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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Indiana Tech has 1,553 students enrolled exclusively online, 330 on campus and even more taking a combination of online and in person.

Web not worrying colleges

Area deans: They’ll survive big schools’ online growth

Online business classes are convenient for many students and growing in popularity, but leaders of local colleges said despite what some experts believe, courses offered by prominent business schools won’t lead to empty classrooms anytime soon.

Ryan Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, recently told Bloomburg Businessweek he estimates “half of the business schools in this county could be out of business in 10 years – or five.”

The threat, Lyons explained, is larger schools like Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will begin offering online MBA – Master of Business Administration – degrees and drawing students from across the country who might have otherwise opted for a program close to home.

And as brand-name schools attract the best students, part-time programs may have to become less selective, Lyons said.

But leaders of local business schools say they aren’t too concerned about Lyons’ prediction.

Local colleges and universities are more worried about one another and large online schools such as Western Governors University and the University of Phoenix, college officials said.

“Those larger programs won’t meet all the needs of our student clientele,” said Otto H. Chang, dean of IPFW’s Doermer School of Business. “ … and those people who are admitted to Harvard aren’t the same students that come to IPFW.”

Chang said while Lyons makes valid points about the changing structure of higher education, his prediction seems exaggerated.

“It would take a while for that prediction by (Lyons) to happen. But I don’t think half of the business schools will close. Maybe 25 percent, but probably not as many,” he said.

There’s no doubt the growing online market will affect business schools in some way, Chang added.

“If it’s not impacting our direct enrollment, it will still be affecting curriculum,” he said. “ … the IPFW program is going to have to incorporate more of the online component.”

IPFW has 819 business students enrolled in spring classes online. But there will always be students who prefer face-to-face instruction to the convenience of logging on to a computer, Chang said.

“Business is not just a theory or a science. It’s networking and also practice. Those internships and programs that really enrich our student learning,” he said.

‘Some small concern’

Deans and leaders at other business schools echoed Chang’s assessment.

“Our education is facing a consolidation, and schools not moving into that modern era of online learning are going to be left behind. But we don’t picture ourselves being one of those institutions that struggles,” said Jeffrey Zimmerman, dean of Indiana Tech’s College of Business.

Indiana Tech has nearly 330 students enrolled in the traditional day program at the business college, but the number of online learners continues to grow, he said. About 1,553 Indiana Tech students are enrolled exclusively online at the business college and still others are taking a combination of night classes and online courses.

“The online market is huge and it’s filled with lots and lots of good students – and the elite schools can’t take them all,” Zimmerman said.

The University of Saint Francis has about 125 students enrolled in the MBA program, which started with just a few students 10 years ago, said Robert Lee, dean of the university’s Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Lee said he’s not concerned about larger schools offering online degrees because those programs attract a different type of student.

“That’s a different market than what we’re in,” Lee said. “What Harvard is offering, for example, is a business school that is all graduates, no undergraduates.”

The University of Saint Francis offers fully accredited, eight-week accelerated courses that allow students to complete the program in a year, Lee explained.

“It’s priced competitively and that’s our program. A very, very solid, accredited program rooted in Catholic and Franciscan values,” he said.

The same is true for Grace College, said Tim Ziebarth, dean of online education.

“There is some small concern, but, on the other hand, I think this is where the private colleges come to play. We’re committed to our mission statement, how we’re founded and why we exist,” Ziebarth said.

Ann McPherren, professor of business and economics at Huntington University, said smaller colleges thrive on interaction between people and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“Convenience and price is part of it, but students are interested in quality as well. And whether we’re online or face-to-face, we need to package that value equation,” she said. “For Huntington, that means being more intentional about what we do and who we are.”

But the challenge at hand is remaining competitive in an environment that is growing and changing, McPherren said.

“There’s more competition on the landscape and that makes us sharpen our game and determine what is our compelling distinction that will help us maintain, or continue to grow, our enrollment,” she said. “We’re going to have to market it a more aggressive way than before.”