Episode 94 - Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned - The SUU MBA Program

President Scott L Wyatt and Steve Meredith talk with Ken Hall, SUU School of Business Associate Dean, about the overhaul and growth of the MBA program over the last few years. They discuss the importance of maintaining quality between face-to-face and online courses and how holding the same admissions standards for all students - regardless of how they take classes - has really strengthened the program.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi everybody, 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 am joined today in the kitchen area of our beautiful recording facility…

Scott Wyatt: [Laughs]

Meredith: As I always am by President Wyatt. Scott, how are you today?

Wyatt: Yeah, this is a terrific recording studio.

Meredith: It is.

Wyatt: We're either in an abandoned bedroom or a kitchen or somewhere…

Meredith: Yeah, I think this actually is the dining room area that we're in today. Anyway, I always like to try to paint a visual picture for our listeners at home. If they're imagining that we're sitting in a palatial recording studio somewhere, you're welcome to come by anytime and see where we make the sausage here.

Wyatt: Yeah, we're sitting around a kitchen table. There's a very old…

Meredith: And dim.

Wyatt: At one time fancy chandelier [both laugh].

Meredith: With one remaining light bulb, actually. So, yeah. Anyway, that's where we are today and we, as always, are glad to be here. President, this year…

Wyatt: I…

Meredith: Sorry, go ahead.

Wyatt: Steve, I should probably finish that. The house that we're in was donated to the university.

Meredith: It was.

Wyatt: And in the…

Meredith: Yeah, built in I think 1952 or something.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: So, it's an old mid-century house.

Wyatt: But it was a nice house in 1952.

Meredith: A beautiful house, yeah.

Wyatt: Anyway, it's been really a great asset.

Meredith: And we love it. As the Center for Music Technology, I will say as the guy that's had the hand in not only building the facility but the program that surrounds it, we love the old Bradshaw house and we're glad to be here. So, this year's podcasts, we've settled on a theme that is "Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned." So, we are going to be hosting guests that are going to be talking with us about their very innovative programs and some of the great successes that we've had, but also the lessons that we've learned, both positively and negatively along the way as we, you in particular, President, have tried to lead the university toward more innovative programs and innovative thinking. So, as our listeners tune in, I feel like I ought to make sure that they all understand what we're doing here, and we have with us a special guest that absolutely makes the case for innovative thinking and new programs that really were old programs once and completely revitalized. Why don't you go ahead and introduce our guest?

Wyatt: Yeah. It is a pleasure to have Ken Hall with us today. Ken, thanks for joining.

Ken Hall: My pleasure to be here.

Wyatt: Ken, director of the Master of Business Administration program. I think it's easy to tell, Steve, what programs are going to grow and which ones aren't. And it has…mostly has to do with who is running them. So, this will be a fun topic for us today.

Hall: It will.

Wyatt: Ken, why don't you start? You're a Harvard MBA, spent a lot of years working in industry leading successful companies…why don't we start out with your life story? In a nutshell? [Laughs]

Hall: So, it's fairly random, but an exciting journey. I graduated with a chemical engineering degree and actually made gasoline for Exxon for about five years. At that point, went back and got an MBA from Harvard Business School and at that point, thought I was going to go and run some large industrial manufacturing company someplace. But I got a great opportunity to go do some management consulting with Bain & Company and saw lots of different companies and helped them with strategic direction, mainly the areas that I worked in. One of the companies that was a client of ours was PetSmart and so I spent about a year on an engagement at PetSmart helping them with the strategic turnaround. And then from there, joined PetSmart, I was their Chief Marketing Officer for five or six years, ran all of their merchandising and strategic planning. Never in the world thought that I would go from making gasoline to making television commercials to sell cat toys and dog food. [All laugh] But just loved it. Did that for about a dozen years…

Wyatt: Well, and that company has been a success.

