Brooke Elliott was drafted as the Associate Dean to lead the online programs at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to change life all over the world in early February of 2020. One of the school’s most dynamic professors and head of its highly admired accounting group, Elliott had earned a reputation as a passionate and energetic leader with a strong strategic mind.
In the 20 months since her appointment, Elliott has successfully led a dramatic expansion of Gies’ online student enrollment with an equally dramatic scaling of staff to support those programs. She launched a new online master’s in management program in October of 2020 which has boasts just under 600 students. The school’s flagship iMBA program, one of the most disruptive higher education products, now has an enrollment of some 4,300 students from a dead start six years ago.
Elliott, who drives an agate black F-150 Ford truck and wears skinny jeans and bright blue and orange Jordans, stood before more than 350 future and current students and alumni on Sept. 17th at the school’s iConverge event. For many of the attendees, who had Zoomed, Slacked and WhatsApped each other for months, it was the first opportunity to actually meet in person–and their first exposure to the former professor-turned-leader who joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a faculty member in 2003.
Here are her prepared remarks delivered at the event:
Thank you all for coming. It means a lot to us that you’d take time out of your busy lives to come visit us and visit this campus in person.
We’re thrilled to bring this event back after having to cancel it last year. And while things may look at little different (masks, etc.), it’s so great to be back together. I can’t say enough about the incredible work from our campus in fighting COVID-19. This university literally invented a new low-cost, saliva-based COVID test. Not only have they conducted more than 2.2 million tests on campus, but we’ve rolled out our testing system for more than 1,200 K-12 schools (680,000 students, 91,000 staff), 31 colleges and universities as well as hospitals, and government offices throughout the state. This university is literally saving lives during this pandemic, and you should all be so proud to be Illini!
The pandemic has been a major disruption for all of our lives, and some more than others. While so much of our day-to-day had to be put on hold, thankfully your education did not. You’ve been able to start – or in some cases finish – your degree during this extremely difficult time. I recognize that many of you had to make difficult choices and significant sacrifices to continue to invest in yourself through education – and I commend you for making that choice. While students in full-time programs around the nation and the world were hurriedly shifting to a remote learning environment, you were in the program that is online-by-design. So there was no transition; And no disruption to your education.
I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work, whether you’re in the iMBA, iMSA, or iMSM. I know it’s not easy triaging work, family, and a graduate education – but you are the reason these programs have been so successful in changing lives.
I’m especially grateful for the outstanding people we have in these programs. You all have been such incredible ambassadors for our programs and for Gies Business more broadly. Your word of mouth is our best promotion.
What you’re experiencing here is true online education. These are programs that were designed to be online. I hope you’re able to see the tangible benefits of that.
I want to take a few minutes today to talk about OUR WHY at Gies. And a little bit about where we’ve been – and where we are going.
University of Illinois is a land-grant institution with a mission to create new knowledge and new ideas and translate these into better ways of working, living and learning for our state, nation and world.
At Gies, among other things, that means democratizing education, breaking down financial and geographic barriers. Delivering a life-changing education for all who desire it and are committed to pursuing it.
That’s exactly what these programs do. They expand access, focusing on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. They’re flexible and accessible, so you can access these degree programs anytime, anywhere – and you can feel confident that the return is worth the investment that you are making because of their affordability. THAT IS life-changing access.
It would mean nothing, though, without quality. So we’ve committed from the beginning to putting our best, most experienced faculty in these online courses. We strive to maximize the student experience by maximizing the faculty experience. We have invested in the talent and infrastructure necessary to produce high quality content, delivery, and engagement. Altogether, it makes for a powerful learning experience
The world is noticing what we’re doing. Last August, Poets&Quants named the iMBA the #1 Biggest Business School Innovation of the Decade. That list included innovations at Harvard, Berkeley, and other great schools, but WE were #1. That’s a powerful endorsement of your hard work and enthusiasm for this place.
Delivering on our mission
Over the past six years, we have delivered on our mission to expand access to high quality business education.
- More than 2.8 million MOOC learners served
- Nearly 9,000 (8,892 exactly) learners served in our degree courses
- Learners have come from all 50 states & DC – as well as 103 countries around the world
- We have produced nearly 2,500 new Gies alumni (2,388 exactly)
- We’ve helped nearly 3,000 women (2,956 exactly) work toward, or earn, their degree.
- And we’ve been able to serve nearly 1,200 under-represented minority students (1,193 exactly)
To put this in perspective, almost one-third of our iMBA students are from underrepresented populations within the US. Harvard reports being at 27%. Michigan Ross at 22%. And while exact data is hard to nail down (schools define it differently), based on our size, it’s very likely that we are second-to-none in sheer numbers of US minorities served through our graduate business degree programs. Percentage-wise, we’re well above average no matter which way you slice it. A testament to you, to your success, and your willingness to share the great news about this College and what we have to offer.
We have seen tremendous growth in demand for what we offer. I believe this is driven by a combination of the following:
- Our reputation at Gies for delivering high-quality business education
- Our outstanding faculty at Gies that develop our content and deliver our courses – even other peer institutions do not have the commitment of their top faculty in the way that we do. Same degree, same quality faculty.
- The pandemic prompted many to think about investing in themselves through education – and online was the only way you could do it. We had built a reputation for being online-by-design and learners recognized that our experience was better than other institutions that were offering remote options.
