Friday, October 18, 2013

Virtual HBCUs as Strategic Alliances

Last updated: Friday 10/25/13 @ 12:08 am
What follows is a modified version of a good idea whose time has finally come ==> the Virtual HBCU (V-HBCU), a notion that was first announced to the HBCU community over ten years ago in "Going Online with V-HBCU" (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 4/25/2002). As per the article in Diverse, the original V-HBCU consortium had six members: Alabama A&M University, Bethune Cookman College (now "University"), Florida A&M University, Grambling State University, Morgan State University, and North Carolina Central University. 

Note: A more limited version of this discussion was originally posted as the last section of a previous note on this blog, Strategic Partners for HBCU Online Programs - Part 4.

Like its predecessor, the modified V-HBCU is a consortium or strategic alliance of HBCUs that pool their resources via the Internet in order to share costs and revenue; but it differs from the original in the manner in which it facilitates on-campus courses, off-campus degree & certificate programs, and MOOCs. Their collaboration is facilitated by the Internet.

A. On-Campus Courses
  • Members of a strategic alliance would share the fully online courses they had developed for their own on-campus students. This sharing would be governed by carefully crafted Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). The MOUs would stipulate that students in one HBCU could take online courses offered by other HBCUs within an alliance, thereby broadening the array of online courses available to all of the students within the alliance.

    Students would pay their usual tuition for an online course to their home HBCU; and their home HBCU would forward the tuition to the HBCU that offered the course. But whenever the tuition at the home HBCU was lower than the tuition at the offering HBCU, the home HBCU would pay for the difference, not the student.

  • Members would also share blended course materials with each other. The HBCU that owned the course materials would provide copies to other HBCUs in the alliance and license the use of these materials for a specified period of time, e.g., five years. Of course, each HBCU would provide its own instructors for the blended courses whose materials it licensed. As with online courses, sharing blended course materials within an alliance would greatly expand the range of blended courses available to students within the alliance.

    Fees could vary by the level of the blend of the courses. In other words, fees for 30% blends would be less than fees for 50% blends; and fees for 50% blends would be less than fees for 100% blends, i.e. fully online courses.

B. Off-Campus Degree & Certificate Programs
A second difference between the modified V-HBCU proposed here and the original concept derives from the modified version's use of strategic partners for off-campus programs.
  •  A strategic alliance would engage a strategic partner to provide the same kinds of marketing, recruiting, course development, coaching, hosting, and other services that these corporations provide to individual HBCUs in exchange for a negotiated share of the tuition revenue from such programs.

    Note: The reader is referred to the four previous entries on this blog listed in the "Related Notes" section at the bottom of this page for a full discussion of strategic parterships for individual HBCUs.
  • Some well-known strategic partners that help HBCUs and other institutions launch degree & certificate programs for off-campus students include Education Online Services Corporation (EOServ), EducationDynamics, Bisk Education, Learning House, Pearson eCollege, Pearson Embanet (formerly known as "Embanet Compass" before being purchased by Pearson), Deltak (division of Wiley), and 2U (formerly known as "2tor").
  • The online degree and certificate programs would be based on courses developed by the HBCUs within the alliance.
  • For each program, e.g., a certificate in Cyber Security, one member of the alliance, the conferring member, would confer the degree or certificate. From the student's perspective, he or she has enrolled in an online program offered by the conferring HBCU. The fact that many of the online courses in the program are taught by instructors employed by other HBCUs is of no consequence.
  • As in a partnership with a single HBCU, the strategic partner of an alliance would receive a negotiated share of the revenue from enrollments in the courses in the programs sponsored by the alliance.
  • The remaining revenue would be shared by the members of the alliance based on the enrollments in the courses offered by each member.
Membership in alliances that engage strategic partnerships would enable smaller HBCUs to derive benefits that are comparable to the benefits derived by larger HBCUs with stronger brand names:

  • By pooling its instructors and online courses, an alliance could offer a far wider array of degree and certificate programs than any of its individual members

    To be specific, pooling their instructors and online courses would enable the HBCUs within an alliance be able to come closer to the ideal combined strategy described in the opening paragraphs of this discussion, i.e., the courses offered by an alliance would be closer to 100% online and a higher proportion of its instructors would have the requisite prior experience in teaching online courses. As consequence, an alliance would be able to launch more programs on a faster schedule than the total number of programs launched by its individual members.
  • Its wider array of potential programs that could be launched on a faster schedule would make an alliance more attractive to potential strategic partners than its individual members ... and should enable the alliance to negotiate a higher share of the tuition revenue.

  • Massive Open Online Courses, a/k/a "MOOCs" (pronounced "mooks"), provide a third context in which strategic alliances could leverage the limited resources, technical staff, and subject matter experts of the member HBCUs by enabling their combined virtual HBCUs to offer courses that could attract large enrollments of online students, not just from the member HBCUs, but from all over the world.
  • Member HBCUs could gain further leverage by engaging strategic partners whose technical experts could upgrade the MOOCs developed by the virtual HBCUs with state-of-the-art functionality. The partners could host the MOOCs on learning management systems running on ultra reliable servers in their own data centers or in the cloud.

    The partner's specially designed learning management systems could also provide access to the large data streams generated by the students enrolled in the MOOCs as they navigate the presentations and examinations. Analysis of these data streams would enable the faculty of  member HBCUs to participate in pioneering research to understand how students really learn in online environments. Hopefully, this research would enable the HBCU faculty to redesign their online courses so as to provide more effective learning environments for black American students and for other students throughout the African Diaspora.
  • Coursera and Udacity are two well-known strategic partners that could help virtual HBCUs develop and manage their MOOCs. 

    Note: In December 2012,
    Udacity agreed to help Morgan State University produce a MOOC (Diverse Issues, 12/3/12)
Related Notes: