Concerning College: Capella University an online learning option

BY MARK LERNER – GUEST COLUMNIST

A Minneapolis-based, publicly traded company has turned the traditional role of post-secondary night school education into online, round-the-clock instruction.

“Our learners tend to be mid-career professionals who have jam-packed schedules and busy personal lives,” said Jennifer Hoff, vice president of Capella University’s College of Nursing, Health, and Behavioral Sciences. “Our focus is on providing relevant learning that helps our graduates achieve employment and career goals.”

Founded in 1991 as The Graduate School of America, Capella now serves about 38,000 students, or learners, as university representatives prefer to call them. With a few exceptions, learners must be at least 24, and more than half are people of color. Only about 3 percent of those enrolled actually live in Minnesota. With its more than 1,900 courses online, Capella attracts learners nationwide, pursuing doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees.

Predominantly female, about 39 years old, and married with children, Capella’s typical learner is employed full-time. And often it is her employer who recommends – and sometimes pays for – Capella’s courses. Hoff pointed to the university’s more than 500 employer partners, including major hospital and health systems throughout the United States.

Capella also has a partnership with the worldwide jobs-placement firm CareerBuilder, which aims to match individuals’ advanced academic pursuits to the demands of employers.

“We are expanding our educational offerings into the job-ready, 21st-century skills market,” said Hoff.

Not surprisingly, Capella’s most popular programs include nursing, counseling, business administration, and information technology, all areas with current or expected shortages of workers.

Having entered the world of higher education near the dawn of the Internet age, Capella pegs its growth to innovation. The company, whose stock symbol is CPLA, has a market capitalization approaching $1 billion. In recent testimony before Congress, Capella Education Company Chairman and CEO Kevin Gilligan described the university’s innovative FlexPath model of instruction.

The FlexPath approach differs from traditional methods of teaching in that it measures “learning through the direct assessment of competencies instead of the accumulation of credit hours,” Gilligan said. “Direct assessment measures student knowledge and learning, rather than focusing on seat time and grades. What matters is knowledge gained, not the amount of time it took to gain it.”

FlexPath allows Capella’s learners to complete their required coursework online more quickly, and often less expensively, than what the conventional classroom model offers. About 3,000 learners have chosen Capella’s FlexPath option since its inception in 2013, with 500 having graduated.

Though a relatively new institution, Capella has been regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission for nearly 20 years. This commission is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the organization that monitors standards of quality for degree-granting colleges and universities.

Despite having had no sororities to join or football games to watch, Capella’s alumni are widely satisfied with their university experience. According to a 2016 research study from Gallup, more than 75 percent are likely to agree or agree strongly that Capella was the perfect school for them, and 86 percent agree or agree strongly that they felt challenged academically at Capella University.

An Edina resident, Mark Lerner is the father of two college graduates and two current college students. He may be reached at [email protected]