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Apple U / Cisco U / Google U / Microsoft U
January 26, 2011 - 10:58pm

10 Ideas and Reasons for an Apple, Cisco, Google and Microsoft University:

1. Programs: Focus on high-end graduate degrees. Perhaps a "Strategic Executive MBA with a Technology Focus." Or a PhD in "Organizational Behavior and Systems Design." It may be that for accreditation the company will need to partner with an existing institution, but this should be possible. Start with a small cohort of professors and students. Build the program around what the company does best, and where the company wants to develop a talent and knowledge pipeline for recruitment and leadership development.



2. Delivery: The delivery method should be primarily online, with brief face-to-face sessions on the corporate campus. On-ground sessions should rotate internationally, with required sessions taking place at corporate offices in places like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, etc. The global nature of the degree should be stressed.



3. Costs: Starting up Apple, Cisco, Google or Microsoft University would be pretty cheap. The university does not need to be big to meet its goals. There is no need to cover every discipline, or offer degrees in areas where the demand is strong. These companies could start small, offering one degree program within a core company competence. For less than $10 million (a rounding error for these businesses), any of these companies could get a university off the ground. A relatively small professional staff of learning designers and curriculum experts could complement the in-house subject matter experts (faculty), and the companies technology resources and expertise could be leveraged to build the university. 



4. Faculty: The faculty should be a mix of new hires and existing employees. Each of these companies has strong research operations, and it is these researchers and top strategic people who should be teaching. Teaching at the University could be a mark of status within the company, a high-profile assignment for the "high-potentials."

5. Learning: Each of these companies has a big stake in higher ed, and the very best way to provide better products and services to education is to learn what colleges and universities really need. The best way to learn this is to actually have to do it. Creating, running and sustaining a university is hard, and the lessons are best learned first-hand.



6. Innovation: Running a university will force each of these companies to innovate. They will need to come up with new products and services to run the university, innovations they can then bring to scale across the higher ed market.



7. Partnerships: All of these companies have products and services in the higher ed space, but none of these companies has enough products and services to meet every requirement and need for running a full online university. They will be forced to partner and to integrate. Customers want products and services that play nice with those offered by competitors, we want integration.



8. Tuition: Set a high tuition, but offer very generous grants for qualified applicants. I can guarantee you that many smart and ambitious people would pay full freight to get an Apple, Cisco, Google or Microsoft MBA or PhD. Who wouldn't want a world-class graduate degree with an inside track for hiring at the company that is running the university? Applicants would know that the company is highly motivated to create a world-class learning experience, as the university will be closely watched and scrutinized by the press and the existing education establishment.



9. Marketing: How much press and attention would an Apple, Cisco, Google or Microsoft University command? Some people would be excited by the idea. Some people will hate the idea. But everyone will have an opinion.



10. Disruption and Diffusion: I think Apple, Cisco, Google or Microsoft could do something really amazing in higher ed. Each company would have a chance to re-think the graduate education experience from the ground-up, and create the sort of degree that is designed for the leaders of the new digital global economy. Each of these companies would be highly motivated to share these innovations with the rest of the education community.

Education will be one of the most resilient, fastest-growing, and most profitable sectors in the 21st century. Every organization needs to re-cast and re-make itself into a learning organization. Education will increasingly be produced, mediated, and consumed via technology. Education will be unbundled from traditional place based delivery methods. Education will be mobile, flexible, nimble, and personalized. Education is global, with the fastest growth in demand occurring in the emerging economies.

For all these reasons, (and many more), it makes sense for companies like Apple, Cisco, Google and Microsoft to step over that line from selling to higher ed providers to experimenting with becoming a higher ed provider.



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