Episode 66 - SUU's Online Partnership

We're talking with Phyllis Hauptfeld with Academic Partnerships about SUU's plans to grow online degree offerings.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I’m your host, Steve Meredith, and I’m joined in-studio today, again, as I always am, by President Wyatt. Scot, how are you? 

Scott Wyatt: Terrific. Thanks, Steve.  

Meredith: And we have been harping sort of endlessly on the spectacular fall weather that we’ve been having. I want to say just one more time to everyone else around the country, “Nya, nya, nya.” It’s beautiful here in southern Utah.  

Wyatt: [Laughs] 

Meredith: It’s not always this beautiful, but holy mackerel it is beautiful here right now. And the leaves are just starting to change up on top of the mountains and it’s a spectacular time to be here.  

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s the time of year when you can open the window in your house and the whole thing cools down and you’re ready for the next day.  

Meredith: Yep. Well, as our listeners know, we have been talking about a number of interesting and innovative things related to higher education and this very disruptive time that we’re living in in the world of higher education, and one of the things that SUU has been doing has been looking at expanding our offerings in online education. And we have someone here in-studio, actually, with us today to discuss higher education’s push towards online accessibility generally and also about a partnership that we’re involved with their entity and I’m excited to have her join us.  

Wyatt: Yeah.  

Meredith: Do you want to introduce our guest?  

Wyatt: We’ve been doing online for I don’t know how long, Steve. 

Meredith: Actually… 

Wyatt: 10 or 20 years…20 years probably.  

Meredith: Yeah. A long…almost right from the very beginning of when those things were offered.  

Wyatt: And my dad took an online class back in the 50s.  

Meredith: It just was delivered through the mail.  

Wyatt: It wasn’t actually online.  

Meredith: Yeah, right. [All laugh] 

Wyatt: Well, we are delighted to welcome Phyllis Hauptfeld. 

Phyllis Hauptfeld: Thank you.  

Wyatt: Direct from California, but you work for Academic Partnerships, which is based in Dallas, Texas.  

Hauptfeld: That’s right.  

Wyatt: Thanks for joining us.  

Hauptfeld: I’m delighted to be here, and, in fact, the weather is beautiful, and I don’t say that very often when I travel around because it’s usually more beautiful in San Diego no matter where I am. [All laugh] 

Meredith: Yeah, you get to say the “Nya, nya, nya” to everybody all the time.  

Hauptfeld: On a regular basis. But not today, it’s beautiful here.  

Wyatt: Yeah, the…most homes in San Diego don’t even have air conditioning or heating.  

Hauptfeld: That’s right, I’ve never had air conditioning in my home, and I don’t today. Although things are warming up a bit, so we have to look into that, but yeah, no air conditioning.  

Wyatt: Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, Phyllis? We’d love to hear…you did not go to college in an online program, but now you’re spending your career helping develop online programs and we’d love to hear how you got to that place. 

Hauptfeld: Sure. So, by education I’m a lawyer, actually, and shortly after law school…I practiced law for a little while, but my draw was to higher education and one of the reasons for that was that going to law school is such a daunting endeavor and I was a little bit older, I was an older student when I went, and I was fearful. I was fearful that I wasn’t going to succeed, and so, after graduating from law school, there is a period of time where you’re waiting patiently for your bar results… 

Wyatt: I remember that.  

Hauptfeld: [Laughs] And what I did was I traveled the country and recruited students for my law school, my alma mater, and what I realized when I was doing that is that all the deans of admissions and the deans of the law schools and other folks at high level administrative positions were lawyers, and it brought me such joy to be able to talk to students about higher ed in a real way and kind of knock down some of those barriers for them, those students who were fearful, like I was, of not being successful, being an older student and this, “Can I do this?” So, I kind of tucked in the back of my head that talking to students about opportunities in higher ed was something I might like to do one day. Well, it didn’t take that long. I practiced law for a relatively short period of time, and I decided to make a move into higher ed. So, I started with the law schools, naturally, and very quickly took a position with kind of a struggling law school in Orange County, California and I was their outreach persons. So, I travelled around the community and just talked to people about what it was like to go back to school and convince people that they could do it, and it was just an extremely rewarding thing. Well, several years later, a law school was opening in Phoenix, Arizona and they reached out to me and they recruited me to be their Dean of Admission there and it was literally starting a school from scratch. And so, there was born my passion for startup because I…when I started, there was no campus, there was no application, no marketing materials, no…I mean, there was nothing. No faculty, no library…and I was tasked with recruiting a class of qualified students within a four-month period. So, I remember sitting down and thinking, “Well, how am I going to do this exactly?” I had a laptop and that was it. So, I bought a bunch of cookies and I started inviting people to come and just talk to me and talk to me about their educational endeavors and what they had in mind and what they would like to do. Well, long story short, we started the law school there and I became passionate about this higher ed and starting new things from scratch. And that brought me to Phoenix for one year, it was maybe the longest year of my life because I’m a San Diego native, so you can imagine that I was not enjoying the weather and other things… 

Meredith: I lived there for 20 years.  

