Ed Tech CEOs: Expensive Universities Must Catch Up to Online Courses

Two top executives of growing online education companies are urging traditional universities to catch up to online programs if they plan on continuing to charge students tens of thousands of dollars for higher education, according to Greg Gilman of The Wrap.

Steve Polzner, CEO of Empowered University, and Mika Salmi, CEO of CreativeLIVE, detailed their outlooks for the higher education sector at TheWrap's Media Leadership Conference, TheGrill. Education technology companies plan to tap into a $100 billion worldwide industry of online education at a time when student debt has surpassed credit-card debt — and they see opportunity in colleges being slow to respond to the changing marketplace.

"They're pricing themselves out of market, effectively. Something needs to change in the education field," Polzner said. "Our mission is to help universities go mobile."

Empowered University forms partnerships with accredited universities such as University of California – Los Angeles to issue certificates of proficiency in particular skill sets once students complete online courses.

"We partner with universities to extend their brand beyond their physical borders without having to build new classrooms," Polzner said. The training program costs somewhere around $5,000 for a year-long course.

CreativeLive works more like a television network. It offers people looking to advance their careers free lessons from successful professionals. The classes are free to watch live but cost between $49 and $150 to own.

"It's like a broadcast model. If you can't watch all 18 hours for free — people average 3.5 hours of watching — then you have to buy it," Salmi said.

Polzner, who calls online education a game changer and encourages educational institutions to deliver a lot more of their content online, still supports traditional higher education, and said it is important for an 18-year-old type to go into a college campus and grow up and learn life lessons.

Both Polzner and Salmi support a hybrid educational model that pulls strengths from both online and traditional classrooms. However, they noted that faculty members can feel very threatened by digital education — perhaps because it will require them to up their game.

"Before, if you were a professor, it was about getting tenure and writing research papers, and you would get very high stature that way. Now with online education, the demand for their class isn't just at their school," Salmi said. "How popular are they online? How do they compare in a global marketplace? They have to be a little more engaging and hone their material well. And I think it's making education better."

They also admitted that success is entirely dependent on participation whether the classroom is virtual or physical.

"Online education can be terrible if the person feels like a Lone Ranger in his or her living room and not interacting with anybody," Polzner said. "Online education can be a superior platform if you can maximize that interaction between students and instructors."

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