Customization is entering a new arena in higher education.
After designing an MBA degree specifically to help Spectrum Health develop a new generation of executives, Grand Valley State University wants to see where else it can take the concept of customized academic programs.
The Seidman College of Business hopes to use the new partnership with Spectrum Health for a health care executive MBA to forge similar ventures with other large employers or a consortium of employers in the region — if it can achieve the scale needed to justify the costs involved. Future offerings could come in the form of customized degree programs or professional certification courses tailored to a specific employer’s needs.
“We’re looking at this opportunity, and hopefully other opportunities, for us to get into this space,” said Sri Sundaram, associate dean of the Seidman College of Business. “We have the flexibility and the nimbleness to adapt to what the needs are going to be.”
The GVSU/Spectrum Health partnership is the latest example of how colleges and universities in West Michigan now work more closely with businesses and are willing to tailor their academic programming when needed or asked.
Just as any business needs to adapt to changing marketplace dynamics, universities have to adjust to the changing demands of employers, Sundaram said. In this instance, it’s forming an academic program to address a large West Michigan employer’s need in executive leadership development, an issue that many CEOs have identified as a top priority.
“Going forward, … you’re going to see the business model and the education model changing in ways for more and more partnerships with corporate partners,” Sundaram said. “Partnering and meeting the needs of the business community is going to be a critical part of our approach in the future.”
Other West Michigan examples of customized academic programming include Grand Rapids-based Davenport University, which last fall started an undergraduate business degree geared specifically for Michigan’s growing insurance industry. Davenport University worked with companies such as Farmers Insurance to develop the curriculum.
The program has an enrollment of 24 students, most of whom are already working within the insurance industry and want to elevate their skills, said Frank Novakowski, associate dean at Davenport University’s Maine College of Business.
Novakowski sees Davenport University, which has 12 campuses around Michigan, forming similar partnerships in the future. Customized academic programming has “finally caught on” and will only continue to grow, he said.
“It’s something that we as educators have to look at,” Novakowski said.
The insurance MBA builds off of the numerous professional certification programs that Davenport now organizes and offers for employers.
In Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University last year launched an MBA program customized for Parker Hannifin Corp. that enrolled 32 employees. The program uses Parker Hannifin’s data, examples and case studies to address issues that are unique to the company and its industry, “so we’re able to make it, in turn, more relevant,” said Kay Palan, dean of WMU’s Haworth College of Business.
The Parker Hannifin partnership was the first time WMU customized an MBA program for a specific employer, Palan said. The Haworth College of Business is “actively talking” to three other large employers in the region about similar arrangements, she said.
Much of the interest from employers for customized academic programming focuses on long-term change, leadership development and working across divisions within a large organization, Palan said.
Partnering with corporations for customized programs “allows us to offer a specialized product, if you will, and make a difference,” she said. “It makes so much sense for us.”
Customized academic programs have limits, however.
Education is a costly endeavor and colleges and universities needs to assure they will have enough students enrolled to absorb the costs for both the employer and the school, and still provide a quality program.
“That’s the balancing act. Can an employer get enough students to go through it to justify its investment?” said Dawn Gaymer, associate provost for extended programs at WMU.
Scale shouldn’t become an issue in the partnership between GVSU and Spectrum Health, a nearly $4 billion health system that operates 11 hospitals in West Michigan and employs nearly 21,000 people.
With a capacity for 20 to 25 students annually, the 22-month executive health care MBA program can continue on for years if it enrolls 1 percent of Spectrum Health’s employees, Sundaram said. The Seidman College of Business has a three-year contract with
Spectrum Health to provide the customized MBA degree program, “but we think we have an opportunity to work with them for the long term,” he said.
Spectrum Health formed the partnership with GVSU as just about every aspect of health care is changing — from the economic model for how hospitals and doctors are paid, to the greater emphasis on quality and patient outcomes, and the reforms occurring in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The health care executive MBA is geared toward developing future leaders to handle all of the change and “be ready for just about whatever’s thrown at us,” said Roger Jansen, Spectrum Health’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer.
“We want to make it a very important component — not the component, but one of many components — in what we’re doing to get our leadership ready to run Spectrum Health as a health care system in the future,” Jansen said. “Health care’s got a lot going on.”
Jansen said the degree is just one method for Spectrum Health to ensure its “people are getting the right experience and exposure to ideas, concepts and technical skills in a disciplined fashion … so they can be ready to run a multi-faceted, integrated health system in the wave of the future here.
“Getting our leadership ready is a paramount issue in the organization, … so this is another piece of the puzzle that we are doing to get people ready.”
The health care executive MBA program with GVSU launches in August 2014. Spectrum Health will pay the full cost for employees to enroll, and the organization hopes to get a mix of both clinical and administrative staff to earn the degree, Jansen said.
The health system expects the program to attract not only those employees who have already been identified as future leaders within the organization but those who have yet to come to the attention of executives, Jansen said.
“The next CEO could be sitting across the aisle and I don’t know their name yet,” he said. “[W]e want this program to bring out people we may not have on the radar but we want to have on the radar.”