How to Diffuse Friction Between CE Programming and Marketing with Therese Grohman

How to Diffuse Friction Between CE Programming and Marketing with Therese Grohman

Therese Grohman came to Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies with an impressive background in fundraising and event marketing. 

It involved years of convincing people to take on hugely physical challenges and raise a lot of money — marathons, 5K walks, cycling events and other event-based fundraisers.

So when someone on her interview committee asked her why she was interested in her current role as the Senior Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management, she absolutely nailed the answer. “That mindset is very similar, particularly when it comes to continuing education,” she said. “Like, ‘I don’t have time to do that,’ ‘it’s too expensive,’ ‘I don’t know if it’s worth it.’ So for me it was a natural transition into this continuing ed space because of the adult mindset, when you’re kind of coming up against those powerful challenges.”

Since joining Northwestern University six years ago as the most senior marketer, she’s leaned on her transformational marketing skills to lead a highly cross-functional, data-driven and innovative team. 

And there’s no Hatfield and McCoy-style rivalry between marketing and programming with Therese at the helm. She’s honed a process that helps everyone get a seat at the table to create alignment right from the beginning.

Hear all about how she does it on Episode 03 of the Education Beyond Degrees podcast. 

You can tune in above👆 or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, the RSS feed or anywhere you get your podcasts.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The questions Therese’s team asks when they’re determining the up-front viability of a new program
  • Why ideas in isolation can be great on paper but ultimately fail once they’re turned loose in the market
  • How “stackable” bite-size credentials and certificates from major universities will be the go-to playbook for a generation of learners
  • Why the phrase “online” means so much more than just getting on Zoom and teaching a class

What to listen for:

  • [1:04] The career path to Senior Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management, and how Therese’s background in development and fundraising made her the perfect marketer for the challenge
  • [4:09] Therese ELI5’s her day-to-day job for her two young daughters
  • [5:25] A breakdown of the marketing org chart at Northwestern, as well as the value of having marketing and student advisors under one roof
  • [8:28] How marketing tracks every step of the student life cycle, from the moment someone starts thinking about a new certificate or program until the point of admission
  • [14:31] Why the age-old “battle” between program development, programmers and marketing doesn’t have to be that way
  • [16:24] The new program development process at Northwestern where ideas come from everywhere and are vetted by a cross-functional team comprising marketing admissions, registrar, finance, academics teams, IT teams, student services teams and more
  • [19:52] Insight into the data-driven discussions between marketing, finance and academics to determine if a program is launched
  • [23:44] Why managing expectations is often half the battle in gauging the success metrics of a new program
  • [26:05] Why in today’s internet-fueled age of information, there’s no excuse to launch something new without quantitative research (which probably includes a subreddit or two)
  • [28:40] How Therese sees the relationship between higher ed and continuing education evolving in the future
  • [30:30] Why today’s students want microcredentials and certificates from major universities 
  • [32:48] Answering the age-old questions about social skills and who ‘owns’ teaching those – colleges or corporations
  • [33:47] Musings on how to carry over the critical thinking skills that have traditionally been taught as longer-format degrees in short, bite-sized certificates. Where do you go to learn how to be a better thinker?
  • [36:40] Why legacies and leadership go hand in hand for Therese

Links from the episode👇👇

Therese Grohman’s LinkedIn
Northwestern School of Professional Studies (SPS)
Meni’s LinkedIn
The Education Beyond Degrees Homepage

Transcript from the episode

*Today’s weather has 100% chance of some spelling errors in the AI-powered transcript below. Hope you won’t hold it against me! 

Meni: In today’s episode, I am really excited to welcome a friend and colleague to do this podcast with me. Her name is Teresa Grohman and she is the senior director of marketing and enrollment management at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.

Hey Therese, how’s it going?

Therese: Hey, Meni. I’m well, how are you?

Meni: I am doing so good. Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast today. I’m so excited to talk to you. You are the first and only marketing person, I’ll be talking to you this season. So I’m so excited to hear and talk to you about continuing ed, continuing studies and everything from your perspective. Thank you so much.

Therese: You’re so welcome. I’m excited to be here. When you emailed me about it, I was like, ‘how could I say no?’ but now the pressure’s on that I’m representing all of marketing the season. Pressure’s on.