Hauptfeld: [Laughs] So, you know. You can’t go outside for six months out of t year. So, I basically picked up the phone after one year and I said, “I need to get back to California and I’ll do anything in higher ed.” And I came back and I started working with online students in a variety of capacities and business and education and other educational verticals. And pretty soon, I had a few babies myself, three of them, I took a little break, reevaluated and took a position in what is frequently called OPM’s, which is an online program management company which is what Academic Partnerships. I think it is a little bit of a misnomer in that we’re not really managing online programs, we’re strategic partners with the universities in helping them figure out their online strategy, but nonetheless, I started doing that and that was about ten years ago and I have been doing that ever since and it gives me a lot of joy. I’m now not talking to students, but I’m talking to folks at a high level administrative and faculty and other folks within the university system to help them understand what’s happening in the marketplace and take a close look at what the objectives are in higher ed and help universities make cultural shifts. Those that are interested in making cultural shifts, help them with facts and data so that they can do that in a smooth way. And so, that’s where I am now, and I’ve been with Academic Partnerships for about three and a half years and I work with a number of universities in my capacity.  

Wyatt: I think most people that work at universities would be surprised how many consultants help with different kinds of things. I think it’s… 

Meredith: Yeah.  

Wyatt: The world has become so sophisticated and I can think of a whole list of consultants that we work with regularly.  

Meredith: And they’re terrific to work with and it helps us not to have to worry about every single aspect or possibly not even…that we can’t fully completely comprehend and understand because, again, we have our day job that keeps us focused on keeping the door open at the university. It’s hard to be on the cutting edge…that’s actually one of the reasons why we have this podcast is because it gets us talking to people who are outside of our group of…our sphere of influence a little bit. We try to bring people in who may see the world just a little differently that we do.  

Wyatt: Yeah. And we could hire somebody to do these things rather than hire consultants, but then they start losing an understanding of what everybody else is doing. And that’s one of the neat things about Academic Partnerships, Phyllis, is that you’re working with so many universities that we get the benefit of a lot of wisdom.  

Hauptfeld: Well…absolutely. And I talk to partners about this a lot because not everybody at every university is on board with having a partner in any capacity, but there’s no entity that can be an expert at all things all of the time, AP included. So, we have a laser focus on studying the market, understanding what students need and what students want and then providing that information to our partners so that they can make the right choice… 

Wyatt: Yeah.  

Hauptfeld: For their institution. And most universities…most entities can’t do all things at all times and that’s one of them.  

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: You don’t have the time, the resources, financial or otherwise, to do the kind of work that we do and we don’t have the capacity to do the work that a university does and so we don’t even attempt to do that.  

Wyatt: Our board chair just mentioned to me last week an interesting comment about that it is a…if an organization is self-confident, secure, you can tell that they’re secure if they’re willing to outsource some things.  

Meredith: Right.  

Wyatt: Instead of trying to hold every tight. The ability to make wise decisions about what you do internal, what you do external…but, Phyllis, it would be fun to hear a little bit about the history of Academic Partnerships because the company you work with has a very interesting story themselves.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. And I was coincidentally just thinking about it this morning as I was watching the news of some of the storms taking place in the southeast Texas area. I think it was back in 2005, maybe 2006, I think 2005, Hurricane Rita tore through that same region and Lamar University which is located in Beaumont, Texas, was destroyed for all intents and purposes, and about 80% of the buildings were destroyed and there was a mass exodus of students at that time for obvious reasons. And so, the university decided to reach out to our chairman who is a notable Lamar alumni and…Randy Best, and they reached out to him and asked him for financial help. They said, “Is there anything you can do to help us rebuild our university? It’s in dire straits.” And what he said to them was he would love to help, but he said, “Why don’t we do something that’s more sustainable than just putting the buildings backup? And when we need to do that, of course, too, but let’s look at building an online program. A program where students who don’t live right here in Beaumont, Texas could enroll. And so, they did just that. There was no AP at the time. It was built around this concept of working together on a sustainable plan for Lamar University’s rebuild and so, they did just that. And I think it was within three years of that hurricane Lamar University had almost 5,000 students and was the fastest growing university, online university, in Texas.  

Wyatt: And how many students did the university have prior to the storm?  

Hauptfeld: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer to that. I don’t know that they had any online students, I think that was new for them.  

Wyatt: Was it more? Did they have more students? Or less? After just a few years?  

Hauptfeld: They had more students.  

Wyatt: More students. 

Hauptfeld: Yes.  

Wyatt: That was really my question. So, through the storm and the building of an online program, the university actually ended up becoming bigger.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely.  

Wyatt: It had more influence for students.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely. And they have since that time, of course, expanded, but at the time I believe they launched with mostly education programs and then they have continued to grow on that and build the programs outside of that.  

Wyatt: Well, you’re in this industry all of the time. Give us a perspective of what’s happening in higher education in terms of the growth of online programs?  

