Unbundling: It Worked for the Airlines, Could It Work for Higher Ed?

Published by Joana Jebsen
on Feb 26, 2020

At a time when making education more affordable, increasing speed to degree are key strategies at most higher education institutions, is it also time to finally take a page from the airline industry and unbundle the degree? While most of us don’t want the HE experience to simulate the cramped seating and multiple flight delays we often experience when flying, we do want students to enjoy multiple pathways and price points to a degree.

Paul le Blanc, SNHU president, famously embraced unbundling the degree in 2013, when he introduced SNHU’s College for America Competency Based (CBE) program. At the time it was considered radical, and at many institutions today, this would still be the case. But one look at enrollments at SNHU or WGU, with over 90,000 and 121,000 online students respectively, and we see evidence of unbundling’s merits.

In the years since airlines began this approach, we’ve learned that when their services were unbundled and the base price for tickets was reduced, air travel was opened up to a whole segment of the population previously excluded. Additionally, travelers could also customize their experience to match their needs, both in class of flight (first-class, business, coach and economy) and available perks.

Here at O’Donnell Learn, we believe unbundling the degree helps increase opportunities for students, especially in the areas of affordability, speed to degree and workforce preparedness.

We’re excited to be at the forefront of providing higher education with LXD (alt. pre-packaged, unbundled) solutions that enable them to quickly launch, grow and scale evidenced-based initiatives aimed at soft skills and professional development. While many in higher ed fear unbundling the degree will compete with traditional degree programs, and already declining retention rates, we believe it could prove an effective strategy for attracting new students.

Joana Jebsen is the President of O’Donnell Learn, a leading learning experience (LX) design firm dedicated to helping learners achieve their goals and flourish in life. ODL is passionate about partnering with institutions and their faculty to deliver learner-centered design and innovation.


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