Meni: I mean, we’re going to talk, we talk a lot about marketing, but it’s nice to get an actual expert’s perspective on it. So, no pressure. We’re just going to talk about it, kind of see what the industry is like, and get it from your perspective. So talk to me a little bit about what you do now and how you got to the place where you are today at Northwestern.

Therese: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I always say that my official title is Senior Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management at the Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies. We’re one of 12 schools at Northwestern University and we’re on the Chicago campus. How I got here is kind a long path and not a very direct path.

I just said for a while that I don’t work in higher ed because this is my first role in higher ed and continuing education. Prior to coming to Northwestern, I actually started my career on the agency side. I was a media buyer. I started buying billboard space, the magazine space. I did marketing at the House of Blues in Chicago. I did some consulting work at a firm that specialized in nonprofit event fundraising. Did some businesses development there. Worked at a couple of nonprofits and development and fundraising roles and eventually found my way to Northwestern.

I remember when I was interviewing for my role here, as I was talking about my history, as you always do an interview, one registrar actually asked me, ‘why do you want this job?’ because I had just spent 10 minutes telling them all about the fundraising events I worked on and things like that.

And I said, there’s really not a huge difference in marketing for continuing education than there is from recruiting for fundraising events. Because the events that I used to work on were really focused on getting people to take on a huge physical challenge and raise a lot of money. Two things that a lot of these folks never thought they could do before.

It was this insurmountable thing. It was this goal that I never thought I could do that. And I think that mindset is very similar, particularly when it comes to continuing education. If people are either pursuing master’s degrees, or completing an undergraduate degree, or even some of the longer form certificates, non-credit. Like, ‘I don’t have time to do that,’ ‘it’s too expensive,’ ‘I don’t know if it’s worth it.’ So as a marketer, it’s a very similar mindset. So for me it was a natural transition into this continuing ed space because the adult mindset, when you’re kind of coming up against those powerful challenges, or what seemed like powerful challenges, it was very similar.

Meni: And how long had you been at Northwestern now?

Therese: I’ve now been at Northwestern for 6 years and I still say I’m not in continuing ed, I’m a marketer. So it’s very funny when someone like you approaches me and says, ‘Hey, I want you to talk about the CE space. And I’m like, oh me, right? Oh, right me.

Meni: That’s so funny. I’ve been in this space for a long time and whenever anybody asks me, ‘Hey, what exactly do you do?’ I still can’t figure out how to answer that. So when your family and friends ask, ‘so what do you do in professional studies at Northwestern?’ What do you tell them?

Therese: I like to use the example of what I tell my kids who are 10 and 12. They were in kindergarten and preschool when I first started here was kind of like, what do you do? And the way I explain it to them at the time was saying like, I just help adults get more educated and adults have things they want to learn and they want to keep growing just like kids do, and we’re here to help them find their paths. 

My job is not necessarily to convince somebody to come take this particular program, but my role is to help people find their path and help them find their path towards that next thing that they have on their list of things they want to achieve.

I’ve got a great team that I work with because I manage not just marketing, but also our enrollment advising and our admissions process. And we get a lot of folks that come in the door and that are saying, ‘I know I want X promotion. I know I want X, how do I get there?’ So I kind of like to think of ourselves oftentimes is educational coaches.

And honestly, sometimes we talk to people that their next best step for them, maybe isn’t going back and getting more education and maybe they want to get more experience first and then they can come back and get more education. So when I describe what I do, it’s really just helping people find their ways.

Meni: I like that. That’s a really simple, simple answer to what we probably consider a very complicated question.

So you brought up your team. I’m actually so curious about this, cause I don’t think I’ve ever actually talked to you about your team and how Northwestern has professional studies set up.

I know the Dean and stuff like that, but talk to me a little bit about the structure. Why is marketing and enrollment management, advising all put together?

Therese: Yeah. So that’s, I love telling the story because I get that question actually pretty often. I think actually when I started at Northwestern, it was just the marketing and advising teams. We didn’t have any of the admissions pieces in it.