Hauptfeld: Well, there’s no doubt that online is providing the kind of accessibility to students who are location-bound. I mean, the marketplace for your traditional students is about 3.5 million a year graduates. The adult learner, the online student, is 20-25 times that size. So, you have students who have an undergraduate degree but are location-bound because they’re working, they have families, I think there’s approximately 60 million people in that category. And then you have another 30 million people who have some credits earned, right? So, they’ve started working on something but then they have to stop. Military folks, people that move, people that have careers and other things. And so, not reaching out to that population is incredibly short-sighted. At this point, a lot of universities are reaching out at varying degrees, right? So, there’s a handful of schools who are educating thousands of students and then many, many more that are at a much lower level. But across the board, universities are starting to look at that population because your on-ground, traditional populations are starting to decline. About 15% of all students at this point are taking 100% online programs, and then you have another 15%-17%, something like that, who are taking at least some courses that are in an online format. So, 32% or so. I was actually just talking to a colleague of mine that…I have small children at home and so does he, and I was saying how frustrating it is because my children, even at their middle school and high school, have online components in their courses. Every single course, and they have had since elementary school. So, kids are growing up today in Canvas, which is a learning management system. He said at his elementary school, they’re using online learning to make up for snow days and other things like that, which of course as a San Diego native, I don’t know anything about that. [All laugh] But I was lamenting at how in higher ed, especially doing what I do and understanding how to…pedagogically how to put together a quality online program, in the elementary and middle schools, they don’t know how to do that and it’s such a challenge for my kids to figure out how to navigate online because they haven’t put into place any of the strategies that most universities are putting into place which I know a lot about. But my point is, is that from an early age on, students are embroiled in online learning and so, but the time the kids my kids age make their way to college, that’s going to be the expectation. 100%.  

Meredith: We have a grandson that his family lived with us last year while his dad was finishing up his last year of medical school, and one of the local Cedar City schools has a Chinese immersion program and so he was… 

Wyatt: Sponsored by Southern Utah University.  

Meredith: Sponsored by SUU, yeah. And our grandson was in that Chinese immersion program and the entire thing, nearly, was taught or at least there was, of course, much face-to-face language immersion, but he homework entirely was online through, I think through Canvas which made me smile that my first grade grandson was struggling with Canvas just like grandpa does. [All laugh] But…sorry Canvas folks. Anyway, you’re absolutely right. There will not be a generation that grows up now that doesn’t feel they are native in much the same way that there’s not a generation that we’ll raise up that can’t imagine when phones had cords and were attached to a wall and you couldn’t walk around with them in your pocket and use them to take pictures. It’s just…it’s a complete paradigm shift where they’re…no one that’s, and I’m not going to lump you in with Scott and I in terms of age-wise, but there won’t be any memory at all of education delivered entirely the old way very soon.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely. 


Meredith: Certainly none among the students, and as we near retirement, there will be a whole other group of people who come in as administrators and they’ll…this…being on the front edge, being on the pointy edge of the stick and I’m not sure that we even qualify for that at this point, but trying to do things in advance of what appears to us to be an overwhelming wave that’s coming and probably already here, it seems like a no-brainer. Sometimes it’s not, though. Sometimes we have to pause and make sure we’re doing it the right way and we want to integrate it right, but there’s no question, that’s my long, rambling point, sorry…there’s no question that this is not only here, but here to stay and we suggest probably half the degrees delivered by the typical university going forward—and I mean just the typical university—will be online in nature.  

Hauptfeld: Yeah. I think there will absolutely be an online component…your traditional student is still going to want to go away to college… 

Meredith: Sure.  

Hauptfeld: And live in a dorm and there’s going to be both. But to your point, I don’t think my children even think that they have an online component in their courses, but they do. So, there isn’t an online versus on-ground mentality at that age and they will be in college in four years. So, they don’t see the difference; it’s all the same to them. And there’s also of course…again, this is the strength of partnering with somebody like us is that we can bring the…you know, the market changes quickly. Universities tend to move a little bit more slowly, right? And so, it’s the universities who can figure out ways to be nimble and accommodate the marketplace, and I’m not exaggerating when I say there are times when I have a conversation with a partner and then six months later, I’m having a slightly different conversation. And most universities can’t shift and move that quickly, but that’s what’s happening in the marketplace. And we talk a lot about this Amazon mentality, right? Our kids grew up in instant “I want something and I’m going to go get it and I’m going to have it delivered in four hours.” 

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: And they want the same thing in every aspect of their life. Fortunately, or unfortunately. And that’s not to say that higher ed needs to adjust itself in that way, but there are certain aspects of it that are going to be…need to be addressed for that age coming in. So, there’s no doubt about it, online, as you mentioned, you may have been on the cutting edge because online has been around for a couple of decades, but it does continue to grow but I’m sure…you know, a lot of people talk about the MBA for example. And a lot of even…a lot of universities are looking at closing down their on-ground programs or two-year traditional MBA programs because I think it’s approximately 70% of all traditional MBA programs have been on a decline for a number of years. And even the online MBA programs are…they’re still growing, but at a slower pace, but the ones that are still continuing to grow are the ones that are looking at that demand and looking at what people would like to see in their programs and trying their best to meet those demands. And so, that’s going to be the game. That’s going to be what it looks like in some parts of higher ed is figuring out, “What’s next?” To your point, what’s next and what are people looking for and how can we try to meet that demand? 

