Feb 2019

The Rise of the Mega-University

By Lee Gardner

February 18, 2019

Paul J. LeBlanc remembers the day, about a decade ago, when a public research university in New England announced that it was starting an online M.B.A. Southern New Hampshire University, where LeBlanc is president, had just rolled out its own ambitious online program and started its rise from undistinguished private institution with a few thousand students to today’s online-education juggernaut with more than 92,000 undergraduates enrolled.

More big universities will probably start ambitious online programs in the years to come, says Michael B. Horn, a consultant on technology and innovation in higher education. He cites the examples of Purdue and the University of Massachusetts, both of which began their programs after the reigning mega-universities and their market shares were well established. But, he adds, “there’s probably only a select number that can meaningfully enter the space.”

Smaller programs like the University of Maine’s can benefit their regions, Horn says, but they still have to compete with the mega-universities. Students may be forced to choose between a local program with limited resources and “a national provider and some serious R&D behind the learning and operations,” he says.



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