I’ll be honest, having marketing and enrollment advising under one umbrella was one of the reasons I was attracted to this role at Northwestern, because I’ve worked, as I mentioned, I worked in other organizations and marketing and sales are always split apart. And I just, I feel like I just said the dirty word sales, like we don’t like to talk about the word sales when it comes to education.

Meni: You’re on the right podcast. Cause we always talk about sales and business, in continuing education

Therese: We don’t like to talk about it cause sometimes sales, for some reason, it just, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like it’s on mission. Right? But when the nuts and bolts come down to it, it is sales. Right? And that doesn’t have to be a bad word in this space.

But so often marketing and sales are split apart. And I think for those of you who’ve ever bought professional services before, you get the one part, the sales guy, that’s promising you all the great things. And then the account team comes in to deliver it. And they say, well, what, wait, what did my sales woman promise you? We can’t really do that. Right?

So I think one of the reasons I love having marketing and advising under the same umbrella is because we’re all speaking from the same playbook. We all have the same goals in mind and we can work really well together and exchange information. So often when something, on the marketing side is either over-performing are underperforming, we can talk to our advisors who are talking to prospective students on the frontline and say like, what are you hearing? Are people responding?

If it’s messaging, if it’s the types of people we’re drawing and kind of, we can get that immediate feedback. And that’s not to say that that feedback loop doesn’t exist, if the two of marketing and enrollment advising are separated. But it is so much easier, culture wise, when you’re all thinking about yourselves on the same team and you’re all driven by the same goals. It was one of the things that when I first got to Northwestern, and this team here at the School of Professional Studies, is that we really worked to align ourselves against the same goals, right?

We’re not looking at leads. We’re not necessarily looking at applications started. We’re looking at successful students. We’re looking at getting people admitted into programs. We’re looking at finding people the right program. Those are all important, leads and applications started, those are all important steps along the way, but we really want to help people get to those final goals. And we’re all aligned against that single mission.

Meni: Do you guys actually have a business development team or, I mean, I guess we would call them sales whatever as part of what you’re doing to recruit students and kind of recruit other customers?

Therese: Yes, and no. So we do, they’re just called enrollment advisors. So the way my team is split up, I oversee the student life cycle from the point of very first awareness, when someone starts thinking about going back to school to the point of admission.

And within that lifecycle, there’s five kind of areas that I oversee. We’ve got our creative team, that’s responsible for everything that you look and that you see and you hear, and you read about the school of professional studies. Then I’ve got my marketing team that’s in charge of making sure that you see the messages. Right message, in the right place, at the right time.

And then we’ve got our enrollment advising team, which I think you’ve talked about like kind of as business development. But there are the people that are working with students, one-on-one. As soon as a student either starts an application or comes in as a lead and says, I’m interested in learning more, they get assigned an advisor who works with them through all the types of programs that we have at the school of professional studies. Cause we really do have, we literally have everything from data science, to literature, to sports administration, to project management. And sometimes you’ll get someone who’s coming in and saying, ‘I’m really interested in data science.’

But as we work with them more and find out what their goals are, they may maybe more suited for information systems or health analytics or another program. So that’s really kind of the air quotes, you can’t see me doing these, but they are quotes business development side of it. And I call them our front of house team.

And then we have our back of house team, which is our admissions team, that really works with our faculty decision teams, our academics teams, to really make sure that our applicants have all the appropriate materials and they also work with them on facilitating the decision process. And making sure that everyone who is applying and is admitted has met all of the initial requirements in order for eligibility for the program.

When they work really closely on policy matters and things like that. And then last but not least I have a small, but mighty CRM team. Our CRM is our backbone of literally everything that we do. So that’s kind of the whole gamut of everything that we’re doing on our team. So that was a very long-winded way of saying yes, we have a biz dev team, but they’re really just our enrollment advisors.

Meni: And what are you guys using for your CRM?

Therese: We are currently in Radius, which is a product that’s owned by Anthology.

Meni: So I’m really curious, Therese, because we always talk to people that their marketing departments should look almost exactly what you just talked about. Has Northwestern always been set up like that or has it evolved to where it is today, since you’ve been there?