Wyatt: Well, you talk about a lot of these face-to-face graduate programs on the decline…in Utah, the last data that I saw, which is old, but the trend was continuing so I’m assuming that it’s at least the same, if not higher, but 40% of all graduate students in Utah were in online programs.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: I was intrigued by…we had a visitor that we spoke with from Georgia who said that…this was Georgia Tech.  

Meredith: Right.  

Wyatt: And he told us that they have an online and they have a face-to-face program in computer science, and the face-to-face were all international students and the online were all domestic students.  

Hauptfeld: Well, yeah, that’s one of the things that surprises most universities is that your online students are local. 50% or so come with 50 miles, live within 50 miles and another 75% live within a hundred. So, these are students, because the brand recognition is there, they already understand who you are and the culture and what the offerings are and they’re interested in that, they just can’t get here. And so, as soon as something opens up and there’s an opportunity, they jump on it. so, most universities are a little bit surprised by that.  

Wyatt: We had a meeting with our student body officers here on campus and of any group that’s committed to a face-to-face education, it would be the student body officers because they’re in the middle of all of the activity… 

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: And the excitement of being here. Young, energetic, surrounded by thousands of other students their age, mentoring with other people… 

Meredith: Right.  

Wyatt: But one of the things they said was, “Please get us more online classes.”  

Hauptfeld: Right.  

Wyatt: [Laughs] That was not something I was expecting from them.  

Hauptfeld: Yeah.  

Wyatt: And I think that most of us in our…I say most of us in our—Phyllis, you wouldn't qualify here probably, Steve and I are approaching 60… 

Meredith: In our dotage, yes. We are… 

Wyatt: Yeah. Most of us think, “The youth aren’t really great with online programs” and we just forget that they grew up with online.  

Meredith: They did.  

Wyatt: It’s interesting, your music students have never been in a music store.  

Meredith: No.  

Wyatt: To buy a record or a CD or… 

Meredith: We used to drive to Los Angeles to go to Tower Records.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Meredith: You know? There on Sunset Boulevard.  

Hauptfeld: Yep, 100%.  

Meredith: And go do a concert and buy a CD and get people to sign things and there isn’t a Tower Records…there’s no such thing as a record store anymore. Nobody even knows what you’re talking about. Interestingly, they know what you’re talking about when you say “record” because all the real hipsters now release on vinyl.  

Wyatt: [Laughs] 

Meredith: Which they think is cool and fun and I think, “OK, don’t leave them in your car though, they’re going to melt.” But it’s an interesting, as you say, there…we’ve pointed at this particular business change even more to the point were as ubiquitous on every corner during even some of our current student’s lifetime as a Starbucks was a Blockbuster Video. And you not only can’t find…I read an article that they last Blockbuster Video which was in Alaska was closing. And you not only can’t find a Blockbuster Video, but if you think about it, Blockbuster got killed by Redbox, Redbox got killed by Netflix, and so, we’ve seen two entire business changes in the course of ten years. And not only that, but the things that you used to go get at Blockbuster don’t exist anymore.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Meredith: You used to go get a video tape. People may know what those are, but then, if you were moving on, you went to get a DVD and people still may know what those are, but [All laugh]. So, not only does the physical store not exist, not only does the distribution model not exist, but the product doesn’t even exist really anymore. And it’s just shocking to me that…I mean, this was a large company.  

Hauptfeld: Yeah.  

Meredith: And not only was it gone, but it’s almost like we wiped it off the face of the earth and salted the ground so that no one could even remember that anything happened there. And I’m just always choked by that. Every time I drive past where Tower Records used to be, I’m shocked that something that seemed so permanent and it seemed like we would always listen to CDs because they were so great and…not so much.  

Hauptfeld: Well, I’m going to tell you I think your Tower Records story…so that Tower Records story, I told almost that exact story to my girls. I said, “We’d go to concerts and then we’d hang out at Tower Records and wait for the traffic to die down until the wee hours…” 

Meredith: That’s right.  

Hauptfeld: And now my daughter, for Christmas she asked for a turntable and now we go record shopping.  

Meredith: There you go.  

Hauptfeld: It’s coming back. [All laugh] 

Meredith: Now you’re talking.  

Hauptfeld: The record stores are the size of the studio, but it’s coming.  

Meredith: That’s right.  

Wyatt: Yeah, it is coming back but I actually don’t get it because the record does not sound as good.  

Hauptfeld: That’s right.  

Meredith: It doesn’t sound as good, and if you dance around it hops and skips and all the problems that CDs fixed, you know?  

Hauptfeld: Right.  

Meredith: We’re bringing them back. [All laugh] 

Wyatt: Don’t you remember when CDs came out? It was like… 

Meredith: “Let’s bring back scarlet fever!” No, no let’s not, it wasn’t that great.  

Hauptfeld: It’s hilarious. Yes, you’re absolutely right. All of those things happen and it’s like my daughter gets giddy when it skips. It’s like a, “It’s skipping!” 

