Business schools partnering with companies to provide what those companies are looking for in an employee is foundational to the graduate business education model. It’s perfectly natural, too, that schools located in regions heavily populated with a certain type of industry would cater to that industry. Now, one Midwestern university is taking such partnerships another step. Indiana University announced July 28 that it has signed a pact with consulting and IT giant Infosys to offer the Bangalore, India-based company’s U.S.-based employees access to a huge slate of graduate and undergraduate degree programs — including the Kelley School of Business’s top-ranked online MBA, Kelley Direct Online.
Infosys moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, about 50 miles from IU, in 2018. IU has long had partnerships with Indianapolis- and Bloomington-based corporations to develop specific programs or provide executive training. But this deal is on another level altogether, particularly because of the pipeline of talent it brings to the Kelley School — not only its online MBA but several master’s programs, as well.
“We feel like it’s a really positive move,” says Chris Foley, associate vice president for academic affairs and director of the IU Office of Online Education. “Infosys created a side of operations in Indianapolis in 2018, and being one of the largest public institutions within the state, we have had faculty and administration members building relationships with Infosys since then. They started opening some conversations that really nicely coincided with some work that we were doing in the IU online world, which was trying to organize our degrees and offerings so that they were easier for corporations to access for basically their benefit programs for their employees.”
With an internal restructuring of degree programs underway at the university, the timing was right for a partnership like this, Foley says.
“We’ve long worked with corporations to develop specific programs that they would need or smaller agreements to provide executive training or training for their new cohorts,” he tells Poets&Quants. “At one time we had somewhere between 130, 140 different programs — grad, undergrad, certificates, degrees. We had quite an offering, and we knew that just trying to have individual conversations about individual programs, we really needed to have a better portfolio approach, saying, ‘Here’s what we offer, and this is what you can have access to.’ And so it really coincided well with what we were doing internally to structure our offerings to provide more of an off-the-shelf approach.
“And then this was a great local provider and a local corporation that we definitely wanted to have a presence with. So as part of those communications we’d already had with some of our faculty and administration with the company, we were able to incorporate this and it met a need on both our sides.”
INFOSYS STAFFERS WILL BE EXPECTED TO MEET SAME STANDARDS AS OTHER APPLICANTS TO KELLEY DIRECT
The IU-Infosys deal was announced a few weeks after a new partnership between accounting and consulting giant EY and Hult International Business School that makes Hult’s online MBA available for free to all EY staffers. But Hult’s online MBA and Indiana’s are not in the same league. Kelley Direct Online is one of the best programs in the world, ranked first in 2020 by U.S. News and second by Poets&Quants. The program normally costs just under $75,000 and has an acceptance rate of 82%. But the deal doesn’t give Infosys employees unfettered access to Kelley Direct. Company staffers — who number around 239,000 in the U.S. and 2,500 in Indianapolis — will have to pass muster to be accepted to it, including going through the same admissions process as other applicants.
“They will be expected to meet the normal application process and admission standards,” Foley says. “We do streamline a few things. We certainly will be adding a concierge service for this, so there will be a company point person so that we can answer questions directly related to this. We certainly will try to expedite them to get them through the process because we know that they’ll be additionally vetted and supported through the company, so the company is doing work for us on that end. We’ll have specialized communication materials that we’ll partner with Infosys to send out to employees regarding it, as well as a resource website for them.
“We’re trying to put as much of a specialized series of services around it while, at the same time, making sure that the students meet the same quality standards and expectations that we would have for any student. It’s the same degree that everybody else would be getting.”
IU’s prestigious online MBA is not the only online business degree Infosys employees can now submit streamlined applications to. In addition to five undergraduate degrees, which are meant to appeal to Infosys employees with associate’s degrees, the university is offering 11 other graduate degrees: The MS in Business Analytics, MS in Cybersecurity Risk Management, MS in Data Science, MS in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, MS in Finance, MS in Global Supply Chain Management, MS in Marketing, MS in Strategic Management, MS in Technology for Facilities Management, MS in Technology for Organizational Leadership, and MS in Technology and Technical Communication. All courses have been developed and will be taught by on-campus faculty — and more programs are imminent, Foley says, though he declined to provide details.
“As one of the nation’s leading research universities, IU is pleased to provide a diverse, rigorous and rewarding academic experience to students, as well as a critical tool to help our partners such as Infosys further develop their workforce,” Foley says. “Corporate-university partnerships such as this have proven to drive economic growth both locally and globally by enabling individuals and entire organizations to respond to the rapidly changing needs of the marketplace.”
CORONAVIRUS CREATES LOTS OF UNKNOWNS
These days no story about a new B-school program can neglect to include the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19, which has thrown graduate business education — and all of higher education — into upheaval. How will the launch of IU’s new partnership with Infosys be affected by the ongoing pandemic? It depends, Foley says.
“I don’t have an estimate of how many employees will likely sign up,” he says. “We hope that it will be a nice, solid relationship, but I also know that due to Covid, companies are also restructuring their benefit programs. Infosys may be one of those.
“And so that will definitely entail how many tuition reimbursement and things like that are available. When we were having these conversations in the fall of 2019, they’re not going to be the same situation in 2020, obviously. But we still are pretty confident that this will be a great program for the employees and great for the company.
“The other thing that I would say is that they were particularly interested in getting students who had associate’s degrees into bachelor’s degree programs, so we were able to do that. It wasn’t just about graduate education, although we certainly have that. As opposed to in the past, when we had a particular cohort of employees that we knew we were going to educate with specific degrees, this is more of a broader agreement that would allow employees of all backgrounds to have access to higher education — so that makes it hard to predict what the impact of Covid will be.”
There is little question of the value of an IU online degree to any Infosys employee, Foley says. “I think the real challenge for many companies right now is that it’s a great perk that they can add to their employee training, but at the same time, they’re having to absorb costs or redeploy their workforce, so they have added costs to respond to,” he says. “I think we all agree that it’s a really good thing for students and employees to go back and get additional training. This is a great time for it. It’s going to be an added benefit. They’re going to be able to learn how, not just in the classroom, but through the networking of other people that are both in their own company as well as externally, how they’re adapting to this scenario. But in the end — and I certainly can’t speak on behalf of Infosys on this one — the bottom line is companies are being impacted and that always is going to impact how much they can particularly financially support their employees at this time.
“We’re ecstatic, I have to say. From all I’m hearing internally and then from my colleagues out there, we’re really pleased to get this one off the ground. We’re really pleased to be working with a company that has a presence in Indiana and is an international leader in this field. I think it’s a win-win for everybody involved.”