Therese: So when I inherited this team, when I started here six years ago, marketing and advising were definitely under the same umbrella. I think that’s because the advising team evolved or came about, and this is kind of me going into the history books of the School of Professional Studies, it came about when SPS and launched its first online programs. Oh gosh, probably 15 years ago now. That was a model that was very new. The idea of having enrollment advisors that were the whole leaf flow process was very new in this space 15 years ago. It’s hard. It’s hard to believe that this idea was new because I think everybody does it now.

At our school, it’s always been like this, but it’s just because that’s how it evolved. I know that some of the other schools at Northwestern, who are just coming into other, growing their professional masters, they’re kind of coming into this continuing education space, they’re evolving to this model, but they aren’t all, they’re not all structured like this.

In a lot of cases, marketing is still separate and it’s in its own universe. I think one of the challenges is that there aren’t a lot of people that have both skillsets. You get people that are really good at the enrollment advising or the recruiting piece of the project if they don’t have the marketing experience or vice versa.

I think one of the things that I’ve learned here at the School of Professional Studies at Northwestern, in particular, is that they’re willing to take risks and willing to say, ‘you are smart enough to do X. So I know you’re smart enough to learn Y and Z,’ right?

So for example, I had zero admissions experience when I got to Northwestern but they took a chance and now that is part of my wheelhouse here. I can say this now, I’m six years into it, I can even say it on a podcast like this, but I remember one of my first meetings, people were talking about FERPA and I had no idea what FERPA was.

One of my teammates, and if she hears this she’ll laugh, because we laugh about it now. She saw the look on my face. I tried to poker- face it when someone was talking about FERPA and she looked at me and she goes, ‘Oh my gosh, my boss has no idea what a FERPA is.’

Oh, okay. I think that’s like just a cultural thing that it’s like, we can learn it, Right? And I think it’s, it’s very aligned with who we are as a school, right? Like adults are always learning new things. And you can learn new skills, just do you have the ambition? Do you have the drive? Do you have the curiosity to be agile and learn these new things? So I think that’s why some units it’s harder because people are trying to find the one person who knows it all. And I think sometimes too, we have to teach them, or we have to give them the chance to learn the other side of the coin, so to speak.

Meni: So I completely agree with you and I love how your team is set up. And I wish, and I hope, that as people listen to this podcast, they take notes on how you guys are set up because it should be how marketing and enrollment management and advising and business development, all work together. It should be like that everywhere.

I hope people start talking more about it because they’re still on this traditional, there are so many schools still in this traditional model of doing marketing and doing ad buys and buying zip code lists and just doing, what’s been done before, rather than taking new approaches to what they’re doing.

So I really hope they listen, but that does take me then to the question that I’ve been excited to talk to you about. Oftentimes people will say, ‘this is a battle between program development, programmers and what people do in marketing,’ right? And so how does your team work with the individuals at Northwestern who develop programs? Whether it’s academic credit or non-credit to figure out how best to market those programs. What’s your relationship like and how do you guys work together to make sure those programs are successful?

Therese: Oh my gosh. This is like the million-dollar question. Isn’t it? I mean, I think it’s something that is constantly evolving. I can’t tell you the number of retreats that we’ve been on, where we’re like, well, let’s talk about our new program development process. I literally was on a call this morning where we were just talking about all the new programs that we’re developing right now, and we were joking because they said, ‘and I’m sure the next six months, we’re not going to come up with any other new ideas for any other new programs,’ and everyone kind of laughed and cringed a little bit because that’s, I feel like that’s the name of the game here at Northwestern. We’re always coming up with new ideas.

So how do we get there? I think when I got here, it was very much the academics team would come up with the idea for a new program. The new program would get developed. They would basically hand over a brief to marketing and say, ‘this is the program we have developed. Go out and do your thing. Here’s the audience. Here’s this.’

And we would interview faculty or advisory board committees to understand more about the program, understanding about the audience. And then we would kind of go out and build the plan, which is not a bad process at all.

But where we’ve evolved to since then, is really starting at the very, very beginning. So I think one of the things that’s been fun and why, honestly I’m still at Northwestern, is that we’ve evolved our process to the point where new ideas from programs literally come from all over the school.