Meredith: Yeah.  

Wyatt: Well, and I like old cars.  

Meredith: Oh, yeah.  

Wyatt: But there’s a reason why we don’t sell them anymore.  

Meredith: That’s right.  

Wyatt: They’re not comfortable.  

Meredith: They’re not comfortable.  

Wyatt: They break down.  

Meredith: Yep. There are entire—I’m sorry, we’re getting off track—there are entire songs that I know with an 8-track change in the middle. I know that the songs stops, there’s a clicking sound from my mom and dads for the 8-track player, and then it goes on.  

Hauptfeld: Oh, that’s funny.  

Meredith: So, yeah. The way that we think about technology, especially if you’ve got a few miles on the odometer as we do, has just changed so dramatically and we can’t imagine in higher ed sometimes that we have to adapt in the same way that Blockbuster maybe didn’t adapt. Maybe they had the chance to invest in Redbox, maybe they had the chance to invest in Netflix when they were a big company. Maybe IBM had the chance to buy Microsoft when IBM was a big company and Microsoft was a little company, but they didn’t. That’s what we’re trying to avoid here.  

Wyatt: Maybe Kodak could have been… 

Meredith: That’s right.  

Wyatt: Been the leader of digital.  

Hauptfeld: Well, there is one aspect and I was walking around the student center here earlier today and looking at the kids with their meal plans and the one thing that’s a little bit different is that we have two distinct audiences here...currently. That’s our current situation. And you’re going to always have students who want to be here, and they want to live in the dorms, and they want the meal plan and they want to social aspect… 

Meredith: To go to the football game… 

Hauptfeld: And they want the clubs and all of that. 

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s like a “coming to maturity” phase.  

Meredith: That’s right.  

Hauptfeld: 100%. And the marketing strategy…I mean, we have a laser focus on what we do in terms of marketing, and we barely touch anybody that’s sitting over there in your student center. They wouldn’t see it for the most part because that’s not the target market. And students who want to come here are going to continue to want to come here with one small exception. There are folks who would like to do it online but are fearful because they’re in that age group maybe that didn’t grow up with Canvas in their elementary school, right? And so, there’s a level of fear that, “I don’t know if I can do that.” There’s also a…we’re right in the middle, I would say, of this sort of repetitional discussion about online, right? So, online has very much gone from this folks thinking about it as easier or lower quality… 

Meredith: Lacking rigor. 

Hauptfeld: Exactly, to almost the opposite. And when I talk to people, especially students who are thinking about online, I spend time telling them, “This is probably going to be more challenging than what you’re used to” and one of the reasons for that is that you can’t be invisible. you can’t be in a big lecture hall unprepared until the last day. You have to be prepared all the time, and especially if you’re in an accelerated format which is what most adults are looking for. There is no time to not pay attention and there is responsibilities to provide your…to dialogue on a daily basis. And most of your on-ground courses aren’t like that. There’s a little bit more time and you can sit in a lecture and not raise your hand and not respond and maybe not have read that day and nobody’s going to notice and you just don’t have that same kind of expectation in an online format. And so…and especially now with the technology and some of the formatting and templates and things like that that I was explaining is lacking in the elementary school, the rigor is at least equal to what you’re getting in the classroom. And from a standpoint of getting accreditation, for example, it has to be… 

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: Minimally the same exact program, right? So, I think there’s a shift in thought about what online means and it’s kind of going away. Even at the highest levels, some of your chief academic officers across the country are recognizing online is not lesser. And so…and it’s up to every university to make it as rigorous as you can make it.  

Wyatt: That’s right. It’s still the faculty that are in charge of it.  

Hauptfeld: 100%, yeah. So, you know, there is that. There is, again, there’s kind of this fear that online is going to take over and all of the universities are going to shrivel up like Blockbuster. 

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: And I just…that’s just not the case. Well, I say that…this is going to be recorded and someday someone might pull this out of a time capsule. [All laugh] But not in the foreseeable future. There’s always going to be that desire to attend the university experience.  

Wyatt: Yeah. Well, and as we continue to expand our online offerings, we’re at the exact same time building new classrooms for face-to-face students.  

Meredith: Right.  

Wyatt: We’ve got a proposal to build a 90,000 square foot building and it’s moving through and we think we’ll be, with all good luck, we’ll be breaking ground in a little more than a year. So, we’re committed to the face-to-face experience.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: And for the students and the faculty that love that kind of an environment.  

Meredith: What was the…sorry, it is as you say, two different groups of people.  

Wyatt: Two different groups.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely.  

Meredith: That’s really what we’re talking about is two different groups of people.  

Wyatt: There’s a group of people for whom they cannot get this ticket to success… 

Hauptfeld: Absolutely.  

Wyatt: Unless we find a way to deliver it for them.  

