The Graduate Student as Consumer
Until recently, higher education was a once-in-lifetime experience. Today, however, the focus is on lifelong learning and knowledge, not for knowledge’s sake, but for employability. This shift has been driven by both technology and economics, says Shaul Kuper, Founder and CEO of Destiny Solutions, which creates software for non-traditional divisions of colleges and universities to manage students and streamline business processes.
The result? Students who want convenience, flexibility, and bang for their buck. In short, students who are educated consumers.
"Because the landscape is so competitive," says Kuper, "students have numerous options, and therefore demand the same high level of service that they do from any other company. Students are starting to be able to negotiate fees, delivery mechanisms, time frames, and more.
"Further, as corporations partner with institutions to train and educate their employees," Kuper continues, "they are demanding a high level of personalization and flexibility in terms of content, delivery, and pricing as well."
Because many graduate students today are juggling professional, family, and educational obligations--and are spending their own hard-earned money (or their employers')--the competition among schools to attract and retain students is growing, and not just in the U.S., but around the world.
"This is a global marketplace," says Kuper.
Addressing the needs of these savvier graduate students is the objective of Johns Hopkins University. While Hopkins' main campus is in Baltimore, the university has expanded its reach across the state and the District of Columbia, so that students can obtain a coveted Hopkins degree while remaining close to home, and for many, to their workplace as well.
Hopkins’ Rockville-based Montgomery County Campus began 25 years ago as a center for continuing education. Today, the campus hosts approximately 3,000 students in four different schools who are pursuing master’s degrees in biotechnology, engineering, computer science, education, and business.
According to Elaine Amir, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Campus, Hopkins students have the opportunity to be taught by—and to work for—many of the prestigious bio-scientists whose private research firms or National Cancer Institute-affiliated departments are located on or near the campus.
“We’re not only an academic center, but an economic development center that is educating our current and future workforce,” says Amir. “Most of our students are working full-time as well as attending school. They are dedicated, do well in their jobs, and want to advance in their career."
As most higher education institutions are doing these days, Hopkins is also meeting the needs of its students by offering online classes. More than 125 of its engineering classes, for example, are offered online for students in the Engineering for Professionals Program.
Graduate education today, says Amir, needs to be a blend of both the theoretical and the practical, with a heavy dose of convenience thrown in.
"Institutions unable to meet these demands," says Kuper, "will see consumers vote with their feet."