‘THE DOOMSDAY SCENARIO’
Then, there is what Ulrich calls the “doomsday scenario.” The nominal purpose of a business school is for academic learning. But if the school piece is available online then maybe the other functions get unbundled. If we lose the academic piece, the question is will these other pieces become unbundled and business schools lose their allure. Any one of those three pathways can play out.”
“We can deliver a fantastically awesome MBA experience if we embrace the technology and prevent scenario three. I think we could deliver a quarter of the content at least using technology and then we could spend the two years with amazing immersive experiences in interesting places with interesting people doing interesting projects. If we don’t embrace the technology, i think we are really threatened by pathway three.”
The most vulnerable schools, believes Ulrich, are the third-tier MBA program. “An elite business schools performs all five functions, but a third-tier school may only do one thing: Teach accounting and present value,” he says. “You don’t get any credit for being at the University of Phoenix. There is no career management or alumni network. You are only getting the teaching and learning piece. Because that could be done pretty well with technology, they are absolutely threatened. That is what is so different about the top of the pyramid and why we are insulated a little bit.”
‘FOR A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS, WE HAVE REACHED TWO MILLION STUDENTS’
More than any other elite business school, Wharton has led the way in offering an array of free MOOC courses to students, including what the school calls its “foundation series” of four core offerings in financial accounting, marketing, corporate finance, and operations management. Ulrich led the foundations initiative, which has cost the school $250,000 but has reached two million online students.
Ulrich said he believes the school’s MOOC strategy has had significant value to the school. “I think it has been a really smart thing for us to do,” he says. “First off, we don’t give away very much, If you look at the content, it’s a fairly small fraction of what an MBA gets in a full-time program and to some extent it’s the least interesting. So I don’t think it cheapens what you would get at Wharton. If someone can come in and do an online course and make our $120,000 MBA program obsolete, we have a problem.
“Second, it’s really about social mission. It’s inexpensive. For a quarter of a million dollars, we have reached two million students with our foundation series. It’s like ten cents a student. We pay a dollar for a Google adword. So to be able to reach that many prospective students that inexpensively is very efficient.”
‘EXPOSING PEOPLE TO WHARTON PRODUCT HAS MADE MORE WANT TO ENROLL AT THE SCHOOL
Ulrich also argues that the Wharton professors who have taught MOOCs have learned invaluable lessons about how to use the technology, lessons that have found their way into the classroom and made for better teaching. “It has also made us smarter about the technology,” he maintains. “If we hadn’t done this, we would be stupid about it. I think we are now expert on how to do these courses.
“By exposing people to the product, it makes them want to enroll in the fee-based courses. I was in Beijing last month at a forum and had a student who will matriculate in the fall tell me he had taken a MOOC and that’s why he decided to come to Wharton. That is $120,000 in revenue from one person. You only need a few of those to justify all the spending we’ve done on MOOCs. I don’t think anyone looks at Harvard Business School saying they have cheapened their brand by selling case studies. Instead, it makes a lot of people say they want to go to Harvard because they write the cases.”
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