Hauptfeld: Yes. And what I find is—at least the universities that I partner with—almost without exception, the strategic plans that are in place have a specific call out to address this audience. And more and more universities are doing that. You know, it’s not just the 3.5 million high school grads, there’s a whole audience, a much larger audience of people who have not had access in…at a large scale to an education. And so, universities are starting to say, “How can we…” I like to say, “Open up the funnel.” “How can we provide our high-quality education to more people?” And that’s a shift. It’s a big shift and I know I had a conversation with a few folks here before where, culturally, the shift from being…higher ed being exclusive, right? And trying to exclude people. You know, the whole job of the admissions folks was to not let people in.  

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: Right?  

Meredith: And they are ranked higher by U.S. News & World Report for doing so.  

Hauptfeld: Yep. Yes, at least for now.  

Wyatt: “Ah, you turned away so many people, you must be awesome.”  

Meredith: “Congratulations.”  

Hauptfeld: Yes.  

Wyatt: Denying so many people… 

Meredith: “96% we told to ‘go away.’” [All laugh] 

Hauptfeld: Yes.  

Meredith: “Way to go!” 

Hauptfeld: Yes.  

Wyatt: Yeah, “You denied 96% of the applicants an opportunity to advance their careers, you must be amazing.” 

Hauptfeld: Yes. But there’s a big shift and I always say…here’s one of the benefits that we bring to the table: universities don’t know what it will mean for them to open up that funnel. To open the opportunity to more people, right? And I always say universities in the past have required people to prove their ability to succeed before they let them try to succeed. And now there’s this shift. “Let’s let people try to succeed and see if they can succeed.” And a lot of universities are fearful that, “Well, what is that going to mean for retention? Are students going to actually succeed?” I mean, nobody wants to admit a student and have them pay a tuition dollar, even one, if we don’t think they’re going to make it through the program.  

Meredith: Right, right.  

Hauptfeld: Nobody wants that. But what we’re finding is that by opening this funnel and offering an opportunity to more people, we are not finding declines in retention. We’re just not finding that across the board, at least at the graduate level. And it’s a wonderful thing. When we have universities who say, “We have an amazing program here.” I say, “Great! Let’s educate more people within your state and across the country. Let’s do that.” 

Meredith: Many of those life disruptions that lead to non-finishing, if that’s the right way to say it, people not persisting, are mitigated somewhat by being able to deliver a program online.  

Hauptfeld: 100%. 

Meredith: I’m partnering in my master’s degree program with AP and I’m very happy about that, but our students…I want to say that probably one out of every four of our students had begun a graduate program in music somewhere else and life intervened.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Meredith: And they were unable to finish for whatever reason. And our program gave them a lifeline to a Master of Music degree, which they needed, as President Wyatt suggested, as a ticket to whatever the next thing for them was. For some, it’s just interest and they want to learn more about music technology, but for many others, this is the ticket to adjunct faculty work which is then the ticket to getting accepted to doctoral school or whatever and becoming a professor, or it’s the ticket to increasing their salary as a public school teacher or it’s the ticket to being able to, in some way, increase their viability and their value to their employer. And we’ve had many of our students just say, “This is a miracle. I was able to do this in a year, I was able to do it…I never thought I was going to be able to finish graduate school and you’ve saved my graduate career.” And that’s very satisfying.  

Hauptfeld: Yeah, there’s actually about 82% of online students report that they are completing their degree for career advancement reasons. So, most, almost all, but you’re exactly right in terms of the target. And the nice thing about the programs, the online programs, as you’re setting them up here is that flexibility for students to step in and step out of the program relatively easily for that exact thing. Things come up, life comes up, and if you’re in a traditional program and you have to leave because you have a big conference to go to or you’re having a baby or you’re moving or any of those things and you can’t get right back in in the next term, nine times out of ten, you just stop going.  

Meredith: You’re done, that’s right.  

Hauptfeld: And this program that we’re building here allows for people to come and go, so the nice thing is you’re not forcing them to continue when it’s not the right time. A lot of students in a traditional program where there isn’t that flexibility will force themselves to stay, even though they’re having a baby, even though they’re having all these other things and then they fail out and then they’re gone forever, and their opportunity is lost. So, it’s 100%, you’re spot on about what those students are looking for and why this kind of program is exactly what they need and why a traditional program would never work for them.  

Wyatt: We live in the epicenter of, “Some college, no degree.” Utah is right at the top of the list in the country for having the percentage of its population that has some college and no degree. And it’s probably because in Utah, people tend to get married and have children earlier than other places, so life happens faster here. And then they have a hard time getting back.  

Hauptfeld: Yeah.  

Wyatt: Just have a hard time.  

Hauptfeld: There’s no doubt about that. There’s…in fact, in terms of online growth, the majority of online students are in degree completion programs at a two-year or a four-year level.  

Wyatt: So, there is some data out there that I think you know, Phyllis, that is the likelihood of success in completing an online program is greater if the student comes with some courses already completed.  

