January/February 2002 // Virtual University
New Times, New Rules, New Playing Fields:
An Interview with UNext's Geoff Cox
by James L. Morrison and Geoff Cox
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: James L. Morrison and Geoff Cox "New Times, New Rules, New Playing Fields:
An Interview with UNext's Geoff Cox" The Technology Source, January/February 2002. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Geoff Cox is president of Cardean University and vice president of academic affairs and continuing education of its parent company UNext. Cardean is a licensed and accredited online university that works with leading research universities, including Columbia, the University of Chicago, Stanford, Carnegie Melon, and the London School of Economics, to create online courses and programs delivered and supported by both UNext and Cardean faculty and staff. Prior to joining UNext, Cox served as vice provost and dean of institutional planning at Stanford University, where he developed strategies to use computer technology in teaching and learning.

James L. Morrison [JLM]: Tell us about Cardean University and UNext.

Geoff Cox [GC]: We are a for-profit, Internet-based education company established three years ago and based in Chicago. UNext is the corporate parent for our activities, and Cardean is the accredited university within UNext. Our mission is to provide educational opportunities to people across the globe.

Our company was founded by CEO Andrew Rosenfield, who continues to be UNext's inspirational force, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker from the University of Chicago. Becker coined the phrase "human capital" and has devoted much of his career to developing the economic principles that underlie this notion. Becker has shown that up to 70% of the wealth of a nation or economy lies in its people: their skills, knowledge, and talents. Investing in people, therefore, pays huge dividends because it adds directly to the wealth and potential of the whole economy. We are in the business of enhancing human capital on a global scale. That is what drives UNext's educational vision and its business mission.

JM: Can you tell us a little more about UNext?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Cardian University?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s internal structures, how many people you employ and in what fields of expertise?

GF: Cardean is a subsidiary of UNext. Cardean itself consists primarily of the senior faculty who oversee the development of content in each course. We have a PhD in each of the major disciplines in which we teach. Cardean also has oversight responsibilities for training the adjunct faculty who interact with students online. UNext, the larger entity, includes course development, information technology, marketing, and all the administrative infrastructure of the company. Right now UNext employees about 150 people. I use the titles Cardean and UNext interchangeably.

JLM: How does Unext/Cardean University approach higher education?

GC: Our company was built on a few key ideas. One is that the rise of the Internet and distance education represents a mixed blessing for most traditional colleges and universities. The opportunities and challenges are so vast that handling them causes enormous tension and pressure. Internet-based education, if done well, requires massive investments in technology, manpower, and infrastructure. It probably also requires changes in the incentive structure that holds together most of our institutions. Our founders thought that these obstacles made it unlikely that universities would succeed on a large scale in a distance-learning arena. So they founded UNext to serve people who wanted access to the best education possible but who did not have access to universities such as the ones we work with.

A second key principle is that the global demand for higher education is virtually immeasurable. Investment bankers and educators alike say that higher education is quickly becoming a trillion dollar industry. The global demand?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùin developing countries as well as industrialized regions like Europe?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùwill not be met by traditional educational institutions.

A third basic notion is that the Internet is not simply a new form of communication, it is an altogether different entity. It is interactive and can support peer-to-peer as well as instructor-to-student education. Conducting education on the Internet therefore requires rethinking the educational process. We have invested a substantial amount in bringing together the various pieces required to rethink education. Content, pedagogical format, technology, infrastructure?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùall must work together. Our system lets them do so. We create something unlike anything found on a traditional campus. This difference is only appropriate, because the method of communication is so unique.

JLM: What kinds of materials are best suited to online education?

GC: Problem-based learning works very well. It engages students and makes their learning applicable and relevant to the problems they face in daily life, including the workplace. The Internet is available any time and any place, making it uniquely suited to that kind of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìon-demand?¢‚Ǩ? learning. In general, the Internet supports highly interactive treatments of topics which can engage peer-to-peer, as well as instructor-to-student exchanges. This makes the Internet a much more effective learning medium than other technologies, but only if courses are built to take advantage of these strengths. That is what we think we have done as well or better than anyone else.

