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What I Learned About Capella U
February 1, 2011 - 9:15pm

The first for-profit EDU to take me up on my offer to connect has been Capella University.

I spoke with Capella's Mike Buttry, VP Corporate Communications and Keith Koch, VP Next Generation Learning. Both Mike and Keith are very interested in building a dialogue across the higher ed community, and they both appear to be willing to address head on the criticisms most often leveled at for-profit education.

The main things that surprised me about Capella were:

Student Population: The fact that Capella is focused primarily on graduate studies, and that the overwhelming proportion of their graduate students are adult working professionals and women.

Graduate studies and Ph.D.s are not usually where I think first about for-profit institutions.

Technology: That Capella utilizes the same technology platforms as the majority of non-profits, and that they supplement these “commodity” platforms with large numbers of custom produced rich media educational learning objects and simulations.

The fact that Capella is going to scale with a similar technology stack as many non-profits, and doing so purely online, makes me think that they have learned some lessons worth sharing.

Aspirations: The degree to which the people I spoke to at Capella expressed their aspirations to make meaningful contributions to providing high quality, accessible and affordable education’s to people who otherwise would not have this opportunity (due to work and family commitments). And the degree to which Capella is interested in engaging with the rest of the higher ed community to differentiate itself from other for-profit institutions.

At this point I don’t have the knowledge or information to evaluate how well Capella is living up to its stated goals and aspirations.

Capella has a site that contains a data on both costs and outcomes. I’m spending time on this site now to understand what Capella is offering in terms of data and evidence, and I would appreciate you taking a look at this site to help deconstruct Capella’s info and share any questions that emerge from your analysis.

Here are some specifics about Capella that I found particularly interesting:

  • Capella is 100% online, serves over 38,000 learners, and has developed over 1,400 online courses.
  • Capella has almost 1,300 faculty members, about 30% of which are full-time. Over 80% of the faculty have doctorates. The faculty are complemented by about 1.600 non-faculty staff.
  • The learning management system Capella is on is Blackboard 8, and they will be moving to Blackboard 9.1 within the year.
  • In 2010 Capella awarded over 4,800 degrees, including more than 900 PhDs and over 3,000 Master's degrees. The minority of Capella's students are undergraduate or certificate students.
  • About 7-in-10 of Capella's students are female, half are learners of color, and the average age is 39. Over 80% receive financial aid, and over 90% are part-time students.

What would you want to know about Capella or other for-profit institutions?

How do you think people in for-profits and non-profits should engage with and learn from each other?

How can the entire higher ed community (both for and non-profits) find a way to share best practices and push each other towards greater transparency and accountability?


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