Hall: It was amazing. It was wonderful. When I started there, the stock price had gone from $30.00 down to $3.00 and then we came in, helped with a turnaround, and the stock price would then climb back up over $30.00 and then eventually the company would go private after I left and stock was around $85.00. So, a great, great success, great turnaround story. Great people. After about a dozen years there, I got an invitation from my church to do a volunteer assignment. I did a three year volunteer assignment as a mission president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southern California. And then following that, thought I was going to retire. We moved to St. George, my wife's family is there, had a wonderful year hiking Zion and just decided that that was the wrong thing for me at the time. And so, I had a wonderful neighbor who introduced me to the dean of the Business School and then after a year as an adjunct, was brought on part-time as the MBA director and then full-time the next year. So, it's been a wonderful, exciting ride.

Wyatt: Yeah, I think you're younger than both Steve and I, so you shouldn't be retired.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hall: Yeah, no. [All laugh] That was something I learned very quickly, that was a bad idea.

Meredith: Although taking a year off to just hike around sounds like fun.

Hall: Yeah.

Meredith: In fact, that would be Nirvana for the President. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Just one year. Just one year. If you knew that you had something great for you…

Meredith: That's right, yeah.

Hall: That was the key. And I think as I looked at it, I realized I had a strong need to contribute and I had some flexibility to decide what I wanted to do and to be honest, I loved being around these young people, I love being able to be in the area of management and leadership and teaching has always been something that I've loved to do. So, it just was a wonderful combination and it's just been fantastic people here at Southern Utah.

Wyatt: Well, it feels like we're PetSmart Part II for you.

Hall: Yeah, a little bit. I think I would think of it that way, and it's been another enjoyable ride.

Wyatt: When I arrived at Southern Utah University in January of '14, we usually look at our numbers for fall, so, the first fall after I arrived, the Master of Business program had a grand total of 13 students in the face-to-face program.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: And the online program had just taken off, just barely started, but there were only 11.

Hall: Yep.

Wyatt: So, this was a really small program and we were worried about what was going to happen. And over the next couple years, it has kind of stayed about the same until you arrive.

Hall: Yeah, we saw some growth. And I wasn't here when we had those low, low numbers when you started, but one of the things that shortly went into place thereafter was starting up an online component of our MBA program. And I think in some ways, that online component actually provided a little bit of a lifeline for a few years so that the program could continue and didn't fade away.

Wyatt: What's interesting about online…before we do that, let's look at some of the numbers. Tell us what's happened with the program in terms of numbers? Online, face-to-face, where are you at now?

Hall: Sure. As you mentioned, we had a point where we had about maybe 30 students total in the program. When I started, we had about 73 that were enrolled total in the MBA program. That number would grow a little bit over the next couple of years, we hit a record year of 84, and then we've made a significant effort to improve the quality and grow our online program. Right now, for fall 2020, we're at 345 students.

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Hall: So, an incredible growth when you think about…when you started, we were about 34. So, it's been an amazing ride and this past year, we've seen the vast majority of that growth coming since January of this past year.

Wyatt: From 32 or 34 to 345. And you've got blocks, right?

Hall: We do.

Wyatt: So, there's a first half-semester block and a second half-semester block and I think projections are that by the end of this semester, we'll be pretty close to 400.

Hall: Very likely, yeah. So, we're still…we still have a number of weeks before fall B starts. So, enrollment is still growing.

 Wyatt: That's stunning growth, Ken.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hall: Yeah. [All laugh]

Wyatt: That's 32 to 345. That's ten times, more than ten times.

Hall: It's an impressive…and one of the things that I'm excited about…it's nice to see the numbers grow, absolutely, there's a lot of positives that come with growth, but one of the things that I think we're most proud of is our admissions standards have stayed the same and the quality—especially the quality of our online classes—has increased during this time as we've had to relook at all of our classes, we put them through a rigorous course redesign process. Each one of our online classes now has gone through a Quality Matters review—Quality Matters is kind of an industry standard for high quality online courses. All of our courses have gone through that, we have not done that before. So, in addition to the growth, we've also been able to step back and say, "And we're offering better online classes today than we did yesterday." And so, that's satisfying.

Wyatt: You know, there's one program on campus that I won't mention the name because we're…you know, every university has got programs that need a little help and some that are just doing phenomenal, but I was talking to a student in one of the other programs and he said—an undergraduate program—and he said, "You know, if the classes were a bit more rigorous I think this would grow a lot more."

