The Changing Landscape of Higher Ed

By Carol Elliott | Fall 2014

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Notre Dame has gone through a few iterations with its digital offerings. Two for-credit undergraduate courses were available through SemesterOnline until about a year ago. The University also has maintained an iTunesU channel for at least eight years, where the various colleges and centers can post full-length lectures, podcasts and other material. 

In June, Notre Dame announced an agreement with edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard platform that offers MOOCs for free. Visconsi said edX shares ND’s “commitment to open education in the service of the global public good.” His office recently announced four initial MOOCs with launch set for spring 2015. (See

“Whatever we do in an online or hybrid online degree program, there’s going to be an on-campus, in South Bend, component,” Visconsi said. “And a serious one, so that those students feel like they’re members of the community, not that they’re getting a paper credential.” 

Home base

As the associate dean for Graduate Business Programs, a significant part of Jeff Bergstrand’s role is to consider the disruptive forces shaping the future of higher education—b-schools, in particular—and evaluate what they might mean for Mendoza.

His starting point is always home base: Notre Dame. “This is an institution that’s steeped in tradition, and those traditions are partly based upon faith, partly upon community, which includes our physical campus,” he said. “Our faith, our community and our broader network are the pillars that we’ll always look at when defining where we are in education.”

The question becomes how Mendoza embraces digital learning and other emerging trends in ways that are consistent with the three pillars, said Bergstrand.

A recent response to a growing demographic trend has been Mendoza’s launch of three one-year specialty degree programs: the Master of Science in Management, which graduated its first class in May; and two Chicago-based part-time programs, the Master of Science in Business Analytics and the Master of Science in Finance, set to start in early 2015 (see box).

Colleges are ramping up one-year graduate specialty degree programs at a brisk rate nationwide. In part, they answer the “need for speed” for students who can’t exit the workforce for the two years needed for a traditional degree. The “specialty” aspect also addresses another emerging trend: Our work skills are becoming obsolete at a rapid rate. The Economist’s June article on the future of higher education cited a recent study by three Oxford researchers predicted that 47 percent of occupations could be automated in the next few decades. However, they also found that the odds of displacement drop sharply as educational attainment rises.

This suggests that gainful lifetime employment will increasingly mean lifetime education. For the past 50 years, most people checked off “education” after college; now, shifts in the workforce, technology and global marketplace are likely to necessitate a “learn as you go” mindset across a person’s career.

Paul Velasco is the director of the Stayer Center for Executive Education, which includes the Notre Dame Executive MBA degree, as well as custom and open-enrollment programs. He noted a shift in student expectations about a decade ago, when companies largely quit subsidizing executive degree programs and students had to shoulder more if not all of the tuition. Students became much more focused on knowledge and skills that they could take back to their office on Monday morning and apply it to their jobs, he said.

This development suggests significant opportunity for colleges and universities to provide working professionals with continuing education offerings—especially to their alumni—either in blended formats or online, said Velasco. 

Some higher ed experts also think the demand for continuing professional development might create a risk for brick-and-mortar programs, given that the executive consumer is time-crunched by definition of the position, and therefore more likely to look online.

The Stayer Center for Executive Education has offered certificate programs online for nearly a decade through Mendoza’s Nonprofit Professional Development department began offering online courses about a year ago. 

Velasco noted a couple of bottom-line facts that he keeps in mind when weighing the trends and what makes sense for Mendoza. One: “In the end, you still have to be respectful of the fact that it’s not only time away from work participants are considering but also people only have so much time, period,” he said, which applies to both classroom and online learning.

And two:

“I still remember very vividly [Marketing Professor] John Sherry looking at me in a curriculum committee meeting and saying, ‘Paul, the Notre Dame experience is special. We teach our students to care about things differently, to think about things differently.’ And he continued, ‘Be careful that you protect that.’ John’s admonition has stuck with me.”


Two new degree programs

The Mendoza College of Business is introducing two new graduate specialty degrees in early 2015. Both are intended for working professionals, with classes meeting on alternating weekends at Notre Dame’s Chicago campus on Michigan Avenue.

Master of Science in Business Analytics:  a 30-credit-hour program that provides a rigorous education in applying analytical techniques to massive data sets to solve business problems. The program will follow a blended
learning format, with about 25 percent of the material delivered online.

Master of Science in Finance:  a comprehensive 32-credit-hour program for students with diverse backgrounds seeking to advance in their current careers or to switch careers. 

For more information, visit or


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