The first class for most master’s degree—seeking students at Colorado State University-Global Campus is ORG502: Effective Organizations—Theory and Practice. This course is designed as a way to “gain a contemporary understanding of managing operational and strategic issues in public and private organizations” and includes assignments that help learners focus on the critical thinking and decision-making processes they need to improve their on-the-job performance.
“Within the first week of my first class, I was using what I learned to help in my professional responsibilities,” says Amber McDonnell, a graduate of the master’s of science in organizational leadership program. “I remember reading about company structure and communication and applying it to make my department more efficient.” Many students have a similar crossover between their academic and professional lives, but McDonnell’s was a bit different because her school and employer were one in the same. “It seemed strange at first to use what I was learning in a CSU-Global class in my CSU-Global career,” she continued with a laugh, “but the information I was learning fit perfectly. I used what I learned from the university to make the university better.”
While not every employee at CSU-Global is working toward their next degree or has even taken a class, the university as a whole ensures that the lessons present to students are the very principles that it abides by. From its leadership and management programs to its human resources, communications and marketing specializations, CSU-Global is built on the foundation that knowledge begets intelligence and intelligence begets innovation.
It’s working. Colorado State University-Global Campus is the first university of its kind; a 100% online public institution with independent accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Many other schools offer online classes, but CSU-Global is unique in its approach because it combines the innovation and flexibility of what has typically been associated with for-profit institutions with the high quality and academic standards of a public university. By utilizing industry experts with professional experience as faculty, in curriculum development and as a part of advisory councils, CSU-Global ensures that it stays at the forefront of advancement in the fields for which it is preparing its students.
CSU-Global was founded in 2007 by the Board of Governors for the Colorado State University System. As a state university system with traditional ground campuses in Fort Collins and Pueblo, the board set out to redefine the boundaries of public higher education. And so, from its inception, CSU-Global Campus was structured differently—created to meet the needs of modern students with classes and degree programs specifically designed to be 100 percent online and taught with a professional focus for the needs and interests of working adults. The first term in 2008 had just 204 students. Four years later, the university has more than 1,300 alumni and more than 6,500 active students. This exponential growth allowed CSU-Global to repay the $12 million start-up loan it received from the CSU system a year ahead of schedule, and it now operates exclusively from its own cash flow without future appropriations from the State of Colorado.
As management students learn during MGT505: Market Planning, collecting the right information and knowing how to analyze it properly is one of the first steps in creating a successful business strategy.1 CSU-Global conducts market research and hires external consultants to help in program development and enhancements that drive corporate direction. For example, when a Bureau of Labor Statistics report projected 3.2 million new health care jobs by 2018, including overall growth of 28 percent in the administration and management positions of the industry, CSU-Global developed curriculum for both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to meet this demand. Less than six months after the health care degrees were introduced, student enrollment has produced enough revenue to cover the program development costs and begin generating positive income.
“One of the reasons that we continue to be so successful is that we respond to market dynamics,” says CSU-Global Campus President Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker. “We fully understand that higher education is a competitive field, just like any professional industry, and we have to be able to meet the needs of our consumers—students interested in a high-quality rigorous education–while responding to market changes, adapting to new models and implementing new technologies. We don’t just change for the sake of change; our improvements are made after extensive research and feedback, but we believe that a good suggestion can come from anywhere.”
Collaboration, as learned by students in ORG521: Managing Dynamic Environments, results in improved performance because individuals and groups are working toward a common goal.2 The input and accountability of CSU-Global staff are the building blocks for the university’s continual advancement. This starts with the hiring of intelligent, highly motivated employees and empowering them to become self-sufficient, expressive and exploratory of new ideas.
“There are no unheard ideas at CSU-Global,” McDonnell states, “If you have a suggestion that will make the university better, it will be openly discussed and thoroughly considered. If you can provide evidence as to how you can improve an internal process or the experience of our students, it’s often worth trying.” McDonnell knows firsthand the importance of collaboration. She effected positive change in her department by contributing ideas about making the student experience better when she was a student adviser. She has since completed her master’s degree and been promoted to department manager where she continues to pay attention to every idea from her team. “It doesn’t always take a complete overhaul to improve effectiveness,” she continues, “simply listening to everyone and knowing a good idea when it comes up can accomplish a lot, even if it’s just a little at a time.”
While utilizing provided information to generate new ideas and intelligently implement change is in itself a recipe for success, the culmination into true innovation is the differentiating factor for corporate sustainability. Students in ORG500: Foundations of Effective Management explore the importance of innovation at all organizational levels in great depth along with its relationship to long-term success.3 As the first 100 percent online public institution with independent regional accreditation, the university’s model has since sprouted many imitators who attempt to create a similar student experience of combined academic rigor with flexibility and convenience. But through CSU-Global’s continued evolution, it has become a recognized industry leader. In July 2012, Dr. Takeda-Tinker was invited to represent the university at a congressional caucus in Washington, D.C., where she participated as a panelist on the role of e-learning within the educational system and promoted its importance in future policy and fiscal planning. CSU-Global has also received numerous awards for its online programs, educational access and course design.
Even as some for-profit universities struggle to stay profitable and are at risk of losing their accreditation, and many ground campuses are being forced to raise tuition rates again, CSU-Global is expanding into new markets and integrating inventive business strategies. In an effort to increase access to public education and ultimately help support students in achieving their personal and professional goals, the university announced its new OpenLearn™ online education program (open.csuglobal.edu). This series of self-paced online courses, which will be offered soon, are free to the public and designed to promote professional development by gaining advanced knowledge and learning new skills. CSU-Global was also the first university in the country to accept transfer credit for undergraduate students who complete a free introductory computer-science course and exam from Stanford University spinoff, Udacity. The next endeavor for the university will be to further develop corporate training programs for individual organizations and to initiate collaborative arrangements that serve to support the advancement of public universities and colleges into online education.
“It is our firm belief that learning is essential for development. We are not a university that is interested in putting students into programs that are not the right fit for them, nor are we a university that feels that learning can only happen in a classroom,” states Dr. Takeda-Tinker. “This is why we work to incorporate the past learning experiences of our adult students and why we accept credit through prior learning assessment, military experience and other nontraditional yet validated sources.”
It is clear that the idiom “those who can’t do, teach” has no place within the CSU-Global walls (or virtual walls as it were) as the university’s concentrated efforts to impart knowledge and encourage critical thought and progressive ingenuity to its students is exemplified in its own actions and behaviors. Students who have completed CSU-Global’s ORG560: Leadership Development course can tell you that effective leadership should be transformational, authentic and inspired,4 and CSU-Global will continue to be an organizational leader by adhering to the same lessons that its teaches.
1 Lehman, D., & Winer, R. (2008). Analysis for market planning (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
2 Spector, B. (2012). Implementing organizational change: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.
3 Robbins, S.P., & Coulter, M. (2012). Management (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
4 Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.