Hauptfeld: Yes, it’s…yes. Because the online student currently, the current market—and I can only tell you right now, it could be different in six months—in terms of what they’re looking for and what they need is low cost, number one concern for students in an online students, working adults, is the cost, and then time to completion. And so, if you have a student who is a non-traditional student, meaning they are working, they have families and they have zero credits, it’s a pretty overwhelming task to get started and to get through that. But a student who comes in and has 30 credits or 40 credits or even 15 or 18, it feels less daunting for them. And if you have a student who can get enrolled in a program that’s a degree completion program and they can get credit for all of those—this comes up a lot with military folks because they have credits from all over the place and not necessarily a clear focus—and if you have a program where they can bring all those and complete quickly, because remember, number two is completing quickly, then if they can see that finish line, they start and they finish. But it’s the folks who have trouble seeing the finish line and seeing it coming soon and seeing that raise that they’re going to get or the promotion that they’re going to get. And so, that’s one of the reasons that folks who come in with some credits are going to be more successful.  

Meredith: Well, it’s one of the reasons that…you mentioned being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and being able to see it reasonably quickly, it’s one of the reasons why your model is based on this compressed semester system, right?  

Hauptfeld: Yeah, absolutely.  

Meredith: Speak just a little bit about that? Our listeners may not know about that.  

Hauptfeld: Sure. So, again, because we do look at the market and one of my favorite sayings that my boss said to me one day was, “We don’t create the market, we just tell you what it is.” And I love that, I say that all of the time because that’s a fact. That here’s what’s happening, and here it is, now what can we do about that? So, we like to let you know, let a university partner know what is happening and what the recommendations are. And so, currently, we know that online students, again, care about cost, number one, time to completion, number two. And so, with that in mind, we help universities take their programs, their curriculum, and put it into a format that’s going to be most appealing to the online students. And so, it should have starts all of the time. We know that students who are looking at online programs are only going to apply to three or fewer schools. It’s usually two or one. They’ve already…they know what they want, they’ve already done their research and by the time they apply, they’re only looking at one or two schools.  

Meredith: So, either because brand recognition of the program type that’s specific to that university… 

Hauptfeld: Well, interestingly, it’s actually more often than not…so, if a student is looking at a state school, say they’re looking at SUU, they are assuming the quality, they are assuming the…they probably already know the brand because they are an alumni or because they live near here, right? 

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: So, those two things aside, now they’re looking at cost and time to completion, and they want to get in quickly. They want to start now. So, the faster a university can accept an application and turn them into an enrollment, the better. So, we know students are looking at just one or two universities by the time they apply for all those reasons we just talked about and then they want to start now. And most students in an online program will apply within 30 days of when they want to start. 30 days or fewer from when they want to actually start. So, we’ve gone a long way away from the “when you apply in the fall and you’re going to start next fall.” That’s just…that model is not applicable to these students in any way, shape, or form.  

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: And so, they want to start now, and they want to do it quickly, and so, having more starts—you’ll find that a lot of online programs will start five, six, eight, ten times a year. That’s pretty critical because once a student submits that application, they want to start next week, right? So, being able to do that quickly, being able to make admissions decisions quickly, having short six, seven, eight week courses so that students get started, they’re dealing with one course, they’re completing it, they can put that in their belt and move on to the next one. It also allows, if you have a lot of starts and have short periods, if a student does need to take time off for one of those other things that we’ve talked about, they can come back in six weeks. They don’t have to wait six months until the course is offered again next fall or next spring or next summer or whatever the case is. All of those things are critical for universities to address if they want to appeal to the online student.  

Meredith: So, then in practical application, the programs, that SUU is running in partnership with you will have start dates approximately once every eight weeks? 

Hauptfeld: That’s right.  

Meredith: Or thereabouts.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Meredith: That’s got to be encouraging to students who, as you suggest, are rearing to go, they’re wanting to start as soon as they can.  

Wyatt: if your market is limited to high school graduates, it makes perfect sense. Everybody graduates from high school at the same time, they take their summer break, they all start at the same time, it makes sense. But, once you leave a recent high school graduate, it doesn’t make sense for anyone in the world, does it? 

Hauptfeld: No. And you have to understand… 

Wyatt: “I’ve got this big, lofty goal, and I’m going to start it in eight months.” 

Hauptfeld: Right.  

Wyatt: Really? [All laugh] I mean, I’m irritated that I have to wait four weeks that I have a piece of furniture delivered.  

Hauptfeld: They want to be done in eight months.  

Meredith: Yeah.  

Hauptfeld: That’s no exaggeration. They want to be done in eight months and start tomorrow. And that’s why I say you can’t apply the same rules to this group. It’s a completely different audience. They will, something like 80% or 75% of students will end up enrolling in the first school that calls them if they’ve reached out to three or four schools. Given, of course, that they’ve already decided that they’re interested in those three schools, not just throwing it out to the world. But if they’ve picked three schools and reached out, a huge percentage of them will go to the one that calls them first and gets the ball rolling and gets them started. If a student can apply and get admitted and enrolled within 30 days or less, 72% if those students will start in your program. It goes down significantly after that. So, you can’t apply the same rules. They just…they want to start, they want to start quickly, they don’t want it to cost them a fortune because they’re often paying out of pocket or they know they’re going to get a promotion and a raise, but the raise isn’t going to be $100,000.  

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: It’s going to be $10,000.  

Meredith: Right.  