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: Students are not attracted to easy; they are attracted to something that they know is worth their investment, especially for master's degrees.

Hall: Absolutely. The vast majority of our students, especially online but also in our face-to-face classes, they're working professionals. These are students mainly who are continuing to work, but have realized that they're in a point in their career where they need some additional skills, they need to be able to be a better manager, be a better leader to be able to take that next responsibility. And so, they're making a financial and time commitment because they see the opportunity that they need to progress in their career. It does them no good…most students, just getting an MBA doesn't check any box. It's they need to be more qualified for the next promotion, so they're hungry to learn and they want to learn and I think one of the things that…one of the reasons it's helped support this growth is we've been able to tap into that group of working professionals who truly want to make a greater contribution and don't want to or are unable to quit a career for a year or two, to put life on hold for a year or two. More than half our students, 53% of our students are 30 years old or above, and 15% are over 40. And so, we do have maybe a more non-traditional student base, but I think because of that, they're much more interested in, "Can you help me be a better leader? Can you help me be a better manager?" The MBA degree, the letters after their name don't really matter. What really matters for them is, "Can I take my team to the next level?"

Wyatt: Yeah, it seems like at least in my experience that your degree or where you got it or any number of those kinds of factors help you get your first job, but after your first job, nothing matters again.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: It's just you.

Hall: Absolutely.

Wyatt: So, for most of the people in your MBA program, they're already in their first job.

Hall: Yeah. And many in their second or third.

Wyatt: Or second or third, yeah. Well, what do you think is the main key to the growth?

Hall: So, I think there's a couple of things. First, I think there is an element of awareness. So, awareness of the program, marketing the program, letting people know what we offer and the reputation of the program. As that becomes more widely available, then more people have it in their consideration set. I think the other thing is recognizing that I can get a really high quality degree, but with the flexibility to match the unique things that I have. I'm working now, I don't know if I could take two or three classes at a time. So, our courses are seven weeks, many of our students that are working professionals will take two classes a semester, but they'll take them one at a time. One seven week and then a second seven week course. That kind of flexibility, that ability to focus just on one course at a time, "Hey, I could do a course and keep working." So, the awareness is one but the quality of the program, we're teaching you the skills you need to get that next promotion or to take your team to the next level, and it fits with the unique situation that I have as a working professional trying to raise a young family where I may not have the access to get an education another way. Or may not have the ability to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars for a big name, two year residential program. So, access and affordability I think have been really key for the students that we have in our program.

Wyatt: And you've shifted the program to blocks.

Hall: We have.

Wyatt: So that's…by "blocks" we mean half a semester length. Semester credits, but…

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, instead of starting in the fall or the spring, there are now six entry points.

Hall: That's correct, yes.

Wyatt: Two entry points in the fall, two in the spring, two in the summer. And, in fact, this fits completely into the university's three year bachelor's degree program, which means you can get a bachelor's degree in three years. I think your undergraduate programs, every one of them in the business school, can be done in a three year block.

Hall: That's correct, yes.

Wyatt: And the graduate program fits into that. So, you can move through that a little more quickly as well because of the full summer. The full summer opportunities. A three year degree doesn't mean you get done in three years; it means you get done in three years but you go into the summers.

Hall: That's right.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, you're doing the same work.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: You're just not wasting the summers.

Hall: One thing that's interesting and it may be a little bit more unique with the graduate student, but they're working 12 months a year. There isn't a summer off, there's not a fall semester. And so, one of the things that we've learned about our potential students is they wake up one day and realize, "I need to be better. I need to be a better manager, better leader." I don't want to wait until fall when I have that epiphany in February. Right?

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Hall: So, the ability to say, "I need more skills. I want to learn more, be better. When does the next class start? Oh, it starts in three or four weeks?" There is always another start date for them.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hall: And so, that's been a big benefit I think.

Wyatt: Can…a few questions about this. One is, there has been concerns on campus generally that if the university expands online program offerings, which are not designed to compete with the face-to-face but designed to reach out to those that, as you described, that can't give up their jobs and move to take a program, but there's been some fear that if we expand online, it would hurt the reputation of the school or that it would hurt the enrollments in the face-to-face programs. What's happened here?