Pre-pandemic, we had just started doing something internally that we were kind of calling our Shark Tank and it was happening quarterly where people would bring new idea proposals to the table and it would be vetted with kind of a cross-functional team. And it wasn’t just, you know, a leadership team. It was assistant directors, associate directors, program managers, from all different places around the school to ask questions, to see if there was a potential for a program and see if it was something worth pursuing more. And I think that approach, especially in the world of continuing education, was really smart, right?

Because we pride ourselves in professional programs and understanding where the markets at. And so often I think we can get tunnel vision and saying like, ‘I think this is what the market wants. I think this is market what the market wants.’

Whereas if you talk to your admissions coordinator, who outside of the office is super interested in gaming, and has their eye on the e-sports community, they can bring some really important insights to the table and help you bill and like kind of identify new markets where there’s some real opportunity there.

So really what’s happened kind of going to your original question about, you know, how do new programs get developed? I think we have gotten to a point where we’re working more closely together as a cross-functional team between the administrative units: marketing admissions, our registrar, our finance, our academics teams, our it teams, our student services teams.

We’re all working together more cross-functionally to talk about things that we’re hearing, either from our own students, from prospective students, from the market. To pick those apart and see where the new ideas are.

Sometimes those new ideas come from other schools at Northwestern and they want to partner with us and building things. And we go from there. But from a marketing perspective, we’ve gotten involved at a much earlier stage in the process now, which I think is leading to more informed, more integrated marketing plans because we really, it’s not just being handed a brief.

We have a seat at the table and determining what the program looks like because then we can say critically, ‘well, how are we going to position this to the market when we go live? What are the features and benefits? What are the outcomes for this? Is the audience in the world, large enough for this? And we really get involved in it from the get-go.

Meni: That’s a great point right there. I’m really curious who on your team, or how is the viability of a program determined based on understanding the market and how many students you could potentially recruit? Like first off, who does it? And second, do you have any metrics that you know offhand that you guys use to establish, if you should pursue the development of a certain topic or program?

Therese: So for us, majority of our programs are offered online. And so I think one of the things that, we’re very committed to small class sizes, but whenever you’re building an online program, you need scale. So I think scale is really important to us when we’re building new programs. Niche programs are wonderful and there’s a space for them. But so often we just want to make sure that we will have an audience large enough to be able to build a program that will deliver a great student experience.

So who ultimately has that say? It’s a number of things. We often will work with external market research firms to determine market size. It’s typically a joint decision between academics, marketing, and finance, or really, or financial team to really look at the numbers and do a really data driven decision on whether or not a program should launch.

Meni: The one thing that I preach to everybody is, ‘I don’t care about the idea. I need you to show me that it’s a viable program because you have an understanding of the demographic. You have an understanding of the demand. You know how strong your brand is to be able to offer a program like this. And I need you to show me, and show marketing, who they’re going to go out and try to get, and to help you recruit for this program.

Therese: Right. And how big is that market? Right? Like, cause I mean, there are people that are interested in this program. There’s just not a lot of them out there.

Meni: Yeah, definitely. That’s exactly it. So like it comes back to there is this friction, oftentimes between programming and marketing that we can never escape because a program development person will always think that they have developed the right program. And it doesn’t matter who is instructing, right? It could be a faculty member. It could be an expert in the field. It doesn’t matter. What programming always thinks about is, ‘Hey, I’ve done my job. I’ve developed a program now marketing, it’s your turn to go out and get the students.’ And it’s not like that. Right? You can’t be like that.

Therese: Right. And I think like, honestly, that I think is a common struggle in any industry, right? Is that the product team goes out and builds the most amazing, bike, right? Like it’s this bike and everyone’s going to want it. And it’s going to be the best thing ever. And then marketing looks at it and goes, ‘well, there are six other bikes like this on the market and it already exists. Like what makes us so different?’ Right?

Like, so I think so often the ideas, when they’re taken in isolation, are great ideas, but you have to take a look at it and consideration with like in the perspective of everything else, that’s out there and how big the market really is for it. Right?

I could build the best Pogo stick ever. It’s aerodynamic and it’s sleek and the design is beautiful. But how many people are actually out there looking for Pogo sticks. Right? I think that’s the question and that’s why at Northwestern, we’re always going back to the data.

