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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are We Ready for Advertising Funded Degrees?

I'm a sucker for new education business models, so when the Chronicle detailed the still fuzzy plans for World Education University, I took note. Scott Hines, the university’s chief executive holds firm to the idea that students will know that their degrees are being funded (mostly) through advertising.

What degrees? The programs website notes, "WEU expects to be able to offer credentialed diplomas in a variety of industries, Associate Degrees, Bachelor Degrees, Master Degrees, and Ph.Ds." About 20 disciplines from computer science to theology are listed as possible areas to earn a degree.

The school doesn't share its location, nor the specific accreditation it hopes to capture. A commenter found an address in California and suggest accreditation via DETC (one of the national level, lower level, accreditors focusing on distance education) or WASC (one of the six highest level or regional accreditors in the U.S.) would be logical, though that would require a few years at least in the making. WASC, by the way, recently earned kudos from a Chronicle commentator when it denied accreditation, publicly and tightened its stance of graduate percentages.

For his part Hines shares the plan for national, regional, and international accreditation. There's also a plan for competency-based accreditation where corporate partners "stamp" the university as properly preparing students for a particular industry. ("GIS company X says students who complete a course of study at WEU are competent to do GIS.")

The article shares three methods of monetization of students via advertisers (Remember, if an online product is free, you are the product!):

- targeting advertising to student interests (like running)
- outright advertiser sponsorship of students
- academic achievement points that can be exchanged by students for advertisers prizes or discounts

A fourth money maker does not involve adverstising. The school may charge for tutoring or premium content (unclear if that means specific lessons, courses, degrees or what). That last option is essentially a freemium model. (You read Free, right? Worth a read if not.)

The source of the content? In the long term the school plans to create original content; at the outset materials from two undisclosed institutions will be offered.

The faculty? Here's the recruiting blurb regarding salary.
We pay our professors based on academic performance. Each student will grade you, the professor, and the course you create for our online community. The more students who rate your course highly, the more students will take your course and the more you will get paid. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our team.
If something sounds too good to be true....