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Jump in, the water’s fine

November 21, 2016
BY JOE VANDEN PLAS
Jump in, the water’s fine

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Jonathan Bogatay is going to great lengths to encourage his employees to pursue adult learning. He’s taking the leadership initiative and going back to school himself.

Bogatay has been in the hospitality industry for more than 33 years, the past 17 at the North Central Group, but he’s heading back to school to provide an example for his reluctant staff.

Bogatay, CEO of the North Central Group for the past five years, did not originally go to school to be a good host, but after an early job as a hotel bellboy he grew to love hospitality enough to make a career of it. Now he wants to help elevate the careers of his staff.

He has enrolled in the two-year hospitality degree program offered by Madison College, a program that’s delivered online and provides flexibility for a busy professional who can’t get to a Tuesday morning class.

His motivation is to give employees a nudge, especially after a team member engagement survey indicated that his employees would like additional opportunities for learning and development, but also identified time and age as big barriers.

Even with programs that cost hundreds of dollars per credit, they don’t view cost as an overwhelming barrier because of the professional value they place on earning more degrees or credentials, and because of the availability of corporate reimbursement, foundation grants, and loans.

Jonathan Bogatay, CEO, The North Central Group

It all comes down to time and whether they see themselves as part of the collegiate culture. “Everybody’s too busy and everyone thinks they are too old,” Bogatay says. “I’ve had team members tell me they are not 20 any more, so they are not sure about adult learning.”

They are not alone. With the Great Recession behind us, there is less of an impetus for professional improvement. Interest in adult, degree-seeking education tends to be countercyclical to the economy, according to David Schejbal, dean of continuing education, outreach, and e-learning for the University of Wisconsin–Extension. Schejbal leads the division that works with all 26 campuses in the University of Wisconsin System to increase access to programs, classes, and degrees.

“When the economy is poor, a lot of adults go back to school because they either have the time because they are out of a job or because they are concerned about their jobs,” Schejbal says. “When the economy is good, most adults are back working and at that time, a lot of businesses are developing workforce-training programs, so certifications, badges, and non-credit programs tend to be very popular.

“It doesn’t mean there aren’t adults who are seeking degrees during good economic times, but the curve has a tendency to shift.”

The trend lines for adult students who are attempting to bend the learning curve are perfectly logical. They are interested in moving into fields that are rapidly developing with high salaries — health care, information technology and various kinds of technology programs, project management, and business.

Motivations for going back to school vary from the personal goal of finishing a degree program, to growing tired of their existing job or career, to setting a good example for colleagues. One thing several college executives noted is the number of returning students who already have degrees.

In the Madison College program for IT mobile applications developers, 53% of the graduates already had a bachelor’s degree or higher, but they came back to change careers. “Our IT programs are all high, between 30 to 40% of the population are students with a degree,” says Bryan Woodhouse, dean of business and applied arts at Madison College. “Nursing is another one, physical therapy, accounting, and even the veterinary program have a high percentage of students who earned a degree somewhere.

“Everyone has their own story. Maybe they can’t find sufficient employment in whatever field they graduated in, so they are coming back to technical school for some retraining.”

Of the 14 over-50 students attending Herzing University this fall, some already have associate degrees and some have bachelor’s degrees, but all enrolled in the past year and all are looking for a new career. “When I first dove into the question [about the most sought-after programs], I thought the answer, hands down, would be IT or nursing because they are so employable and you can get in and get out relatively quickly,” says Bill Vinson, president of the Madison campus of Herzing University. “In two years you can test for your RN, but of the older students we have only two in nursing, two in technology, and five that are in business programs, one of which is in an MBA.

“So half of them are in business and tech, which is kind of nice to see, as is their desire to excel or finish a dream that they had.”

In most cases their primary motivation is related to some type of transition in either their careers or the expectation of proficiencies in the workplace, says Steve King, executive director of the Center for Professional and Executive Development at the University of Wisconsin School of Business.

