamond Community College. Leveraging community college no frills campus infrastructure, captive markets and a back to basics learning environment, Nichols has figured out the no frills campus equation.

In Schaumberg, Ill., Roosevelt University chose the former location of Motorola Corporation to reinvent its own version of a no frills campus ? comprised of 70 classrooms and state-of-the-art computer and science labs. Roosevelt students attending the “Saturdays in Schaumberg” program can get an MBA, explore criminal justice careers, or study ESL.

Regis University has carefully leveraged its commitment to lifelong learning through its network of attractive, no frills campuses. Uniquely, Regis College for Professional Studies is specially geared to mid-career working adults at eight strategically located no frills campus locations. With six program start dates, and accelerated summer and weekend classes, Regis nicely accommodates its adult students’ life and learning style.

Increasingly, these no frills campuses serve the needs of a growing student market in difficult economic times when they can no longer afford to pay for deluxe amenities. Though we remember wistfully the days of playing Ultimate Frisbee before dinner on the campus quad, today’s students may not need or want the expense of a traditional college experience. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.”

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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