And it’s not just because we have a data science program at Northwestern, but we’re always going back to the data. Like that’s wonderful. We have no doubt that this is a great program and it is, it’s going to deliver on these results, but how many people are actually interested in that program?

It’s not a judgment on whether or not the program is a good or a bad program, but I think it’s less set our expectations around it, right? So if it is something that is really niche, let’s go into it and approach it like this is going to be a niche program and the audience is only this big or is it, this is actually going to be the next big thing and it’s going to explode so let’s prepare accordingly and build our marketing plans accordingly, right? Like if we think this is going to be, the next best thing since sliced bread, let’s prepare and let’s spend accordingly because this is going to be the thing people are asking for and we want to be top of mind when people are looking for it. Versus, yeah, this is awesome, and there is a segment of the universe that is looking for this kind of program. Let’s do our best to find that segment, but it is not, you know, it’s not mass market. It’s going to be something that is much smaller, but these are going to be really passionate, interested people, and it’s a smaller market.

So I think it’s about managing those expectations. Cause I think everybody wants a big, big successful program. And I don’t think necessarily that big is always synonymous with successful. Right? I think it’s, it’s being able to define the success, right? And manage those expectations because for some subject areas, a successful program, is class sizes in the double-digits. For other programs success will be in the triple digits or in the thousands. Right?

If you look, it’s all the different models and all the different flavors that you can access education now. You can go everything from one-on-one tutoring to massive online courses. So that success metric is different in both of those cases.

Meni: Yeah, I always, I always tell the same story to schools that I work with is in 2006, I had somebody walk into my office and they’re just like, ‘I have a program idea that is going to be unbelievably successful.’ And I’m like, okay, love to hear it. This was a faculty member at the school and they’re just like musical bells.

Therese: Like ringing bells. Oh, okay.

Meni: Like triangle, triangle.

Therese: Like percussion, like percussionists.

Meni: Solely that. And I looked at him, I’m like, okay. Okay. Talk to me about who the students would be. And he’s like, ‘Oh, they’re ‘getting really, really popular.’

And so the next part of this story is where I tell everybody I’m like, I don’t care what the class is. Honestly, you could bring you the most random idea ever. If you have the data that backs up it’s going to be successful, I will be the first to help you build it and offer it, right? But if you come in just saying, ‘Oh, you know, I just have this great idea because I really love it. So I think there’s going to be others out there.’ It’s just like, we’re not going to do that part about wasting time anymore and building and just building things to see if they work. Let’s just get some data behind it. And I always use that story because it’s just like, when I tell it, everybody’s like, ‘Wow, that sounds ridiculous.’

And I’m like, okay. Yeah. We’ll think of some of the ideas that you’re coming up with me, somebody, right? Somebody else might think that same thing. So it’s not just how passionate you are about it. You need to have that data. So, you know, I love hearing that perspective that it exists and people are actually following through with that.

Therese: Yeah. And I mean, I think the thing is, is that like, oftentimes, like you people hear the word data and it’s like, Oh my gosh, well, I don’t want to, I don’t have the budget to hire market research. I don’t have like, there’s all these, like, I can’t, I can’t or all these roadblocks. Right? I think this day and age, we can very quickly move beyond the focus group of one, right?

Like there’s so much technology out there. There’s so much information out there that you can access to even just do that initial swipe of a market to see if it’s not just, you know, Aunt Bertha that said this was going to be the next big thing or the thing you heard about over your Thanksgiving dinner that someone said was going to be the next big thing.

Like I think, it’s something my husband always says, you know, ‘trust, but validate,’ right? Like this, this Bell professor it’s like, that’s great. Let me, let me just do a quick Google search to see, you know, is, is the Reddit is the sub-Reddit about musical bells? Are there hundreds of thousand people in that subreddit, right?

Like I think that there are some really easy tells that you can use before you jump into something like market research or something like that, that you can just do that initial swipe to say like, ‘Oh, there are like there’s 18 subreddits on musical bells. There might be actually something here.’

There’s ways that you can go about it that are quick and easy, that you can just get that initial swipe. And before listening to that passionate person, you need data to kind of keep things real because you know, we’ve got, you can get swept up in it and be like, oh my gosh, that’s a greatest, that’s the greatest thing ever.

