Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder, Richard Bland College May Be Gaining on You

McNeer Hall, Richard Bland College's new science and technology building.
McNeer Hall, Richard Bland College’s new science and technology building.

by James A. Bacon

While Virginia’s largest public universities continue to jack up tuition at rates far surpassing inflation and the growth in wages in order to protect Business-As-Usual education, the state’s tiniest public institution of higher education is experimenting with hybrid online learning. Petersburg-based Richard Bland College has launched a global online institute that teaches conversational skills in 70 languages and dialects.

The two-year college is partnering with Progressive Expert Consulting, Inc. (PEC), of Syracuse, N.Y., an enterprise that designs and instructs online courses ranging from Mandarin Chinese to Mongolian, Russian to Serbo-Croatian. PEC contracts with the Department of Defense to teach conversational language skills to special forces troops deploying overseas.

Unlike the MOOCs (massively open online courses) that have garnered so much attention, Richard Bland caps its courses at 10 students per instructor. “You’re getting individualized attention,” says Tyler Hart, director of academic and institutional effectiveness. The best part of the story: Richard Bland charges Richard Bland rates — $402 for a three-credit course.

That translates to $4,020 for a full-time student taking 10 courses per year. Compare that to the $12,224 in tuition and fees it will cost a University of Virginia students to study full time next year. (The figure for neither institution includes room and board.)

Admittedly, the Richard Bland/CES courses teach only conversational language skills. If you want to learn to read, write and engage in esoteric literary discussions, you’re better off at UVa. But that’s really not the point. The point is that Richard Bland is testing a new business model: collaborating with a third-party enterprise that designs the courses, provides the instruction and provides the software — and it’s dramatically under-pricing the prevailing higher-ed paradigm.This educational model is proliferating rapidly and, I predict, will thoroughly transform higher education.

The CES learning platform is similar to Microsoft Live Meeting, says Hart. All students need is a FiOS-quality bandwidth connection, a PC and a headset. PEC handles the rest. Richard Bland’s function is two-fold: It ensures that outside courses and instructors meet accreditation standards, and it recruits the students. Hart doesn’t seen much difference between relying upon PEC instructors and hiring adjunct faculty.

Richard Bland, which reports to the same Board of Visitors as the College of William & Mary, is packaging the courses with a globalizaton and study-abroad program, which it is forging with two-year institutions in Australia and New Zealand.

In its strategic plan, the college has set the goal of being “optimally responsive to documented market demand.” That entails a willingness to modify curricula, serve as a beta site for “innovative solutions” in academic instruction, and deliver courses at times, locations and formats that accommodate student schedules and preferences.

On a more concrete level, the plan calls for increasing enrollment, adding six new degree programs, 10 new certifications, and delivering “100% of programs online, off-site or other means convenient to students.”

Hart sees potential in the MOOCs, but with a twist. Richard Bland might identify a world-class instructor from Harvard or MIT, for instance, to teach a massively online class. The college’s value-add proposition would be to give the high-tech course a high-touch feel by coupling it with an on-site faculty member  in Petersburg to function as coach and mentor, answering questions, leading local discussions and helping students through problems.

As Hart says, the online learning revolution makes it possible for Richard Bland to “access the best instructors in the world.” Why not take take advantage of opportunity? For one-third the tuition of a traditional university and the ability to take most courses from home… why not indeed?

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


2 responses to “Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder, Richard Bland College May Be Gaining on You”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Contrast this action by Richard Brand College with the recent action of the undergraduate faculty of Duke university, forcing that institution to withdraw prematurely from its experiment in long distance learning.

    Likely sooner than later, the Duke undergraduate faculty will be locked out the the cold. That will suit me just fine. Indeed I’ll be delighted. And for only one reason – the scandalously unrepentant behavior of the Duke Faculty in the Duke Lacrosse case – for which retribution is long overdue.

  2. larryg Avatar

    I think the thing that will ultimately change Virginia’s 4year colleges will be …. the Community Colleges.

    If you think about this – the family that does not have the financial resources to send their kids to a 4-year college – which is more and more people now days with the collapse of the home as an financing method…..

    kids who have good grades and want more than a high school graduate job are going to go to a community college and if they are smart get some kind of 2yr certification that will give them an entry level job while they get themselves organized to get the rest of the 4year degree.

    Kids who go from high-school directly to a 4year college are very, very lucky in the current economy where many parents are themselves no longer financially secure and may have to work longer to retire or retire with less than they planned on.

    the funny thing here to me is that way back when – kids used to get jobs to work their way through school… some went to “night school”… they did all kinds of things to support themselves while they got an education and somewhere along the line it became the quintessential American Dream that son and daughter would attend a 4year college, full-boat without having to work … even if it means mom/dad are borrowed to the hilt on the house and son/daughter have thousands of dollars of student loans that almost guarantee they’ll not be saving up for their first house like their parents did.

    In the face of higher and higher – Higher Ed costs – one would think that people would start scaling back … and looking for less expensive alternatives and in turn reducing the demand that the 4yr institutions still see.

Leave a Reply