Hall: So, at least for the MBA program, we've seen our face-to-face be very, very strong. It's continued. We actually saw our face-to-face numbers more than double last year as we were beginning the ramp up for this online program. So, we have not seen that cannibalization, the shrinking of face-to-face with this. As a matter of fact, if anything, we've seen our awareness grow and that has actually caused more people to come into our face-to-face program. So, we anticipate that our face-to-face program is going to continue to grow and probably be more vibrant and robust and strong because of the awareness and the rigor and the structure that we've got on the online side. So, we've not seen that kind of tradeoff. The other thing…we also have heard that comment a lot that, "Online classes aren't as good," or "They're too easy," or "If you have a big online program, that's somehow going to diminish the quality or value of your face-to-face." And one of the things that we keep telling ourselves is we control the quality. We own the quality of that online course. And if we deliver a poor online course, then that's bad on us. But there's no reason that the online course should be of a lower quality or a lower rigor. As a matter of fact, all of our courses are equivalent online or on campus. It's the same course taught by the same faculty. Our admission standards to the program are the same whether you're online of whether you're face-to-face. That has been really important I think for us and for our faculty to know that we're not lowering our standards, we're not lowering the quality of anything. We're recognizing that maybe we weren't that good at teaching online, even though we've had online courses for years, we maybe didn't invest in ourselves to become great online instructors. And that's something now that we're starting to do more and more. And so, making sure that the quality remains the same, we control that. And that was just a decision we made early on that we're going to have one program, two modalities, and we're not going to let one be of lower quality.

Wyatt: So, as you've grown the online, you've become more intentional about how you teach and increased the quality of the classes.

Hall: Absolutely.

Wyatt: That's added to the reputation of the school and the face-to-face classes have actually grown as a result?

Hall: Yes.

Wyatt: But clearly, the online classes have grown and that has extended the opportunities to people that otherwise wouldn't have gotten that education.

Hall: Very much so.

Wyatt: And what's happened with the faculty?

Hall: It's really interesting. When we start looking at growth that is measured in multiples, not percent, you have to have people to teach those classes. And so, we've been incredibly well-supported from the university, but we've been able to bring on six or seven faculty already, we're going to go out with another three faculty that we're going to start recruiting for this fall in the School of Business. And so, the number of faculty that we've got has increased significantly in the School of Business as a whole. And then the way that we operate within the school of business is we don't have faculty that are assigned specifically to a graduate program or specifically to online. So, really what it's allowed us to do, if I look at the management faculty, we've been able to bring on three new management faculty, four if you include our operations new faculty that we just brought on board, into our faculty. And they bring new skills, new experiences, and so it's not just that our faculty group has grown, but that we've actually been able to bring in more specialized skill sets. We've got a new faculty member that's just coming in with a real deep understanding of strategy. And so, now we've got a new faculty member that's broadening the depth of experiences that our faculty team has. And each faculty will probably teach an online course, a face-to-face course, they may teach in the graduate program, may teach undergrad…and so, the new faculty that have come in have actually enhanced all of our programs. Not just the MBA, not just the online MBA, but that influence of that new faculty pool growing and deepening, we're seeing that benefit across undergraduate face-to-face and online as well.

Wyatt: The specialization of your faculty is broadening.

Hall: It is, yeah. Instead of two or three faculty that have to teach all the courses, now we can bring in someone who is research focused, whose academic experience and training may be a little bit more unique or a little bit more specialized, which just, again, it enhances that offering that we're able to deliver.

Wyatt: It has seemed to me that the faculty in your program have always been really great.

Hall: Oh, we have fantastic faculty in the school of business. I joke…so, I live in St. George, which is about an hour from here, and I drive past another very good regional university every day to come up to Cedar City. And people say, "Well, why do you do that? Why don't you just teach down there?" And my answer is always the same. I come here because I love the people I work with. The faculty that we've got in the School of Business have been amazing. They're bright, they're intelligent, they're passionate about teaching their students. I love the direction that the university is going.

