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In 2020, the University of Pittsburgh will be rolling out a new online degree in Health Informatics (MS), in collaboration with Noodle Partners. 

Laurie Cochenour, director of Online Learning at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, graciously agreed to answer my questions about this new program.

Question #1:  What is the online program that the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) is creating?  Why this program?

Laurie's Answer:

SHRS is launching the Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI), its first online program, in January 2020.  We learned through market research that there is high interest in this program and great demand for the degree.

Fortunately, our program faculty, who are highly respected in the field, were excited to embrace this opportunity. By offering the MSHI degree, we’re kicking off our online presence with a smaller program with some of our most reputable educators in a field that is crucial to health care in the digital age. In fact, jobs related to health informatics are expected to grow by 20% in the next six years, with salaries ranging from $58,000 to $183,000.

Question #2:  You decided to work with an online program management (OPM) partner rather than develop and launch this program in-house.  Why?

Laurie's Answer:

The University of Pittsburgh has a centralized unit which develops online graduate degree programs. However, their focus is primarily on course development.

We wanted a partner who could initially take the lead on all the wraparound services for enrollment, marketing, technical support, student affairs, etc.

Question #3:  SHRS chose Noodle Partners to partner with.  Why?  What is it about Noodle Partners that stood out, as compared to other potential OPM partners?

Laurie's Answer:

First, Lee Bradshaw, an executive at Noodle Partners, was instrumental in building a relationship with our decision-makers to be sure our questions were answered and our expectations were clear.

Secondly, we wanted to maintain our content and utilize the analytics in the University LMS (Canvas).

And, finally, the financial model did not include revenue sharing and Noodle Partners understood that we wanted to learn from their expertise so that, over time, we would be able to build an infrastructure within SHRS to support our online efforts, both in our credit- and non-credit-bearing offerings.

Question #4:  As you know, the OPM industry is very controversial.  New America’s Kevin Carey has argued that OPM’s are driving up the cost of online education, while poorly serving students and universities.  How do you respond to this critique?

Laurie's Answer:

SHRS leadership, including Dean Anthony Delitto and Vice Dean Debora Miller, have been very clear from the inception of this strategic initiative that the goals of offering online programs are to (1) reduce the time to degree and debt burden to the student; (2) reach out to prospective students ‘where they live’ and (3) support SHRS efforts to reinvest in tuition reduction for all of our graduate entry-level professional programs (face-to-face and online).

We were fortunate to find a partner vendor that agreed with this vision and aligned with our goals. Noodle Partners has worked closely with us to keep costs down and quality high.

Question #5:  I have been arguing that higher education needs more discussion, transparency, research around university / for-profit partnerships in online education. What can you tell us about the internal process at your university that led you to this decision to partner with Noodle Partners?

Laurie's Answer:

SHRS solicited proposals and formal presentations from three vendors in addition to the University’s central online unit. Furthermore, potential partners met with program faculty to discuss their specific needs, provided the opportunity for faculty and students to ‘sample a course’ to demonstrate their technology functionality and capabilities, and participated in several information gathering virtual meetings.

Throughout the evaluative process, we engaged in regular communications with University officials to seek the necessary approvals to proceed with this strategic initiative and partnership.

We agree with your arguments. We believe that we are creating a true partnership with Noodle Partners that will allow us to do what you suggest -- investigate the possibilities, the pitfalls, and the efficacy of online learning for our students.

This is very much a joint venture. We have learned so much in the last year about the internal workings of the University around these issues that we feel we have a great story -- although still being written -- to share.

Do you have any questions for Laurie?

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