[JM]: Can you give us an example of problem-based learning at Cardean?

GF: Take a course in accounting. Most traditional introductions to accounting would begin theories about what accounting is for, what its main principles are, and what theories underlie its practice. Eventually students would learn how to create financial statements by applying these principles. We start by asking students to examine two companies as if they were preparing to invest in them. How would you learn about a company to know if it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sound or not? What information would you want and how would you go about getting it? By discovering the answers to these questions you begin to understand how accounting information is used and how it is presented in

JM: Does UNext develop its own software, or do you partner or outsource for your software development needs?

GF: We have built all of our own software. We did not want to, but we could not find anything on the market that would support Internet-based instruction the way we think it should be done. So we have spent a tremendous amount to create our own authoring tools and teaching infrastructure.

JLM: What kind of markets does Cardean reach?

GC: We think of our market in three different ways. First, we are primarily involved in developing business and management training, which we sell to corporations. Second, we also provide courses and degrees directly to students who come to us as individuals rather than as employees. Third, we provide online courses to traditional colleges and universities to help supplement their own curriculums.

JLM: What does UNext offer your partner universities that they can recognize as an advantage?

GC: It is difficult for universities to amass the kind of resources required for effective distance learning. We have put together the resources, and we bear the financial risk for human and physical capital. Distance learning is a financial as well as an educational venture, and we think we can marry our commitment to the fundamental goals of education with the kind of business discipline to make a success of this?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsomething universities themselves are not as well situated to do. Our proposition to universities is this: we can support students and make a substantial investment in distance learning. We help create new markets, giving universities the opportunity to serve new populations, albeit indirectly, and find new revenue sources. Everything we do is intended to be far reaching.

JLM: How do your partner universities benefit financially?

GC: We believe that the fundamental relationship should be at the institutional level. Licensing and contracts are therefore handled by the institution, which decides how to distribute funding to the faculty. We do see ourselves as supporting these institutions, not undermining them. Our partner institutions receive payments for each course they help develop, and also have equity in UNext.

JLM: How would your strategy be different if you were to partner with fewer elite institutions?

GC: The "brand name" schools have a cachet that helps the economics of a business like ours work. More important, by having access to faculty at these institutions we can assure students that they are getting the most up-to-date, most rigorously researched approach to the subjects we teach. We could have fewer university partners, but we think it is useful to be able to draw upon the resources of several institutions so that we have an even richer set of experts with whom to work.

JM: In the future, does UNext plan to concentrate on developing any single market in particular?

GF: The market is likely to tell us where we will find the best opportunities. We are very interested in working in foreign countries, especially in developing economies where there isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t much infrastructure for higher education and where the need is so great.

JLM: What is your approach to less developed countries where there is no access to your product?

GC: This is the big challenge. Finding the economic balance is difficult. Using corporations to help us may be an important advantage, because they have Internet access and can support investments in the education of their employees. Individuals with both Internet access and the money to spend on education may be fewer in many parts of the world. We have spent time in both India and China, for example, where the demand and need for education is huge. As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, we hope that we can find the right pricing structure to allow large numbers of people to take advantage of what we have to offer. This is a long-term project and we have to be patient.

JLM: Do you think that the research university of the 21st century has to be global?

GC: If it is going to be at the cutting edge, it has to take that perspective. Research universities are already global in the sense that they draw students from around the world and interact with faculty, governments, and businesses from everywhere. But there are limits to the scale at which traditional research universities can operate effectively. We are interested in bringing the benefits of education to other countries, and being 100% online makes it possible to reach huge numbers of students who otherwise would not have access.

JLM: What in your opinion is the role for teaching universities?

GC: We are not trying to compete with teaching universities or colleges. We admire them for what they do, and do well. Whenever a student asks if he or she should attend a traditional university or come to Cardean, we say, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgo to the traditional school.?¢‚Ǩ? That is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who has the opportunity. But the vast majority of people in the world will never have such an opportunity.

JLM: Many thanks, Geoff, for taking time to tell us about Unext and Cardean University, which are prototypical organizations leading the way into the new century.

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