Wyatt: Why don't you tell us what some of the big challenges have been?

Hall: I think one of the biggest challenges …when we started the plans to grow our online, we had estimates that it was going to grow significantly. And there was some questioning, "Are those estimates real or not?" And fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you're looking at it, they've been actually more than realized. But I think one of the big challenges has been, "How are we going to resource? How do we start this ball rolling?" There's a huge investment upfront in redesigning the course to increase the quality of our online courses, to convert them from 14 weeks to 7 weeks. There's faculty that are going to need to teach these courses as we're ramping up. It would have been very unwise to start hiring faculty before we knew if the projections were actually going to be real or not. So, I think one of the biggest effort was that initial "getting things started." And it required a lot of faith, a lot of, "Alright we're going to try this" to get that fly wheel moving. Jim Collins wrote a book, Good to Great 20+ years ago, but he talks about a flywheel…and starting the ball rolling I think was really hard mainly because everyone is busy doing their current jobs and teaching our current programs, and to make the investment to improve, to launch something new and to get started all had to get going. And so, we were very fortunate, we had just an amazing faculty group that said, "OK, we're going to give you a chance. We're going to put in some extra effort upfront and we're going to see if that's going to come." And then as we started to see some of those results, "Wow, new faculty are coming onboard." "OK, hey my class is better now than it used to be." "Hey, this isn't so bad." "Hey, we can make this work." And getting the ball started with those upfront efforts I think was one of the challenges.

Wyatt: Well, and it actually took a lot of faith on the part of the faculty because administration doesn't always respond the way faculty would expect. And so, there's a natural worry…

Meredith: Skepticism.

Hall: That's a great word.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: Will they in fact give us resources?

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Or are we going to be stuck like this? So, that's a real difficulty.

Hall: I think that was the biggest concern that I heard was, "We're going to be asked to do this, resources won't come and then we're going to have to do more without the resources to support it." And so, we just kind of had a…almost a mantra theme of, "We need the resources to support the growth." And I still remember one of the conversations that I had with one of the department chairs in the School of Business where I came in and I said, "Hey, we need to go out and hire two new faculty for your department." And this department chair said, "You know, I've been here for 25 years. We've replaced faculty as they've moved on or retired…we've not added new faculty to my department in a couple of decades. This is a new thing. We're really going to get supported." And I think once they saw that the resources were going to be there to support the growth, that had a huge ability to help take those first few steps, that leap of faith if you will.

Wyatt: Yeah. And just in the last year or so, the faculty for the entire college has grown. And you're just talking really…we're talking about one program within the college.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: But the entire faculty for the college have grown by about 25%.

Hall: That's correct, yeah. And if the numbers keep coming, we're trying to figure out how we're going to continue to do that. But you can see that the growth has brought some really…it's always easier to manage a program, a company in a growth mode, even with the challenges, than it is in a declining mode. And so, with the growth mode, extra resources are coming in, extra students are coming in. Everything from faculty to student fees to activities. And so, the programs just get better, everyone benefits from that growth as now you're able to scale and become more efficient while bringing on additional resources.

Meredith: And that new faculty blood is so important to moving a program forward, because so often—I say this now speaking primarily of my own experience—but so often, once a faculty is really well ensconced over a number of years, that skepticism that we were talking about tends to grow. And so, starting new programs becomes even more difficult. There's that inert quality to the thing. "Hey, I just kind of want to be left alone. This is what I'm doing, this is the way it's always been." And so, having a new perspective, a new faculty person who doesn't bring any baggage, either positive or negative, with them to what has happened before and having them have that really clear eye just dispassionately look at this new job they've been hired into can have a really positive effect on a program. Have you found that? I only speak about this, Ken, because I know that sometimes as a faculty ages, these kinds of innovative practices become harder and harder to implement. Has it helped you to have new blood?

Hall: I think so. Well, not I think so; absolutely. And one of the things that I think has been really fun to watch and obviously I'm relatively new to higher ed, we have a lot of very experienced, tenured, very senior faculty and then a lot of our newer faculty are coming in as junior faculty.

