University News

Master’s programs would increase revenue

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2012

The University’s first Professional Executive Master’s Program for mid-career professionals will likely begin no later than fall 2013, said Karen Sibley MAT’81 P’07 P’12, dean of continuing education. 

Sibley said the University has been evaluating how to meet the needs of adult learners for at least a decade. Peer institutions like Dartmouth, Columbia and Harvard have already established successful professional programs. 

Financial concerns were a “significant” motivation for developing these programs, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. It is too soon to say how big an impact the programs could have on the University’s budget, but they could potentially bring in millions of dollars — since they cost little to implement but can be marketed at high prices — diversifying revenue sources and lessening the University’s dependence on undergraduate tuition, Sibley said.

With the University dipping into reserve funds and upping tuition, continuing education programs offer a robust source of revenue, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. “We can benefit ourselves.”

“If we can do those (programs) in ways that are complementary and mutually reinforcing, then wow, that’s a homerun,” he said.

Expanding education to a new group of students will take advantage of already available resources, Schlissel said. Classes will take place downtown in the Office of Continuing Education and will not meet at the same time as undergraduate classes, so faculty members will not have to worry about potential conflicts. “We want to be sure that it doesn’t take away from the effort that our faculty are spending educating our on-campus students,” Schlissel said. 

The Health Care Leadership program, the first professional degree option developed in conjunction with the University’s public health program would bring together professionals from different areas of the health care industry to learn about the United States’ evolving health care system, Sibley said. New leaders will be required to adapt to the changes that health care reform will create in the industry, she said. 

Most of the coursework will be completed online using the new Canvas system, Sibley said. By using technology effectively, the University will be able to create a “happy learning population” of working professionals without requiring them to take time away from their jobs or families, she said.

Rod Beresford, associate provost and professor of engineering, said students will likely include those looking to “advance their career more rapidly or possibly make a change in their sector or aspect of the industry.” 

Eight faculty members will teach the 16 to 20 students the program hopes to enroll, Sibley said. About half of those eight are current University faculty members. She added that it is important to strike a balance between current faculty members who can share their knowledge and instructors coming directly from the field.

The faculty will vote on whether to approve the health care program at its April meeting, and, if it passes, the Corporation will vote on it in May, Beresford said. The program’s launch date will then depend on how quickly the University could recruit students, Beresford said.

Sibley said the University is also working to develop programs connected to data analytics, given the growing prevalence of large data sets and biotechnology.  

Beresford said he hopes the University will be able to develop programs that are “distinctive and somewhat unique to Brown.” But he added that all programs the University offers will be in areas where there is a high demand, and so it is “understandable and expected that other institutions will be formulating their own responses to these opportunities.”

One concern that has been raised is that the creation of online master’s programs might diminish the value of a Brown degree. Jason Becker MA’09, who previously served on the University’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education, called the program’s purpose  “exclusively for making money” in a Dec. 1 Herald article. 

“We’re talking about credentializing people in areas that we’ve never done before,” he told The Herald in October. 

Schlissel said the University has worked hard to ensure the new program has the same quality of curriculum, instructors and students as every other Brown program. 

“Brown is a university where undergraduate education is at the center of what we do. It’s the thing that we feel most proud of ­— it’s the most special thing here,” Schlissel added. He said ensuring  that new initiatives do not interfere with the college is a priority, and that it is “concerning” when people immediately assume expanding other aspects of the University is at the expense of the undergraduate experience. 

The programs, he said, could have potential benefits for undergraduates as well. The Canvas system may teach professors and administrators more about how courses can be taught effectively online. They could potentially develop online courses for science prerequisites in the future, giving students more flexibility with their schedules, Schlissel said.

Sibley said the programs would also expand Brown’s alumni network, giving students more connections to those working in the “big world of enterprise.”

The programs “represent an exciting opportunity to reach a different group of students and at the same time bring in resources to the University,” Schlissel said. “Hopefully they’ll be a real win for Brown.” 


— With additional reporting by Aparaajit Sriram

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