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Cornell’s revamped external education unit broadens its reach

Paul Krause ’91 is the university’s vice provost for external education and leads eCornell. His role as vice provost is part of an effort to bring together eCornell and the university’s various external education programs into a new unit under the academic leadership of the provost’s office that will expand Cornell’s reach and impact.

The new unit also supports faculty who develop and design learning experiences to strategically extend the reach of the university. The initiative also includes expanding executive education programs tailored to the needs of companies, governments and nonprofits.

 

What are Cornell’s external education goals?

Paul Krause: President Martha E. Pollack and Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff have a vision to expand Cornell’s reach and impact through external education offerings. They’ve brought together eCornell and other external education units under the provost’s office as part of an effort to better integrate and expand our efforts.

Paul Krause ’91 is the university’s vice provost for external education and leads eCornell.

In practical terms, we expand our reach and impact by launching new educational programs that people will enroll in. We work with Cornell faculty to design and produce these learning programs and events that may be online, in person or live, or a blend of formats.

Of course, we also need to make sure that the world knows about Cornell’s programs and their unique value. So we have a number of goals related to driving enrollment. We do not focus primarily on traditional college-age students, but rather working professionals and lifelong learners. We have goals for reaching both individual students and for establishing long-term relationships with nonprofit organizations and industry partners to integrate Cornell programs into their employee development plans.

What are some of the programs this unit offers, and how many people does it reach?

PK: eCornell is well known for its online certificate programs, which are considered noncredit microcredentials. Cornell was a pioneer with this type of online program, launching a significant initiative more than 20 years ago. Over the past couple of years, Cornell has really expanded these offerings and today we are a leader among our peers for these small-cohort, high-impact online programs.

We offer more than 80 programs that students typically complete in a 3-6 month period. We expect more than 80,000 unique students this year. These programs often support learners who wish to develop their professional skills in topics ranging from business and leadership to hospitality, human resources, healthcare, marketing and technology. We also offer successful programs in lifelong learning topics such as photography and nutrition.

Our team also collaborates closely with multiple academic units to launch new online and blended master’s degree programs that target working professionals. These have been quite successful in terms of enrolling impressive cohorts of individuals, offering high-quality programming, and garnering great overall feedback from students and faculty alike.

The next program we are launching, this month, is an online master of science in legal studies [MSLS] through Cornell Law School. It is a degree for working business professionals who work with lawyers and need a solid grounding in legal language and concepts. We intend to launch many more online and blended master’s programs for working professionals.

Of course, education also can happen in very small bites. To support this type of learning, Cornell offers something we call interactive keynotes. Keynotes are bite-sized, one-hour, engaging live events such as panels or interviews. These provide an opportunity for people to hear from faculty on current events, recent research, or just to engage in a topic they find interesting. In one recent week last fall we held keynote events ranging from “Guiding our Children through Crisis” and “Racism in America” to “Innovations for COVID-safe Hotels.”

In each case, we partner with academic units to support their outreach, especially in rapid response to current events. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences developed content and programming on the topic of “Racism in America” as the public interest in this expanded over this past year and we were able to support these events with people and infrastructure.

What are some of the most popular offerings, and what partnerships have added to Cornell’s strengths in these areas?

PK: In the category of professional online certificate programs, one of our top program areas is diversity and inclusion, which is certainly relevant in the national discussion right now. Other popular programs include leadership, digital marketing, project management and women in leadership.

One of our biggest social-impact partnerships is with the Bank of America. The Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell offers a free women entrepreneurs certificate that is a high-impact, robust online program for aspiring entrepreneurs. They recently announced plans to more than double its total enrollment, adding 30,000 slots with an emphasis on diversity. It’s a great program, and we get inspirational feedback from students who have completed the program and the impact it has had.

A screenshot of one of eCornell’s online program offerings.

What has been the impact of the recent organizational changes?

PK: While the changes are all still a work in progress, this new structure has already enabled Cornell to build a more comprehensive, strategic approach to external education. For example, now when we meet with a Fortune 500 company, we have a more integrated message on how Cornell can support their internal employee development initiatives. In a recent example, a large organization was looking for support in diversity and inclusion, and we were able to assemble a broad, multipart solution that included live executive education, online certificate courses, and learning paths with on-demand lesson videos.

For our corporate and Fortune 500 customers, this unique set of capabilities really does resonate – the idea that we can provide solutions to multiple levels of an organization. This might include live faculty interaction for the executive-level managers within a company, online certificate programs for targeted “high potential” managers and on-demand lessons that are scalable and can be pushed out to more than 20,000 employees. Being able to offer and provide this full solution for corporations and organizations makes us really unique among our peers.

For the university community, being structured in this way means we are better able to align programs and facilitate collaboration among faculty to expand the number of programs and events offered. With a more coordinated and concentrated effort, we’ll reach even more students and organizations.

Have you built relationships with other institutional partners ?

PK: We’re looking to launch additional social-impact programs. For example, just this year, Steve Carvell, professor of finance in the School of Hotel Administration, facilitated a pilot collaboration between various units at Cornell and the National Education Equity Lab, a nonprofit organization, and the potential impacts are very exciting. It’s a way to give high school students in underserved communities the opportunity to develop critical business skills while excelling in, and ultimately completing, a for-credit course at a top university like Cornell. We’re working with Steve and others to launch additional programs that can really have a positive social impact.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Cornell’s external education initiative?

PK: As with everyone, the coronavirus pandemic has had profound impacts on us. While we played a relatively minor role, we did mobilize our resources required to support Cornell’s all-hands-on-deck effort to get classes online last spring. We also have accelerated opportunities to reuse eCornell-produced online learning assets in any course that needs them.

With respect to the external education efforts, traditional in-person executive education had a fairly abrupt pause, and our focus has been to migrate these programs online where possible. As you might expect, certain market segments, such as hospitality, have really been hit hard. Beyond these challenges, the pandemic has only accelerated interest in online programs and we’ve seen significant enrollment growth.

What qualities do you and your team bring to this external education unit?

PK: I’m fortunate to have a very strong team with a lot of complementary skill sets and many years of collective experience in this space. We have great instructional design professionals, media production professionals, digital marketing experts, professional enrollment counselors, learning consultants, partnership account managers, operations experts, and so much more. We have a team that is passionate about creating great programs and sharing their enthusiasm about Cornell’s programs with the world. And, importantly, we have the support of amazing Cornell faculty – who are an indispensable part of this entire initiative.

What really drives all of us is being able to deliver a growing and renowned program that reflects well on Cornell University and that has a real and lasting impact on people’s lives – a crucial part of Cornell’s mission and “any person … any study” ethos.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli