Nobody would challenge the assertion that the Web has changed — rather, transformed — almost every facet of life. Upwards of fifteen per cent of today’s marriages result from online dating. Nearly all job positions are advertised on the Web. Mobility of organisations has skyrocketed. Barriers of starting businesses have dramatically fallen. Socializing has forever changed. And to truly knock your socks off: Every two days, we create at least the same amount of information as we did throughout all of history until 2003.
Why is it, then, that higher education, one of society’s most valuable services, has largely remained static despite our Internet revolution? Some would argue that academics are resistant to change. Others would say that education requires a traditional model that the Web cannot satisfy.
Well, the folks at 2tor feel differently, and they are on a mission to transform higher education as we know it.
The idea of 2tor was born in 2008, when John Katzman (a 30-year education veteran and founder of The Princeton Review), Chip Paucek (former CEO of Hooked on Phonics) and Jeremy Johnson (a serial, venture-backed education entrepreneur) posed the question: why is online higher education only satisfactory, and what can we do to make it great?
Determined to transform postsecondary education with the Internet, the trio quit their jobs and dove full force into finding a university to partner with, and creating an online learning platform that would leverage high-speed Internet, cloud computing, social networking and the versatility of mobile devices.
University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education was the first to jump aboard, creating the [email protected] online masters in teaching. 2tor was looking for a partner to showcase its new platform and the school was thrilled for a real chance to grow their program and increase enrollment.
The plan worked. This year, more than 2,200 students are working towards teaching degrees at USC, compared to around 100 students in 2008.
“We chose to partner with 2tor because of their commitment to creating a true and long-term partnership with USC and USC Rossier. Rossier has sole authority over admissions and curriculum. 2tor provides the technology platform, instructional design, marketing, infrastructure support and initial funding to deliver our classes online,” said USC Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher.
“The [email protected] is not a virtual degree program,” said Gallagher. “The program’s curriculum, requirements, and conferred degree are identical to our on-campus program. The only difference is the way it is delivered.”
The online offering has dramatically increased the diversity of experience, bringing together students from across the United States and the world ([email protected] students are in 35 countries) that would never have met in a USC on-campus program.
Successfully facilitating enrollments beyond the finite space of a campus, without sacrificing on education quality or experience, [email protected] proved that the 2tor model works. And this caught the attention of another USC school.
Excited by the success of [email protected], the USC School of Social Work decided in 2010 that it would partner with 2tor to launch a program of its own, [email protected], an online offering of its masters in social work.
“We partnered with 2tor to expand the reach of the School of Social Work beyond Southern California. 2tor offered transformative technology platforms and infrastructural support that enabled us to become a truly national program providing professional graduate education to students throughout the U.S.,” said USC School of Social Work Vice Dean Paul Maiden.
[email protected] officially launched in October 2010 and now has 1200 enrolled students from across the country and internationally.
“Highly qualified students can pursue a top-tier education that might not otherwise be available to them in their own communities. The School of Social Work has a wider pool of qualified applicants which raises the bar in terms of our the quality of the students that enroll to earn a Master of Social Work degree at the [email protected],” said Maiden.
One perceived disadvantage is that students and professors don’t get the opportunity to talk in-person, but Maiden added that “the ‘learning management system’ developed by 2tor is a highly interactive instructional platform” that offers a social, Facebook-like environment for its students and professors to interact closely.
Doug Shackelford, Associate Dean of [email protected], 2tor’s third partner program, agrees that the online nature of the program doesn’t make it an a-social experience. “We’ve truly taken advantage of the new media landscape, integrating social features into the platform to encourage interaction and virtual networking.”
In any MBA, professional networking is at the heart of the mission. And with its top 20-ranked MBA program, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School certainly took this into account before partnering with 2tor in late 2010.
“We had considered developing an online program, but waited until we were confident that we could offer one with the quality that is every bit as good as what we offered on-campus,” said Shackelford.
“2tor provides a state-of-the art learning platform that allows us to deliver our MBA program in a transformative way. Students in the online program are admitted using the same selective admissions requirements and learn from the same faculty who teach the same curriculum as in the residential program, and receive the same degree as our other programs,” added Shackelford.
2tor developed a virtual campus where students learn from UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty in synchronous formats, in which students and faculty meet in live video sessions for class every week.
[email protected], which began offering classes in July 2011, has already enrolled over 100 students and has expanded the reach of UNC’s MBA program well beyond Chapel Hill. “Right now our students are located around the United States and in China, Kuwait and Djibouti,” said Shackelford.
2tor to date has also partnered with Georgetown for its masters in nursing program, [email protected], and recently announced [email protected], a masters of public administration at UNC that will be offered in the future.
With nearly $100 million in venture capital, over 350 employees and more partner programs in the works, 2tor shows no signs of slowing down in its mission to transform higher education.
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