“They might go from being an individual contributor to a manager of people for the first time, and when they make that transition they often need some skills and some knowledge in order to make that transition well,” King notes. “Someone else may have a proficiency transition. You probably have heard of green belts, yellow belts, and black belts — those are proficiency levels. People come back to school so they can earn those levels of proficiency.”

Industry insight

Employers look to higher education to serve as a strong pipeline to talent. As they do, industry advisory boards, which are typically comprised of local business executives, play an increasingly important role in the development of new educational programs, especially online programs. Local institutions of higher learning also gain insights from professional associations, university research, and intelligence gained from tailoring customized programs for clients.

Sometimes offerings are limited to important skill development, or micro-credentialing. Schejbal notes the University Learning Store was established for those who already have the skills but need the credentials to prove it and for those who need the skills but also need a convenient way to gain them. Version 2.0 of the Learning Store is due later this fall and among the new tracks under development within this new platform is one involving the so-called “power skills,” which are the communication and listening skills that everyone needs to succeed in business.

In the technical realm, project management and supply chain management have been identified as critical needs. In the advanced-business area, UW–Extension is developing a track in leadership and entrepreneurship.

“We talk to industries widely and we’ve known for a long time that project management is a hot area, and that’s applicable to various fields,” Schejbal notes, citing project management in pharmaceuticals, labs, and manufacturing. “Supply chain has emerged because of our conversations with industry and the need for more people who understand supply chain logistics and broad stroke supply chain management.”

UW–Madison’s project management certificate is earned by going through a collection of courses, but there is also flexibility for one-offs linked to small projects. The one-day program is tailored to people who have an occasional project to work on that’s not very complex but still requires rigor.

“There is the whole certificate but we’ve also provided a vehicle for novices and really for people dealing with ‘project lite,’” King says. “It’s for people who don’t need the whole certificate.”

The new, online UW flex option continues to develop with a new bachelor of science in business administration, which launches this fall. The flex option is yet another competency-based option, one that serves people with more experience and allows them to “test out” of areas they are already familiar with, but the BSBA is for people who might have earned an associate degree at a community college, have been working in a business field, and now want more technical expertise in business.

“Some of these folks are entrepreneurs and they want to start their own business, but many of them are individuals who have been working for 10 or 15 years,” Schejbal says. “They have families and they recognize that a business degree will afford them much greater mobility in the workplace and higher salaries. Maybe in the future they want to get an MBA and so now they are really looking to get a foundational bachelor’s degree.”

Like accelerated programs offered elsewhere, the flexible option provides people with opportunities to move through the curriculum significantly more quickly than traditional degree programs.

Also in the area of continuing education across UW campuses, there are already collaborative online degree completion programs in data science, sustainable management, health and wellness management, and health information management and technology. The UW–Extension is about to launch a new master’s degree program in health and wellness management, and it’s the sequel to its bachelor’s program in health and wellness management.

There are two basic justifications for the master’s in health and wellness management. One is to help employers reinforce better health habits among their employees in the hopes of reducing health care and medical insurance costs. The second is to improve productivity. “So many employers recognize that healthy employees are more productive than employees who are sick, or are not well,” Schejbal states. “It’s certainly in the best interests of a business to make sure that employees are healthy and of course it’s in the best interests of employees, so it’s a win-win.”

Workplace dynamics often result in new programming, and the growing concern about culture and its impact on business performance is a recent example. The UW–Madison Center for Professional and Executive Development has built a specific program focused on how leaders can work with their culture to achieve desired business results. “I would say that 15 years ago, while that was probably an understood relationship between culture and business results, that wasn’t necessarily taught much in our program,” King says. “As the economics of the workplace changed, we ended up using different kinds of programs because things change.”

People have different views of the merits of the late Peter Drucker’s famous quote about culture eating strategy for breakfast, but he pinpointed something that C-suite executives are paying much closer attention to. For the UW, the first programmatic step is making a direct link between business outcomes and culture. Its program does not focus solely on creating a great place to work, it concentrates on the behavioral norms required to achieve business goals.