Meredith: Right.

Hall: Tenure-track, but not yet tenured. And so, the mentoring opportunities have really been dramatic. We were just talking about this last week looking at our faculty and their service assignments and the different ways that they contribute and the number of our senior faculty now that have two or three junior faculty that they're mentoring and helping along that path. That is a whole new dynamic where now, you've got this wonderful faculty whose been here for…we've got a faculty member now who has been in the School of Business for I think it was 42 years we talked about yesterday, who now is sitting down with the faculty who is just starting on their career, fresh out of graduate school for a year or two, and having those two paired up where you've got this voice of experience and knowledge and just this wealth of understanding, to sit down with a new faculty who is energetic and enthusiastic…

Meredith: Yep, fired up.

Hall: Fired up, but doesn't quite have that knowledge set yet. The pairing and this mentoring, I think that alone has reenergized the school in some way, because I really believe everyone wants to contribute and they want to contribute in a way that's meaningful. And now, when I've got a faculty member who, like you said, who has been here for a few decades and they've got this rich experience and now has the ability to take one or two junior faculty under their wings and say, "Hey, let me kind of share some of the things I know." That's energizing. That's motivating.

Meredith: And it gives the senior faculty member a chance to reinvigorate and reinvent themselves a little bit, too. I've said often…you and I were chatting before we went on the air because I run the graduate program in music technology, and we've experienced similarly—not similar to you, you guys have been off the charts—but we've had tremendous growth as well and what I've discovered is that I've kept saying to myself, "You know, music technology is really kind of a young person's game. You have to really want to stay current and do all of that stuff." But as I've brought in new adjuncts and other things, I find that I, even as long in the tooth as I am as a faculty member, that I catch that enthusiasm…

Hall: Yeah.

Meredith: From them. And am, in fact, reinvigorated. So, you're right. It's great to have that mentoring opportunity and it's great going both ways.

Hall: It does, I think so.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Well, and I'm looking at some of these numbers, Ken, so…I don't have the enrollment numbers for every single semester, but I've got summer's and I've got fall in front of me. And face-to-face students, fall of 2016, six total. That's face-to-face only.

Hall: That's correct, yeah.

Wyatt: Six. And this past summer, even with a pandemic, it was 39.

Hall: Yeah.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: So, how can you be enthusiastic and energetic, as a faculty member or as a student, but as a faculty member teaching in classes where the total number of students in the entire program that are face-to-face only are just six? You might have two or three students in a class. If every student is in your class, it's six. [All laugh]

Hall: That's right. That's right, and they won't be.

Wyatt: And they won't be.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: There's a few students as well that are face-to-face and online combined.

Hall: They do both, yes.

Wyatt: But just to be able to walk into a class and see 30 students gives you as a faculty member…or 20 students, a sense of, "This program is going somewhere and my life is meaningful because I've got people that are showing up." [All laugh]

Hall: Yeah. There's an energy that comes from that.

Meredith: It's amazing what a difference that makes.

Hall: It really is. And that energy becomes contagious because, like in any class, in any group of six, if you get six people that are really quiet, that's a much more difficult thing. As you get a class of 20 or 24 or 25, you know you're going to have people that want to participate and that brings out the conversation from the class and it kind of builds upon each other as well. It's interesting, one of the things that I'm learning as I teach online more and more is how to engage our online students. And it's different, and I think there's a learning curve there. Many of us have gone into teaching because we love to be the professor at the front of the room. We're comfortable in that dynamic and to see and touch face-to-face. Teaching online is different. You have to think a little bit differently. How do I engage a student if I'm not sitting face-to-face with them? And so, it's forced us to think about different ways of engaging students but still having a meaningful engagement with them. And as we're getting better at that, what I'm learning is, the modality, how we deliver it, whether it's face-to-face or online, doesn't determine whether it's going to make a difference in someone's life, and we can still have a really significant impact.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's a good way of looking at it. So, the…I'm looking through some of the challenges or hurdles that you had to go through. The faculty's workload as the school started and you started working on this program, everybody had to step up and trust that good things would come as a result.

Hall: Yes.

