Hybrid learning breaks down geographic barriers for Northeastern University

by Grace

Northeastern University is expanding its brand of co-op business education across geographic regions by investing heavily in hybrid education, with its first branch campus in Charlotte, NC.

The goal is to offer master’s degrees in industries like cybersecurity, health informatics and project management, matching programs with each city’s industries and labor needs, through a mix of virtual learning and fly-ins from professors based in Boston (tuition will be the same as at the main campus).

And it’s not doing it on the cheap

Northeastern, which is spending $60 million to support the expansion, is perhaps the most ambitious of a handful of brick-and-mortar institutions looking to broaden their footprint in new markets and with new methods of instruction….

Northeastern has hired 261 tenured and tenure-track professors in the last five years, about twice as many as in the previous five, and plans to add 200 more in the next three years — all of whom will be based at the home campus in Boston.

Examining traditional assumption that face-to-face is always better than online

“This is a time of huge transition in an industry that hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages,” said Charles P. Bird, a former vice president of Ohio University who helped develop the institution’s online offerings and now works as a consultant. “Higher education is going from traditional face-to-face delivery, and the unexamined assumption that that is good, to thinking about delivering a high-quality online experience, whether fully online or hybrid.”

Drexel University has struggled with a similar enterprise it began in 2009, perhaps miscalculating the importance of local relationships.

“Bill Gates says place is going to matter less and less for universities in the future, but I think that’s wrong,” said Mr. Aoun, Northeastern’s president. “I think a successful university has to be part of a community.”

Savings for students, and the question of quality

Tuition costs for Northeastern’s new hybrid master’s are the same as those for its Boston campus program, but the savings for students will be in time, convenience, and living expenses.  I remember years ago when my husband was planning his return to school to pursue an MBA.  Since online was not an option, we had to price out the potential costs in terms of my lost income and moving expenses.  Today, that equation is quickly changing.

An important question that remains unanswered is about how the quality of online education compares with face-to-face.  Northeastern, ranked 56 on BusinessWeek’s list of business schools , would seem to have a good chance of serving up a high quality experience with its hybrid approach.

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