Lifelong Learning

University of Fredericton’s Sandermoen School of Business

In recent years, online courses taught at a university level have become a viable alternative to classroom learning for many people. The University of Fredericton’s Sandermoen School of Business is a part of this evolution in online teaching; indeed, its vision is to be recognized as a leader in the online world of education.

Business in Focus spoke with Dr. David W. Large, the University of Fredericton’s Vice President of University Advancement and Dean of the Sandermoen School of Business, about the shift toward online courses, the new virtual environment, and the advantages to be found in online studies.

The University of Fredericton (UFred) is a privately held, fully online university with a mission to provide lifelong learning paths (and credentials) for upwardly-mobile professionals. UFred was founded in 2006 by Kjetil Sandermoen, a Norwegian management consultant who also serves as chairman of UFred’s board of directors. It should be noted that the University of Fredericton has no affiliation with the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton campus; they are entirely independent entities.

UFred is formally recognized (i.e., accredited) by the province of New Brunswick as a degree granting university. It is subject to the same institutional and program reviews as any other university in the country and has passed all of them without issue. Periodic reviews are conducted by a body called the MPHEC (Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission).

The Sandermoen School of Business offers MBAs (Masters of Business Administration) and Executive MBAs, and there are also plans to launch the popular DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration) which is a recognized ‘terminal degree’ – the highest academic degree in a given field of study. “The DBA tends to be more professionally-oriented than academically-oriented,” explains Dr. Large. “A PhD indicates a desire to have a career in university as a professor and academic researcher. The DBA says that you want a terminal degree with a career based in the world of consulting or contract teaching. As we ourselves are a teaching and practice-focused business school, we intend to provide a terminal degree that is consistent with our own focus.”

Sandermoen School of Business offers programs in leadership for both personal and corporate success. “We are introducing a series of specialty tracks in leadership. When our programs were launched we initially only offered Global Leadership, but one year ago we introduced Innovation Leadership. And we have just announced the launch of the Social Enterprise Leadership program in May, and are accepting our first applicant into the program in September.” Further leadership programs are currently being developed.

For those seeking an undergraduate degree in business, UFred has a unique arrangement with an American university in Maine. Husson University, although not well known in Canada, was founded over one hundred years ago and is fully accredited. Canadian community college graduates with a two-year diploma in business or management can study in an online format for one year, and Husson University will grant a four-year bachelor of business administration degree. This degree is fully recognized by their accrediting body NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), which also accredits such schools as Harvard and MIT. This articulation agreement works well for the college graduate who has the demands of a job or family or lives some distance away from educational opportunities as it allows them to continue their education online without having to physically report to a classroom.

Dr. Large is very proud of how far Sandermoen School of Business has come in its six years of existence. His own business education came from the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario, where he obtained his MBA and PhD; and while he recognizes that his in-class learning was a wonderful experience, it is not always convenient for everyone. “Online has arrived!” he enthuses. “In the U.S. there are 400 to 600 online MBA programs alone, so the reputation for online education is now firmly established. The barriers that were there over the last decade are gradually falling – for good reason.”

All courses have weekly webinars with professors and other students in the class using Cisco’s well-known WebEx platform. “We provide a graduate level educational experience. We can’t replicate the bricks and mortar classroom, but we do provide an educational experience that is at least as valuable in terms of interacting with people that are equally smart, ambitious, and have their own ideas. You can also engage in real-time debate.” In this way, the students can participate in graduate level discourse. The tool replicates a real work environment as these sessions are widely used in business to bring together geographically dispersed teams.

“What is happening in online education is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Large. “Hopefully we will participate in the development, but at the very least we will be an early adopter of new experiences as they become available. I’ve seen software platforms where every student and professor is an avatar – a digital representation of themselves.” The developer has a full digital campus where you can walk down a digital mall and into a digital building, sit down in digital auditoriums, see the other students and professors, etc. When you are walking from class to class you can see people in the hallway and stop to have a chat. As well, “We are going to see more and more use of gaming and simulations.”

Simulations have in fact been around for decades. For example, since the seventies and early eighties, a marketing simulation called Markstrat has been in widespread use. Then, it involved a mainframe computer that could print out hundreds of pages of simulation. Now, it has evolved into a fully web-based simulation that is very exciting to use. This powerful strategic game offers both MBA students and professionals a platform on which to test theories and make decisions in a risk-free environment and more simulations are becoming available. “This is the path that we have in business, and that’s what I think we do that’s really going to change the way we educate.”

Sandermoen’s tuition rates for its graduate program are much lower than other online options in Canada. Comparable online programs such as those from Athabasca or Royal Roads can cost in excess of $35,000. In comparison, the tuition rates for Sandermoen are very attractive with the online MBA at $19,000 and the EMBA at $24,500. You don’t need to be a business student to calculate the savings. Many brick-and-mortar institutions such as Thompson Rivers University are also looking at offering online MBAs so this model is going to become more commonplace; but Sandermoen still plans on keeping its fees competitive.

Sandermoen now carries Canada’s first MBA and EMBA in Social Enterprise Leadership. “Canada is a little late getting on the bandwagon,” says Dr. Large. “The world of social enterprise is well developed in the U.K. and U.S., but Canada is now catching up. A social enterprise is a for-profit business whose profits are primarily directed to some social good.” This is not the same as a for-profit that donates some of its revenue to charities. The social enterprise is dedicated to making profit, nearly all of which will be directed toward its social mission. The YWCA in Vancouver is a good example of this; it runs a hotel and the profits made from this venture go directly back into the programs administered through the YWCA.

British Columbia’s government leads the way in Canada in facilitating the establishment of social enterprises, as it has recently established a new set of corporate rules giving a different tax and financing framework for such social enterprise organizations. This is an advantage to the non-profits as they face decreased funding from both governments and individual donors. “Canadian consumers are feeling a lot of pressure and gradually reducing their donations. So, if you are running a non-profit, where are you going to get the funds to keep going? Social enterprises offer a lifeline to the non-profits, and that is the focus of our program.” Accordingly, Sandermoen courses are offered specifically from the perspective of a leader of a non-profit organization looking for a new way to raise money for their cause.

The Sandermoen School of Business is taking the potential for learning provided by the computer and turning it into a full online experience. Word is getting out and enrollments are increasing. The future is now, and it is with the University of Fredericton’s Sandermoen School of Business.

September 23, 2017, 5:36 PM EDT

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