The Closing of the U.S. Open University

December 14, 2009 at 4:17 pm 2 comments

“The biggest mistake we made was getting started with undergraduate education,” noted Jarvis. “The OU MBA is one of the largest and most highly regarded in Europe…. We should have done an MBA or Americanized the OU MBA first.” As it turned out, the challenge of making inroads in the U.S. undergraduate market was one that USOU would not have enough time to solve.

via The Closing of the U.S. Open University (EDUCAUSE Quarterly) | EDUCAUSE.

When I was looking for the reference to John Daniel’s book on Mega-Universities in the earlier blog post today, I also found this fascinating analysis of what happened to the US Open University, which was started by the UKOU and was originally headed by John Daniel.

The lessons of what went wrong and the untaken paths are valuable, but the one I found particularly insightful was the above.  Richard Jarvis, the chancellor of the USOU, argued that it was a mistake to start at the undergraduate level.  There is more money (economics matters), more prestige, and less complexity at the Masters level.

I don’t think that Jarvis is arguing that distance education shouldn’t be used with undergraduates. The article points out ‘his passion is for “that vast population of un- and under-served students in the U.S., working adults and care-givers, drop-outs and stop-outs, the thousands with no degree” for whom an open university is not the best but “their only hope for a higher education.”’  However, the pathway to serving everyone might be through serving the higher-end Masters level first.  That way, you can develop the technologies and the practice, and establish a firm business base for the institution, before dealing with issues like articulation agreements and accreditation which (as Jarvis explains in the interview) were the final nails in the coffin of the USOU.

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