I always say that to my team. Like, please, I want you to disagree with me because I can convince, I can convince myself that my ideas are great. Even when it comes to decisions about what we’re choosing, like what avenues we’re choosing to use for marketing or creative idea, like. I’ll be convinced it’s the greatest thing ever. I need people to tell me why it’s not, right? We don’t want to be just like, yes, yes, yes. Because that gets us into trouble.

Meni: Yeah, and it’s actually gotten to the point where I’ve gone through this conversation enough with people that I just sat down and I’ve created a, like a super basic algorithm to say, if a program is go no-go based on demographics, brand, competition and things like differentiators.

We’re testing it at a school right now. And it’s really interesting because now it’s not just one idea. It’s an idea and then once you put numbers behind it and some information behind it, it could actually say it could actually tell you, should I move forward or is this not really not worth the time because it takes all those pieces into consideration. So, hopefully as people continue to have these program ideas, they start looking at more than just the idea and really bring it. But we could go on about this forever, right?

As this podcast comes to an end soon, I want to get your thoughts on what you see the future of both higher ed and continuing education and how that relationship is going to evolve in the future here.

Therese: Oh my gosh. So many thoughts on this.

I mean, I think COVID has really changed things, at least on the continuing education front, right? Because Northwestern and the School of Professional Studies, in particular, we were very lucky heading into this because about 80% of our programming was already online. So we were well-suited. We’ve got a huge distance learning team that does all of our program development that knows how to build for online, which is not just getting on Zoom and teaching a class, as you well know, right?

So I think that COVID has really changed it because more and more people, and we’re hearing this from students are, are more open to online. I mean, you and I were even just talking about this before we started, is that like, would you and I be doing a podcast on Zoom a year ago? Probably not, right? I mean, could we have done it? Absolutely. But it wasn’t really in our relative consideration.

So I think that, Continuing education has been kind of keeping up with, with all of this, but I think it’s going to be at a much more accelerated pace as people are more and more willing to learn, in their homes, on their computers, on their own, so to speak. Or just kind of do it independently as opposed to driving down to a campus, having to find the time to make an hour every Wednesday night or make a couple of hours every Wednesday night to go to campus to take a class. Whereas now I think people are getting more comfortable with synchronous and asynchronous online learning.

But I think the future is, there’s going to be pretty crowded. I think it’s going to continue to get crowded. But the other trend that I’m seeing, and I’m sure you’re seeing this too Meni, is that people are not, I think the master’s degree will always have a place, but I think people, in this culture, especially are like,’ I just want a little bit. I just need this little bit for now and I’ll come back and get more later.’ right?

So I think we’re going to see, I think stackable has been a phrase that’s long been used in the CE world.  And I just heard, like, it was probably about a year ago, the first time I heard it, like on a daily podcast or something where they started talking about stackable credentials. I was like, okay, now it’s a real thing, right?

Like when mainstream media actually starts using some of the language we’ve been using in the industry for awhile, I’m like, now it’s a real thing. But I do think the idea of smaller bite-sized credentialed certificates or credentials from major universities are going to be a thing because I think universities are going to have to continue to adapt to the needs of the market and what people are looking for.

I still think my girls, you know, I’ve mentioned that they’re younger. I still think they’re going to go to college. And my husband’s like, they might not. Like, it might not be a thing by the time they’re of college age, right? Like it might not be a thing, which is crazy to think about because we’ve, you know, we grew up with us and we’re in it right now. But I think it’s going to continue to change and continue to evolve. I think it’ll look different. I think it will be towards more of those the smaller bite sized pieces that eventually ladder up into something bigger.

And I think technology is going to continue to play, this is such a cliche answer, but I do think that technology is going to continue to play a huge role in how we approach education and how we approach learning new things and career advancement.

Meni: We just had that same exact discussion like last week about our kids, and you know, if they’re going to go to college. And for me, I think I probably say this on every episode, I think the future of what we do is going to end up leaning towards getting the quick degree or getting the quick certification.

