Babson College is a specialty business school in the Boston area that has experimented with blended online programs since 1998, primarily in the offering of blended MBA programs. Commencing with offering a complete blended MBA program for Intel in Portland Oregon, Babson has developed the blended MBA into a model for delivery and experimentation around the localness concept. This program was born from necessity – evening MBA programs at Babson were shrinking rapidly (reduced from 1000 evening MBA students to 600 in 2002) with no end of the downward spiral in sight. Babson decided to take the plunge in 2004 and commit to the FAST TRACK program, a blended program for an expanded local area, based on the Intel MBA experience. After spending a year implementing an integrated curriculum, the program was offered and over 100 students enrolled in 2005 with an anticipated additional 150 in the fall of 2006. Growing this program to over 500 students annually will make the program the largest at Babson and will help ensure that the small school (2000 undergraduate) trives. The MBA program can be completed more rapidly than the traditional program and therefore is priced less expensively. Already, indications are that the model program has dramatically impacted interest in Babson in the local area.
The model for the blended program developed by Babson is about 60 percent online, with 80 percent of the online portion delivered as asynchronous discussions. No live lectures are provided, only Breeze presentations that can be view asynchronously. Live synchronous sessions are minimized and employ Elluminate only when deemed essential by the instructor. Babson hopes to be able to investigate how to best tune the percentages between on-ground and online and, as well, understand how to best combine live and off-line asynchronous presentations (i.e. Breeze).
Babson’s second strategy is “geo-localness” – that is, establishing the Babson brand at remote geographic locations. Based on the Intel connection, Babson was able to extend its connections in Portland to begin to engage other industries and students in the west coast area. The basic concept is to provide a blended program with online education equaling about 60 to 70 percent of instruction and on-ground at the west coast site, the remainder. On-ground instruction is offered though a combination of instructors that live on the west coast, adjuncts, and instructors that fly in perhaps once or twice a semester.
Among the interesting strategies that come from the above activities are:
• Brand enhancement through localness. The appeal of the program captures more students due to lowered cost and more convenience. Is the program sustainable? Only time will tell! The key appears to be offering excellent content in environment that students need and will want to purchase. In this case, students are primarily in the working adult category; returning to school part time and often paid for by their employees.
• Establishing new frontiers through geo-localness. The appeal of this methodology is that it enables reaching of new populations based on success in local areas, where ever geographically they might be. The dependency is on need for the content by working populations, not the delivery method.
In sum, as a small specialty college, Babson has significant tasks: maintain and grow market share through the blended localness theme and provide scaling up of staffing and management of distributed centers of blended education, while insuring that content remains uniquely high-quality. Experimentation with optimization of the model for delivery meshed with the model for content organization should help Babson maintain a viable position in this market.