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Online, Higher Education Models – Enter the New York Times

We have read on many occasions of new higher education models. One blogger, John Robb, noted that one catalyst could be the economic downturn we have experienced.

Most certainly, a number of folks have expressed dismay that in tough economic times, one constant remains – next year’s university fees and tuition costs will be significantly more than what students had to shell out this year. While most tend to chastise higher education, this development no doubt has caught the attention of entrepreneurs who see education as a source of revenue.

A More Profitable New York Times?

iStock_000009137974XSmallHowever, we may not have been paying enough attention to this combination of factors. We would have never guessed the latest educational entry might come from an industry that is floundering, the newspaper business, and from one of the most venerable of news outlets, the New York Times.

But as media conglomerates search for new revenue models that could help them to return to financial stability, they are apparently leaving no stone unturned. But most people are focusing on the fact that the NY Times is once again considering charging online readers access to its web site.

It seems that Times leadership is about to reintroduce a paywall format whereby readers without a subscription will get a limited number of free peeks at the site per month. Critics insist that it will not enhance that much-needed revenue stream in the long run.

Since bloggers provide enormous referrals when citing articles, even readership at the Times is greatly enhanced by online linking. If a paywall is put in place, those bloggers would no longer be able to refer readers to a specific article with the certainty that those readers would be able to access that story when they click.

Fewer readers in the long run means fewer dollars as well.

But in an even more interesting move, in addition to charging for story access, it now appears that the Times is moving into the field of education. According to the Guardian, beginning this spring the Times “will start awarding certificates in conjunction with several universities to students who pay to take its online courses.”

The Guardian notes the step serves two critical purposes: earning the Times some extra bucks as it works to extend the company’s brand name.

Not Entirely New

It was two years ago the paper launched the New York Times Knowledge Network. Offering online courses with editors and journalists, the program initially involved the offering of non-credit courses that provided continuing education expertise for journalists.

istock_000007229384xsmall-300x299The difference, though shades of gray must be mentioned here, is that it now appears the model is designed to produce a stream of income. The latest model involves far more than non-credit, continuing education classes; instead the Times will partner with other universities to offer courses that grant credits and can be used for certificate programs.

Felice Nudelman, director of education for the Times, recently explained the concept to Inside High Ed. “It is, for many institutions, a profit center,” she acknowledged.

Teaming up with Ball State University and Rosemont College, courses will range from $235 for a six-week video storytelling course ($199 if no credit is to be awarded) to a six-course certification in entrepreneurship at $1,950 per course. The video course is one of nine courses students must complete to obtain a joint certificate in “emerging media journalism” from the Times and Ball State.

Other options include immigration law courses taken in conjunction with the City University of New York and separate 45-week programs in paralegal studies and nurse paralegal studies from Thomas Edison State College.

The format has the Times and the specific universities sharing course revenues. The colleges will provide the professors for each course while the Times will offer access to news archives back to 1851, subject-specific content modules designed by the paper, and newsroom specialists for guest lectures.

Future of Education

As a new education model, the concept could well be the harbinger of things to come. The Times certainly offers an incredible library of material to say nothing of employing enormous reporting expertise.

One could certainly see students flocking to courses that might feature not only a competent professor, but the possibility of interacting with the likes of a Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, or Paul Krugman (provided Princeton might allow) would no doubt be incredibly marketable.

And as Nudleman told InsideHigherEducation, “If you look at the content of the pages of New York Times,” she is not stretching the truth too much when she asserts “we probably have as much depth and breadth as a good liberal arts curriculum.”

Robb was right, the current economics constitutes a chance for new models and it appears the NY Times is ready to deliver a very unique option. The question, ultimately, is will this help return an esteemed brand to financial stability.

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