“What we do in our program is get down to the nitty-gritty of how a leader can identify the key, vital behaviors that can become the cultural norms that drive the business result,” King explains. “What we’re really all about is trying to link the business with the culture as a behavioral norm and teach leaders how to identify those behavioral norms and build plans to institutionalize those behavioral norms.”

In another attempt to meet a contemporary need, Madison College is developing a new program in cloud computing, cloud infrastructure, and cloud security. The college is taking some existing courses and combining them with new ones, but it has a series of approvals to go through at the district and state levels before rolling it out in the fall of 2017. If approved, Madison College would be one of the first colleges in the country to have a cloud computing degree program.

“There are always new things rolling out or being repackaged,” says Bryan Woodhouse (Madison College). “If we see a new trend in certain job areas, we might be able to combine things into a new certificate or new diploma. We do that quite often.”

Platform progression

The UW System isn’t the only entity striving for the flexibility afforded by new technology platforms that make it more possible for busy professionals, not to mention single moms and others, to enroll. Woodhouse says the number of offerings in alternative formats has been climbing steadily, especially online.

“Just a few years ago, we really only had a few hundred online courses being offered by what I would call some pioneering faculty,” Woodhouse states. “I was looking at some numbers earlier and we’re over 1,000 courses online.”

The growth is mostly a response to student demand. “Let’s say we have two sections of a class,” he says. “One is online and one is face-to-face during the day or in the evening. It’s not unusual at all for us to see that online section being full with a waiting list of students looking for a seat to open up. Meanwhile, in that same face-to-face section, if the session capacity is 25 or 30, it would be enrolled at 12 or 15. That’s a very common thing that we see.”

To deliver online content, colleges and universities use a variety of technology tools. Many schools contract with an online learning vendor called Blackboard, which has a system on which professors can post all of their course materials. Faculty members will record videos, either using their own webcam or posting videos from a variety of other sources such as YouTube. The post could be a full lecture or content that is chopped into shorter, bite-sized chunks.

They can provide links to external resources, and they have synchronous discussions in which all the students are in one discussion board and the instructor will post questions and have students respond to one another. “We use technology to kind of replicate what happens in a face-to-face classroom environment,” Woodhouse states.

Even online courses have time limits, however, and they are the same confines as the ground classroom. Madison College has shortened a number of courses and now offers many in an eight-week format, with flexible delivery outside of the online context. It also offers accelerated evening classes, which are popular with busy professionals because they meet once a week in the evening for six weeks.

There are also hybrid classes that meet once every two weeks or once a month, or sometimes once at the beginning of the semester and once at the end, with the rest of the content delivered online. The newest alternative is called Flex Choice, where students can attend the class face-to-face, do the work online, or mix and match. “We’re piloting that to see how it resonates with our student body,” Woodhouse says, “but the feedback so far has been pretty positive.”

Due to their appreciation for the flexibility these tools offer, older students are proving you can teach old dogs new tricks. At Herzing University, the older professional students aren’t afraid to ask the school’s internet services coordinator for technical help, notes Bill Vinson, campus president. “They are all getting through these Blackboard features, things that 20-, 21-, 22-year-old college students are doing with ease,” Vinson notes. “They just kind of said, ‘Okay, this is the way it’s going to be, and I’m going to dive in,’ and they are being successful. So online, they are doing a lot.”

A smooth technology experience is one inducement, but also helping to lure people back to school are transfer credits for those who left school without earning a degree. In conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Herzing University has attempted to maximize transfer credits for veterans, and the university has done the same in its registered nursing programs.

“If it is a specialized industry like nursing or IT, we will typically only go back about five years just because the industry changes so quickly,” Vinson notes. “If it’s a course like English or math, you have a lot more leeway with that because some of those fundamental things stay the same. So we’ve seen that of the students we have, half are going back for bachelors and half are in associate programs. All of them do have prior college experience.”

