If your institution has decided to begin offering entire degree or certificate programs through Online and Distance Education, it is worth pausing to strategize first about how to address the needs of the students you seek to serve. Too often, schools have been tempted to simply plunge in, forming policies ad hoc on the basis of untested assumptions. However, a stronger distance learning initiative is likely to reshape your institution as a whole; and careful planning is certain to save money in the long run and result in a more successful program.
Accordingly, the kind of consultant most likely to be of greatest benefit is someone who understands the problems and issues that you are likely to face; who has the holistic perspective, but no axe to grind—no learning management system, MBA program, or other service to sell. This is the approach we take at Everett Higher Education Consulting.
In recent interviews with a broad range of schools  interested in converting a variety of distance courses into coherent degree and certificate programs, we have evolved a holistic and strategic approach as a surer guarantee of success than one that simply focuses on adding courses.
This holistic and strategic approach begins with a few basic questions:
- From the perspective of prospective students, what is your niche?
- From the perspective of enrolled students: what is their educational experience? Will they be satisfied and appreciative alumni?
- From the perspective of your administration: how can you manage your expected growth seamlessly and efficiently? How do you minimize problems in retention?
- Does your faculty view the new initiative as liberating, or restrictive? Do they have the necessary tools and training?
- Does your information technology operation have the facilities and staff to effectively support the added responsibilities that the initiative will bring? Are they scalable?
In keeping with that vision, I believe that the whole school must understand the reasoning behind the decision to set up these new programs; and that the student experience of your distant students should be as close to that of the on-campus students as technology can make it. Finally, the initiative ought to be consistent with your mission and vision statements.
-  These schools include: regional public universities in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire; a 3000-student Catholic university in New Jersey; a 1400-student church-affiliated college in Pennsylvania; a 3200-student women’s university in Pennsylvania; a large urban university; a medium-sized moderately selective private university in Virginia; and a 2500-student Catholic college in west-central Pennsylvania. My extensive study of them and interviews with them has lead me to believe that a consulting practice in this area could be beneficial and successful. ↩