Three years ago, LSU had fewer than 1,000 online students, which meant the university was largely missing out on the growth of virtual education and essentially leaving money on the table. Under the leadership of former President F. King Alexander, officials decided that needed to change.
Enter Sasha Thackaberry. She came to Baton Rouge from Southern New Hampshire University, one of the leaders in the online space, with a mandate to expand LSU’s virtual course offerings and student base. The goal was to eventually serve 30,000 students, or about the same number as the physical campus.
However, Thackaberry left LSU in September as part of the leadership shake-up that followed William Tate’s selection as president. But LSU Online grew exponentially on her watch, and the university’s top academic officer says LSU isn’t moving the goal posts.
“Essentially nothing’s changed,” says Matt Lee, LSU’s interim executive vice president and provost. “The plan remains the same. Sasha was not the plan; Sasha was the implementer of the plan.”
In an environment where many states, Louisiana more than most, are cutting back on their investment in higher ed, online education can be a tool to boost LSU’s revenue.
The most popular programs generally involve technology, business and health care. Programs associated with artificial intelligence and machine learning are in high demand. In the future, she says, LSU would do well to add programs in supply chain management and cybersecurity.
Lee, the interim provost, says master’s degrees will continue to be a growth area, because many can be achieved relatively quickly—and for a relatively low cost—while giving the students that earn them a big credential bump.