I know you guys partner with some third parties that offer a certification that puts people into the workplace after 13 or 16 weeks. It looks like this generation isn’t moving that way. And it’s not a bad thing. I don’t think. The one thing that all it’s always the up question, you know, faculty and long time, CE people always ask the follow-up ‘well, how are they going to get the social skills? How are they going to get there those programs and you know, how are they going to be well-rounded students?’

And it’s just like, well, the companies that hire them are going to have to take that on, aren’t they? And so, I don’t know where I sit on this. I think there’s going to be a place for degrees and kind of what the traditional model is.

But I have a feeling, especially when COVID is over and we start seeing some other reports come back of what student populations look like. I really wonder what that breakdown is going to look like and moving forward.

Therese: Yeah, I mean, it’s so interesting that you say that cause I went back and I got my MBA and I remember when someone, when I finished it, someone asked me, they’re like, ‘well, what’d you learn?’

And I remember thinking like, ‘well, what did I learn?’ And, you know, I was like, you know what? I learned how to think more critically. And I think that’s true of any advanced degree. And honestly, I think even your undergraduate degree, right? Like part of that whole experience and that longer experience is that you learn how to be a more critical thinker.

You learn how to problem solve. You learn how to ask why and then you learn how to figure out the why, right? Like you learn that whole piece of it. And so like you, I do think there’s a place for that and I do think that that comes from some of these longer educational experiences, because I think these short stackables, these short certificates are great for skills, right? They’re great. Like if you need to learn a programming language, right? It’s great to pick up a skill, but to learn how to be a better thinker, I think you need some of that longer exposure, right?

Like you, I’m torn between the two, right? I do think that for adults that have kind of gone through that already, and we look at continuing education in particular, I think that is the place for that shorter term education. But for kind of this next generation, I do think that for a lot of reasons, but that’s not to say you can’t learn those skills in other ways, because you absolutely can.

But I know that’s how I learned them, right? And when I went to college for four years, I got my grad degree for 4 years. That’s the path that I took. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only path, but it’s a path that a lot of people take and it’s a path that works to get those critical thinking skills that I think are so important for success.

You know, it kind of goes back to what I was saying, you were asking like, ‘why aren’t more marketing and advising teams put together, right?’ Like someone who’s a critical thinker can figure out how to do both of those things and put them together. Could I have gone to school and taken a bunch of certificates and then gotten that experience probably, but was it faster if I learned it and figured it out on my own and were there new solutions that came up because you’re able to be a critical thinker? Probably. Maybe. I’d like to think, yes.

Meni: So what do you want your legacy in professional studies to be? In the industry to be? Like, when you walk away from this or when you move on. When you become a Dean or a president of a university one day, what do you want your legacy to be?

Therese: You know, it’s funny. I knew you were going to ask this question or I saw this question. I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if he’s going to ask this one.’ And I thought about it. And the way I think of my legacy is more in the impact I have on the people that I work with. I don’t necessarily think like my legacy is going to be building a great program, although I do hope that I build some great programs or have a hand in building some great programs along the way.

I think my legacy, it it’s very akin to the way that I like to lead my teams. The people that I work with, one of, I often tell them, like my job is to get you to be able to do my job.

I am a successful manager or leader if I help bring you forward. So I would hope that my legacy is a line of great leaders that I’ve worked with that have kind of worked their way up in whatever industry they end up going into. It’s not necessarily for me defined by a specific program or a title on a business card or title on my LinkedIn profile because who uses business cards anymore?

I would love my legacy to be people that have grown in their careers and we’ve had some interaction along the way and that I’ve helped them kind of move or in working together, they’ve learned something new that have helped. That’s helped them grow professionally and maybe even personally.

Meni: That’s awesome. Well, you are, like the energy you bring to what you do is always so awesome. I love seeing you at conferences. I love the energy when you talk about CE and what we do in this industry and I hope that people could feel that from this conversation and reach out to you because you have such a great way of talking about it and seeing the potential.

And so I wanted to thank you so much for coming on this podcast. You are such an awesome person and I love being able to talk to you.

Therese: Oh, you’re so welcome, Meni. It was so fun. So nice of you to say all those nice things. I’ll send you some girl scout cookies later. Thank you so, so much. It’s a pleasure. I know you guys are doing some great work as well. We’ll definitely need to do this again soon.