Former General Electric Co. chief executive and business legend Jack Welch is now three years into running the Jack Welch Management Institute with his wife, Suzy. They spent $2 million for a 12% stake in Chancellor University System LLC in 2009, helping to convert the formerly bankrupt Myers University in Cleveland into an online college with an MBA program named after Jack. In 2011, they moved the JWMI to a larger, publicly-traded for-profit college with a better reputation called Strayer University in Herndon, Va. Strayer paid $7 million to Chancellor to buy JMWI and Welch contributed 40% of that deal price. The school charges $30,960 for 12 courses that make up an Executive MBA.
As a reporter at The Wall Street Journal in 2009, WiredAcademic editor Paul Glader broke the story about Jack Welch opening an online university in 2009. Glader spoke with Welch again recently and asked how his online-only EMBA program is going since he upped his investment and moved the school to Strayer.
Interview With Jack Welch
WA – So give us an update on how things are going at the Jack Welch Management Institute?
JW – We now have more than 500 MBA students. We had the largest graduating class in June of 100. We’re offering all kinds of management leadership programs: 6-week programs, 2-week programs. We’ve got a great faculty. We hired a dean from Cornell University to be our dean. Our faculty head was the faculty head at the University of Virginia. We’ve got real power now. We are humming.
WA – What is your ideal enrollment? Is there a limit?
JW – The pedagogy is pretty straightforward. You can literally thousands without any trouble. The challenge is getting them and keeping the quality. Our students are largely self pay or company pay. We are not in the government aid business. Our average age is older than most schools. Our students are around 35-40 because we are getting managers from the best companies in the world coming. We are interested in people who are employed, who want to grow in their existing companies. We are not in the MBA business, where most people come to change jobs between age 25-27. What we are is training people within the company to be better leaders.
WA – What’s the biggest focus, challenge and strategy right now?
JW – We are constantly working to upgrade the faculty. We are putting real metrics around the faculty.
WA – What’s been the impact of the Obama Administration rules on for-profit colleges?
JW – It doesn’t affect us but it affects our university called Strayer. We are within the rules of Strayer. They have 50,000 students. Student enrollment has dropped in all of these schools as much for the recession as well as for the rules so far. Strayer is doing quite, quite well. They have a modest, single-digit decline for enrollment. I think the economy, as it heals, is helping things.
WA – Do you think some of the reforms were needed?
JW – I’m not an expert in online education for the masses. I’m dealing with a whole different population. We had our first surveys done and found that 75% of our people taking the courses have had a significant raise or have been promoted while they are taking the courses. That’s the best measurement you can have. Our net promoter score – It’s a rank measure that companies use. If you rate your school 1,2, or 3, it means you are a detractor, you would not recommend the school. 6-10 means you are a promoter… Our net promoter scores have gone up every quarter. We have real momentum. We enrolled 186 in the fall term.
WA – I saw you have a deal with Udemy? Does that entail putting your courses and other JMWI courses on Udemy for a fee to learners? A new revenue stream?
JW – We just made a deal to use some of the technology. We’ll be using it in some of the training materials going forward.
WA – What do you think of this trend in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs? Where is it going?
JW – Tom Friedman talked about it a few weeks ago (in the New York Times). It seems a little like the stigma associated with online learning, similar to online dating sites, is washing away. Every trend is going in that direction. We can give an MBA for $30,000 and you keep your job and are moving up in a company. Contrast that with leaving a job for two years and you lose $100,000 or whatever your salary is. You pay these exorbitant MBA costs for two years – $125,000. The economics are all going in the right direction for online education. It’s just as rigorous or more rigorous because you can’t just BS the classes. Everything is going in our direction. We can offer a rigorous MBA program while we make you a better leader. The theme of our school is we teach you on Tuesday and you put it into practice on Wednesday. In other MBA programs, you learn on Tuesday and, two years later, you put it to work.
WA – Any new perspectives on where online learning, digital learning and blended learning is headed?
JW – There is a fascinating thing we are seeing. Our students, right now, want asynchronous learning. They don’t want synchronous learning. We thought it would be a good idea to have all students come in for a 3-day orientation before they start again. We got almost a 90% rejection (of that idea). They said the reason they are coming to our school is they want to learn on their own time. They have a family, jobs and lives. They don’t want to be going to meetings. Our gut feeling was to have them get together. They said, “What a lousy thing to do.” They have lives, children, obligations and bosses who want their work done. The reason they came to us is to get the skills but still be able to travel and go to meetings and things.
Paul Glader is a European Journalism Fellow at Frei Universität in Berlin and co-founder of @WiredAcademic. He’s been a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Associated Press and has written for Spiegel Online, FastCompany.com, ESPN.com and others. Thumbnail via patekwatch.blogspot.com