Wyatt: That's sometimes really hard.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: Because everybody is doing a little extra work, they're not necessarily getting paid extra for it. They had to shift from semester-long courses to half semester blocks because we learned that that's what the working professionals prefer. And then that forced your face-to-face programs to change, didn't it?

Hall: It did. As we grew and the online began to grow, we had this wonderful kind of course schedule that really worked well. What we've begun to realize is that a lot of our face-to-face students wanted some of those same benefits. They wanted the flexibility. "If I need to step out for a period of time that I don't have to wait until next fall to get into the program." Or, "If my schedule caused me that I was going to be traveling that I could still continue in the program." We had a student that was in the armed forces and knew that there was going to be a deployment for them for a period of time. But because the classes were offered every seven weeks, it became very easy for that student to step out during the deployment period, step right back in within a few weeks of getting home and not lose a beat in the program. So, it caused us to relook at our face-to-face and say, "Who really is our student? What do they want? And how do we make sure that our face-to-face students are not being disadvantaged or don't have the same benefits as the online student does?" And, at least in the MBA program, they wanted that flexibility. Many of our face-to-face students still are working professionals. They like the opportunity to focus on one course at a time, and so, we did. We made some adjustments in the face-to-face program so that the scheduling of the courses were synchronized between online and face-to-face so that our face-to-face students could have the same benefits.

Wyatt: So, all of the face-to-face students are in these seven week blocks as well?

Hall: They are. And we just started that this fall. So, just…

Wyatt: Just barely, though.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: That means they have six entry points each year.

Hall: They do. They do as well. And again…

Wyatt: You know, you've worked for PetSmart and I remember a series of experiences that I had which I won't get into, but imagine being a car salesman and saying…and somebody comes in and gets mostly attached to buy a car, and if you told them that they had to wait four months before they could buy it, there would be no car dealerships in this country. [Laughs]

Hall: Right.

Wyatt: Because the car purchases are usually spontaneous purchases. Usually. So…and the same thing going around town, you know, just being able to tell somebody, "You can start tomorrow," or "Next week," or "You can start in four weeks" is a totally different…

Meredith: It is.

Wyatt: Customer service kind of thing. And why not model the kind of behavior that we want our students to have when they go out into business?

Hall: Absolutely. And you still do see some seasonality. You know, our Fall A term is probably our largest term, but since the world doesn't work in fall and spring semesters once you leave campus.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hall: And…

Wyatt: Well, and you…

Meredith: They didn't give you summers off at PetSmart?

Hall: They didn't.

Meredith: Oh, wow.

Hall: Sometimes I wished that we did have a semester break but…[All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, and you've had another challenge that I'm trying to remember, Steve and Ken, when did we open up our new business building? Were you here when we opened it up?

Hall: I was, yeah. It's been about…I want to say it's been two years. So…

Wyatt: Man, this great, beautiful new business building and you've outgrown it and we're expanding into the building next door. Moving people out of that building and moving you in.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: I think everybody in the Bennion Building next door are starting to worry. [Laughs]

Meredith: It's going to be the Bennion Business Building? Is that what you're saying? [Both laugh]

Hall: It is so interesting because…you know, just for years, and I've talked to some of the people that were involved on the business side with some of the design of the new business building, and literally, they had 20 years of experience. How much does the faculty grow in 20 years? And so, we had extra offices, we had extra space built in and all these things and…

Meredith: You blew right through it.

Hall: Yeah.

Wyatt: In a year.

Meredith: Yeah. [All laugh]

Hall: Definitely some…yeah. Uncomfortable conversations. "What are we going to do? Set up a tent?" So, we've got just a beautiful location right next door now.

Wyatt: So, if somebody was listening in working on a business program at another university or a program at our university, what would be your leading advice? The…as a business consultant, business manager faculty member and now program director, you've got a life of experiences. What would you say to somebody that's trying to take a program that's struggling and make it super successful?