Hauptfeld: So, they don’t want to spend more than that on their degree, right? Their savvy. they’re savvy about their finances and their budget and all of those things. Undergrad, traditional undergrad students don’t think about that at all.  

Meredith: We’ve recently entered into a partnership with Southwest Tech, our local technical college, a dual-enrollment partnership and this sounds funny, but I actually wrote an article about that and I said one of the strangest cultural shifts between us and them is that we say school starts in August, it starts in January and it starts again in May. And they say, “School starts on Monday.” 

Hauptfeld: Yes.  

Wyatt: Yeah, every single Monday.  

Meredith: “Every single Monday, come on down and we’ll get you started.” 

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: We did a… 

Meredith: What a great way to get people going.  

Hauptfeld: Absolutely.  

Wyatt: We…our recruiters that help students get into online programs are completely different people and they work out of a different building than recruiters that are working with high school graduates.  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: Just very, very different. We did a focus group with high school students. When you’re talking about this, “I want to get started and I want to get done.” We proposed to a bunch of the high school students that we were thinking about doing a guaranteed four-year degree, that “We’re going to guarantee that you can graduate in four years if you come here” and now we’re shifting to “We’re going to guarantee you can graduate in three years if you come here.”  

Hauptfeld: Mhmm.  

Wyatt: Including summers. And what we found was is that the students kind of yawned through that. It’s like, “Well, doesn’t everybody graduate in four years? Doesn’t everybody graduate?” 

Meredith: “Isn’t that the whole point?” 

Wyatt: They’re just not really thinking about it. But when you are 18, you’re immortal and going to live forever and when a person is 35 or 40 or 50, there’s a limit to how much longer we’ve got, and we don’t want to wait to get started into our big life goals.  

Hauptfeld: Well, yeah. And if you know there’s a promotion or a raise waiting for you, it is not interesting to wait any time for that.  

Meredith: That’s right.  

Hauptfeld: You need to get it and you need to get it done because you know also for every job and every promotion and every raise, there’s ten other people in line behind you for that.  

Wyatt: [Laughs] 

Meredith: That’s right.  

Hauptfeld: It’s just…that’s why we all work ungodly hours and do all of the things we do, right? Competition for our jobs.  

Wyatt: We don’t talk about that. [All laugh] It makes students depressed.  

Hauptfeld: But you know, the traditional student… 

Meredith: Are you saying you don’t go home at 5:00 and just put your feet up for the rest of the evening? That’s what I do. [Laughs] 

Wyatt: I was walking home with some students I didn’t really know but we were just having this conversation and I said, “What does your night look like?” “Oh, I have a bunch of homework.” And I said, “Yeah, me too.” It doesn’t end. [All laugh] 

Meredith: It never does.  

Hauptfeld: No, it does not. Well, and those traditional students, too, there’s a rare…the rare exception, the student who knows exactly what they want to do, let’s say it’s a student who says, “I know I’m going to be a doctor and I’m going to need to be in school for a long time, so if I could shave off half a year from my undergrad, that would be great.” But they’re also not thinking about the cost nine times out of ten. Whether it lasts an extra semester, an extra year…but for an adult student, it is 100% about that cost. And they want it quick and they want it as inexpensive as it can be for the most part.  

Meredith: Well, and honestly, the university has adapted that 18-year-old mindset in saying, “Well, you know, we’ll just offer this class once every other year and if students are off track somehow, they’ll just add a year to…” Well, my goodness. Not only is that, that’s just bad customer service even for the regular 18-22-year olds, that’s bad customer service.  

Wyatt: Yeah.  

Meredith: But for an adult, they would not tolerate that for one second.  

Hauptfeld: They’d just take another course. 

Meredith: Yeah. 

Wyatt: Well, it’s…I’m convinced that all of our faculty and staff believe in this even though they don’t always recognize it. Because if there is any value that is shared by every employee at a university, it is the value that we want to help every person with upward mobility. That we want to help every person we can in order to build a better society, better communities, better families. We all share that value. And once we think through, “Oh, yeah, and there’s this big segment of our community that can’t come to face-to-face” then I just see people saying, “Oh, yeah, yeah I get it. This makes sense. This is my value; I want to be part of this. Let’s make sure we do it well.” And that’s what you’re helping us do, Phyllis, is helping us do it well.  

Hauptfeld: Well, I will say that I haven’t met one person on campus so far who did not share what you’re describing in terms of their values and also incredibly open to dialogue about how to do it. It’s been really amazing to be honest. Folks just really interested in putting together the best possible programs to meet the needs of these students that are going to be interested in them. So, it’s been, without exception, every person I’ve met. So, you’re exactly right about that. At least from the folks I’ve met.  

Wyatt: Well, thank you for joining us today.  

Hauptfeld: Thank you for having me.  

Meredith: You’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We have had as our in-studio guest Phyllis Hauptfeld, who is the Managing Director for Academic Partnerships which is an organizing that SUU is partnering with to help us expand our online programs. Thank you, Phyllis, for joining us and thank you, our devoted listeners, for joining us with your ears. We look forward to seeing you again or having you hear us again or whatever it is that you do will podcasts. We’ll be back again soon, bye bye.