Welcome back, Bogatay

For the North Central Group’s Jonathan Bogatay, classes began the week of Labor Day. Up until then, he had yet to share the news with his staff, preferring instead to jump in, make a big splash, and provide updates along the way.

As he pondered his staff’s reluctance to pursue executive education, Bogatay was sure about one thing — as the organization’s leader, he needs to set an example, especially after reading John Maxwell’s book on 21 indispensible qualities of a leader and Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly, which addresses the care and feeding of aspirations.

“I synthesized all that information and felt like I needed to live by example, so that meant I’m not too old to learn,” he states. “I’m busy, too, but I’m going to figure out a way to commit to this and figure out a way to be a leader that would commit to learning and development and lifelong learning.”

Bogatay already has a degree in business administration with a minor in marketing from Christopher Newport College (now a university) in Newport News, Va. After all these years in hospitality, what can he actually learn from this program? “When you look at the curriculum, the world has changed, and hospitality continues to evolve,” he notes. “Its profile is continuing to evolve. The product offerings continue to evolve.

“Obviously, the internet and social media are game changers so I’m excited to be participating in a curriculum that really speaks to that.”

Gaining a better understanding of the changes going on in his industry and then applying it to his job is only one piece of the motivation. The other is to debunk his staff’s myths about a lack of time or “Father Time” and then put the North Central Group’s educational reimbursement program to good use.

“It’s just a matter of being able to say I’ve done it and it was valuable to me,” he explains. “I’ve been in the business for 33 years, so I think it can be valuable to you.”

Finishing touches

Bill Mansfield, president of OnTrack Communications, is both an old and new UW–La Crosse student.

He’s old because that’s where he began his collegiate pursuits 41 years ago this fall, when Bart Starr was in his first season as Packers coach, President Gerald Ford was trying in vain to whip inflation now, and people were moving to Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” in nightclubs all over the country.

Getting the picture: Forty years after leaving college short of earning a degree, local business executive Bill Mansfield is all smiles as he returns to school.

He’s new because Mansfield didn’t quite finish his degree four decades ago and can return while running a business because computing platforms allow for distance learning. So he’s a new student in the online health and wellness management program through UW–La Crosse, even though at age 59 he runs a Stoughton-based business.

For Mansfield, it’s a simple matter of finishing what he started — a bucket list item, if you will — but he also expects to derive some business benefits.

There is a reason he didn’t finish his college education, a financial reason that landed the Beloit native a good job in his hometown. It seems a prominent Madison employer made him an offer he could not refuse. “I had the opportunity to go to American Family and they were rather insistent or persistent that their opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” he recalls. “They flashed numbers in front of my eyes as a 22-year-old college student that could have just as well been $1 million. It wasn’t anywhere near that but it sounded like a million.”

That’s how he started selling insurance for American Family in his hometown of Beloit instead of completing a degree program in community health education at UW–La Crosse. Still, his decision to leave has left him with some regret, which is why he was determined to go back.

Mansfield’s new pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness management will require the completion of 21 classes, about one per semester including summer classes, over the next seven years unless the timing of the company’s succession plan allows him to finish sooner.

“It might make no sense to anybody, other than those of a like mind, but the most important thing to me was to finish and to finish at UW–La Crosse,” he states. “The [different] major was not nearly as significant to me. It helps that it aligns with what I actually went to school for 40 years ago, but my motivation was to finish with a degree from La Crosse, regardless of the major.”

Having completed the first class, an introduction to health and wellness, he says there are personal and professional benefits. At On Track, the staff has talked about how work gets sloppy or erratic when people get tired, so there are benefits to both individual employees and the company in promoting good health habits such as regular exercise and proper sleep. Every employee has been given a FitBit to count their number of steps per day and the number of calories they are burning. While management can’t make anyone exercise, it’s a constant reminder of their current resting heart rate and represents the first step in recognizing that productivity actually increases with healthier employees.

“Healthy employees are happy employees,” Mansfield notes. “Happy employees make a happy boss.”

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