Hall: Yeah, maybe just a couple of things. I think first thing, it's hard to see something different. It always is. We're human beings, change is hard. And so, being willing to kind of unfreeze your thinking and being willing to allow the opportunity for new thoughts is kind of a starting point. You've got to be willing to explore new opportunities. The second thing, I think it's really helpful to know your students. Who are the students? Who are your potential students? Who are the students that are being served? Or who are not being served probably more importantly. And as you get an understanding of your students and what they're looking for and what they need, that helps you inform what I'll call a real strategic position. And for us, as we began to do that process, "OK, we've not grown online before, let's be open to thinking about that. Who are our students? Well, they're working professionals, they want to get better in their career, they can't quit and come on campus full-time. Cedar City is amazing and it's beautiful but a lot of people can't just drop everything and move here, but they want to get better." And that allowed us to kind of put together a strategy that said, "OK, we can maintain a great program, we can increase the quality of our program and at the same time, we can improve the access that we're able to offer to our students. So, being willing to explore new opportunities, understanding who your students really are, what their challenges are, what their needs are, and then putting together a strategic plan or position to be able to meet those needs.

Meredith: I'd love to circle back just one second to something you just said in that little paragraph. I love the idea of looking at your students and seeing how you're meeting the needs of your current students, but especially looking at those whose needs you are not meeting. That is a hard…that's hard, institutionally, to do. Because as you said, you kind of have to explode your thinking. "Well, what are we…how are we not meeting the needs?" Because institutionally, we start in fall and spring and summer and we make you wait for four months if you miss one of those, right?

Hall: It's what we do.

Meredith: So, institutionally, we've…and it has come with some growing pains, but institutionally, we've had to say, "Yeah, we can't make people wait like that. What are we offering in the summer? Well…then who are we not serving? Well, then let's expand summer." And it's been so wonderful to see…I think it would be easy for us to say, "Hey, the faculty in the College of Business are entrepreneurial in their hearts anyway, and maybe they would have done this without this little extra nudge, but the fact is that regardless of whether or not you're teaching music or business or history or anything else, we all work at the same institution. And so, to reform the institution from the inside is a great challenge, and your college has done an amazing job at being willing to see who they're not serving and try everything they can do to try and meet those needs.

Hall: Absolutely, yeah. And I think we've been very fortunate in the sense that we've gotten great support from the university, we've got a dean, Dean Mary Pearson that…very forward thinking, very energetic, very willing to consider those new ideas and look at those new unmet or untapped needs.

Meredith: Yeah,

Hall: And that has given us, I think, the umbrella under which we've been able to do this.

Wyatt: Well, and the…you've talked about how this program has reenergized the school and the department and seeing new faculty come in and more students. I think that the entire department and college is going to reenergize the university. Because you can't have growth and excitement in one section that doesn't have a positive effect on everything it touches.

Hall: Yeah.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: So…but, congratulations to you, Ken.

Hall: Well, thank you.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: You have been phenomenal. To go from about 30 students in the entire program…32 or 34 up to almost 400 by the end of this semester…

Hall: It's been an amazing ride.

Wyatt: And it's still growing.

Meredith: Astounding, yeah. It really is.

Wyatt: And I like to think of this in terms of, "Wow, what has this done for the school?" But really, it's, "What has this done for people and families and communities and businesses." Because the really high-quality program that you've got that you've helped build into a more high-quality program is now serving hundreds of people.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Hundreds of families. Hundreds of businesses. Just dozens. You know, what a fantastic legacy.

Hall: And I think that that's probably been the greatest satisfaction. It's nice to see numbers go up, it's nice to see things, but when you're teaching class and you've got a student who is working at a power plant up in Duchesne County who wants to go forward, wants to do more but is limited. Can't leave, doesn't want to move, can't quit…and then to be able to hear, "Hey, I can put this into practice tomorrow with my team. This is going to help." That makes a difference. That's where the satisfaction and the desire to contribute come from. It's when you hear those stories of how people's lives are being changed, just because we were willing to embrace something a little different.

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've had as our guest today Ken Hall, who is the Program Director for our Master of Business Administration program, and we've been talking about the astonishing growth and both the highs and lows of getting there. Ken, we want to thank you for joining us today and we want to thank you, our devoted listeners, for tuning in. We'll be back again soon. Thanks a lot, bye bye.