- The Word of mouth has been fantastic testament to the student experience, quality, and outcomes
- Results speak for themselves:
- 97% student satisfaction rate
- 94% would highly recommend the program to a friend
- 54% received a promotion, job offer, or accepted a new job during the program
- 21% average pay increase for students during the program
Testament to Success
-And your stories are the greatest testament of our success!
– I LOVE seeing our student and alum stories – YOUR stories. Your stories are my “Why” – as Larry Gies would say.
Foundations for the Future
This University and the Gies College of Business are committed to a purpose of expanding access to education.
Expanding access comes challenges – and we thank you for bearing these challenges with us. But real transformation is costly and requires patience, innovation, investment, and commitment to a mission and a purpose.
Our outstanding talent and TV-like production studios are great examples of the investment! [And we have a new building underway!]
More than 70 staff members are part of our Gies teaching & learning team: this includes video producers, live session navigators, instructional designers, graphic artists, and much more
Together with more than 60 faculty who teach online (and nearly 300 course and teaching assistants), they’ve produced more than 16,000 videos. They deliver more than 100 online courses and more than 40 live sessions per week
These are all held in 6 studios: two TV-style multi-purpose studios, two dedicated live teaching studios, one production studio, and one self-service faculty studio
We couldn’t do it without our online program administration team behind the scenes, including 45 people who work in recruiting & admissions, student services, operations, data, and content strategy, and learner relations.
All told, that’s more than 475 people working together to support you and your educational journey.
You experience it directly in your interactions with our best faculty who care deeply about YOU and delivering an unparalleled experience
And there is a large part that you do not see but which is there nonetheless – the time our faculty spend, the time our leaders spend, the time our staff spend – all dedicated to YOUR success.
You will see soon, if you have not already, new tools and technologies we are piloting to maximize the quality of student engagement; you will see a move to Canvas as an LMS – and better integrations with the Coursera platform; you will see new courses and new-versions of existing courses; you will see new experiential learning opportunities and a resurgence of opportunities to connect with one another; you will see a new program called the First8 – designed to maintain the cohort experience even as we grow!
To continue to lead in online graduate business education, we have to continue to be innovative and disruptive in this space.
Disruption in Higher Ed
Higher Education as an industry is being disrupted, and we (YOU) are part of that disruption and transformation.
Academic institutions are being forced to think about content development and delivery in new ways…to think critically about the value of a credential and to re-define what a credential means…to think about how to design education to serve a much larger and more diverse learner population than they ever thought possible.
Academic institutions are learning how to partner with non-academic institutions to reach new learners and innovate in content delivery. We were the first to partner with Coursera in the degree space – and the partnership has allowed us to expand access in an unprecedented way over a very short period of time. The transformation to our college has been astounding – over a period of 6 years we have gone from serving 0 graduate students online to over 5,700; and our residential graduate programs continue to show strong demand with almost 900 students enrolled over 6 programs.
Academic institutions are also beginning to partner with non-academic intuitions around content development. Companies like Google have the expertise to develop job-ready technical content – that paired with content around leadership and managing and working in teams – can position learners to enter the job market and excel. Look for an upcoming announcement about what we are doing with Grow with Google outside of the degree space!
We will continue to be thought leaders and innovators as higher education is disrupted. And, we will be guided by our mission of expanding access to high quality, affordable, business education in the partners that we choose, the educational products that we offer, and the learning experiences that we design for our students. This is what will set us apart!
Stackable Paths to Lifelong Learning
Our goal is to serve our learners throughout their entire educational journey. Education is no longer a linear path, individuals jump in and out of their educational journey throughout their lives. We want to create a path where learners can start and stop; take a pause, transition to a new path – and earn credentials along the way that allow learners to show other what they have learned and also carry the credentials forward, and stack them into other offerings when they are ready to go back to educational journey!
- We developed the stackable degree model, from the basic MOOC component all the way up to the full degree; and now we are expanding our stackable educational portfolio….we have been hard at work during the past 15 months.
- We developed 2 skills iCademies (data analytics and leadership) – think of this as bite-sized, skills-based education
- We have continued to add our MOOC portfolio; and for much of these content we have developed new credit-bearing courses (FSA, Mergers & Acquisitions specialization)
- We create a brand- new credential on our campus! The campus graduate certificate. It is credit-bearing, and a recognized credential from the University of Illinois. These will serve as pathways into the degrees and “post-ways” for those who want to come back and learn more after the degrees!
- You will see all of this very soon on our new Gies Online website!
- Our Ultimate vision is that Every one of our educational offerings is stackable in some way.
Welcome to the Illinois FamILLy
These type of innovations are essential to future-proofing the Gies College of Business and learners. And it’s a way we can continue to serve you even after you’ve completed your degree. We want you to always choose Gies when making the decision to start or continue on your educational journey!
Whether this is your first time here – or if you’ve visited before – this is your campus. Take some time to explore. Soak it in. You belong here. No matter the path that led you here – you belong at Illinois; you belong at Gies.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I absolutely love what I do. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have here at Gies. Seeing the way that our education can transform your lives – even from thousands of miles away in many cases – has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Thank you again, for choosing to spend your time with us. Enjoy yourself over these few days that we have together. I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can. We are so glad to have you here and part of the Illini family!