Bad Bets: Universities Are Misfiring On New Program Launches At An Alarming Rate

Plus The Story Behind CNBC Jon Fortt’s ‘The Black Experience in America' Course

As many colleges and universities face not only the financial strains stemming from COVID-19, but also the challenges of a broken business model that was in peril before the pandemic, many have sought to dig themselves out by launching new programs that generate new revenue.

But a new report from Burning Glass shows shocking failure rates from that strategy over the last several years.

Titled “Bad Bets,” the report reveals that a stunning number—two-thirds—of new programs launched on the heels of the Great Recession were graduating fewer than 10 students a year by 2018. Roughly half were graduating five or fewer students, and 30% reported zero degrees.

This matters because, as the report makes clear, launching new programs costs money. And it’s money that colleges in many cases are hemorrhaging.

This isn’t a new story per se. The Hechinger Report’s Jon Marcus wrote about the phenomenon in 2018.

And although not every new program aims to produce large numbers of graduates, there is a real set of questions if struggling institutions ought to be launching new programs unlikely to bring in new revenue.

According to the report, by conservative estimates, launching a new program costs $2 million over four years. If a program doesn’t pay for itself, then it may pull institutions closer to the brink.

Our own research also suggests that the costs are higher on average because Burning Glass’s estimate doesn’t factor in administrative overhead costs.

You can check out my full piece on the report by Burning Glass at Forbes here, “Colleges Weighed Down By Failed Program Launches.”

The Black Experience in America Course

After the killing of George Floyd in 2020, CNBC’s Jon Fortt—a technology reporter and anchor of “Squawk Alley” felt he had to do something more than give just another version of “the talk” for his boys, ages 10 and 12.

What he created was what he calls “The Course,” an online experience that goes well beyond just the “Civil War” and “civil rights,” as Jon told me.

It’s an impressive dive into Black history, with everything from thoughtful explanations of how trade—which when done well creates so much value for society—can go awry and lead to trading human beings to discussions of influential Black women and men.

In this YouTube Live conversation, I flipped roles with Jon and put him on the hot seat to interview him about everything from why he created an online course to how he’s seeking to expand the audiences for the course and what he learned along the way.

We chatted on Inauguration Day, and our final reflections on the Declaration of Independence—a topic he covers in his syllabus—left me feeling hopeful for our future in America, even amidst the twists and turns our course will inevitably take.

Check out the conversation here.

Hybrid Learning Gone Amuck

On our latest episode of Class Disrupted, I couldn’t hold back on my view that districts across America—and many higher education institutions—are pushing out a version of hybrid learning that’s insane for students and teachers.

Many schools are basically asking teachers to teach simultaneously both the students in-person and the students who are at home, which creates a subpar experience for all. Listen to my reasons why on the full episode, “The Hybrid Learning Insanity,” here.

EdTech Is Only As Good As The Model In Which It’s Used

Finally, I had the chance to review a book by MIT’s Justin Reich for Education Next that took me, Clayton Christensen, and Sal Khan—among others—to task. But when I read the book, despite some factual errors, I was most struck by how much Reich’s points of view and arguments about the future of education are similar, not different from ours. Read my take here in “Effort to Debunk Technology Falters By Overstating Its Own Case.

As always, thank you for reading, writing and listening.