Annual revenue for LSU’s main online education program has almost tripled over the past three years, the departed official who led that division says.
Sasha Thackaberry, LSU’s recently departed vice president of online learning and continuing education, says the school has laid the foundation to potentially be a leader in online education.
“Everything from the past three years was reinvested right back into building the infrastructure,” she says. “Doing it this way didn’t cost the university a dime.”
When Thackaberry arrived at LSU in 2018, online revenue was about $11.7 million. This past academic year it was about $30 million, and that accounts only for programs associated with the main campus, she says.
LSU has gone from having just over 800 online students to about 12,000 and from having nine programs (exclusively for graduate students) to more than 120. The online division added more than 100 employees, insourcing functions that had been performed by an outside vendor.
“We were sending a lot of dollars out of state,” Thackaberry says. “When we insourced things, we brought all those jobs and all that revenue back to Louisiana.”
From LSU’s perspective, growing online revenue could be important in a time when many states—Louisiana more than most—have slashed taxpayer funding for higher education. Online education also could help to bridge the gap between workers dissatisfied with their current prospects and employers who can’t find the right people to fill available jobs.
“Online learning should be the matchmaker,” Thackaberry says.
Most of the leaders in online education have been small, private universities. Examples include Southern New Hampshire University, which Thackaberry left to join LSU, and San Diego-based National University, which recruited her away from LSU. Her last day at LSU was Sept. 24.
She says LSU could join Arizona State as a state research university that also is a leader in online education. LSU has set a goal of 30,000 online students.
Thackaberry is one of several LSU administrators who have stepped down, relocated or retired since President William Tate took over in July. She says she can’t speak to whether the new administration has the same philosophy toward online education as the last one.