How Can Patten University Deliver Such an Affordable Quality Education?

In July 2012, Patten University joined the UniversityNow Network of schools. UniversityNow is a social venture founded in response to the crisis in U.S. higher education that is characterized by skyrocketing tuition, more than $1 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, and millions of prospective students being turned away from public colleges and universities whose funding is being cut drastically. In addition, with the exception of elite, selective institutions, the U.S. higher education system is facing a crisis regarding its perceived lack of quality and relevance to today’s workplace.

By incorporating elements of UniversityNow’s well-researched, outcomes-focused approach into its long tradition of delivering high quality liberal arts programs, Patten University is able to lower its costs, while maintaining, and even improving the quality of the education it delivers to students. Below is a summary of the key elements of how Patten is leveraging the UniversityNow model to lower its costs.

  1. Patten University is using an outcomes-focused educational model designed to improve the quality of its educational offerings.

Patten University’s faculty is collaborating with industry and academic leaders to define learning outcomes for each degree program. With support from UniversityNow’s team of advanced Instructional Designers, the faculty is developing learning objectives for each course. In addition, it is developing a series of performance assessments – exams, projects and papers – measuring whether students have met the required learning objectives. The faculty is also developing formative assessments (i.e., practice tests and self-assessments) that help students determine whether they are progressing and where they need to focus their efforts.

This team approach to developing a coherent set of learning outcomes, courses and assessments (with outside assistance) is a significant departure from the traditional model of program and course development in higher education. Traditionally, individual faculty members create syllabi for courses with little outside input. This often leads to degree programs that overlook important areas or over-emphasize unimportant ones. The UniversityNow approach is designed to ensure that students are progressing toward their degree as efficiently as possible. This saves students time and money. To read more about other U.S. colleges and universities that have adopted a similar approach, click here.

  1. A significant portion of Patten University’s classes are offered online.

By offering a significant portion of its courses online, Patten University is able to operate at a lower cost than traditional, campus-based colleges and universities. Online courses are less costly to offer than campus-based courses, primarily because they avoid the expense associated with operating physical campuses (buildings, maintenance, cafeterias, parking lots, utilities, etc). Instead of spending large sums on campus-based infrastructure, Patten University is investing in delivering a great educational experience that prepares students for work and/or continued studies. Unlike other online schools, Patten is passing along these significant cost savings to students in the form of lower tuition. In contrast, most US colleges and universities charge the same for online courses as they do for on-campus courses.

  1. Patten University is transitioning off the US federal student aid system, which greatly reduces its overhead cost.

In order to help students “afford” the cost of attending most US colleges and universities, the US government has established several well-known Federal Student Aid programs, such as the Pell Grant program and Stafford loan program. These programs are available to eligible students whose colleges and universities choose to participate in the federal student aid system. As part of participating, schools are required to take on considerable non-instructional overhead related to overseeing and implementing the programs. Rather than focusing on helping students incur debt to pay tuition (and raising its non-instructional overhead in the process), Patten University is focused on offering tuition that is so affordable that most students will not need to borrow. This “lower the cost” approach to college affordability helps all students, but is especially helpful to working adults who typically do not qualify for federal and state grants and must borrow to attend college.

As part of joining the UniversityNow Network, Patten University transitioned off federal student aid programs at the end of the Fall 2012 semester.

  1. Patten University’s online classes operate on an open learning platform, which significantly lowers its marketing costs.

Colleges and universities typically spend from one quarter to one third of their revenues on marketing and advertising expenses. While advertising is good at highlighting the benefits of a particular school, it does not give prospective students a good sense of what it is like to attend a particular school. Because there is no practical way to “test drive” a traditional school, the only means currently available for prospective students to find out what it is really like to attend a particular school is to talk with current students. This is why referrals is the biggest driver of enrollment at non-selective schools.

By the joining the UniversityNow Network and operating its online programs on an open platform, Patten University is going to make it much easier for prospective students to “test drive” the college experience. Any prospective student can start learning immediately and begin experiencing the classroom at no cost. Students can also share content they’ve found valuable on their social networks, and invite their friends and family to learn with them for free. In short, prospective students have full access to the UniversityNow platform and all of the courses hosted on it, including courses from Patten University or other schools in the UniversityNow Network, such as New Charter University. This openness allows Patten University to lower its marketing costs and pass along those cost savings directly to students in the form of lower tuition.

  1. UniversityNow operates a state of the art learning platform that empowers students and faculty.

Advances in technology have made it possible to create online education programs that:

  • support individual learning versus teaching the “average student”
  • assess student progress and provide real-time feedback to students and faculty
  • validate student learning in new ways such as online proctored exams

UniversityNow’s technology platform provides real-time feedback about student performance. This gives students insight about their progress and where they need to focus their efforts, while providing faculty data they can use to support students. UniversityNow’s technology does not replace faculty support and attention; it provides faculty and advisors the tools to identify proactively students who need the most help. This personalizes faculty and advisor outreach efforts with the help of technology, which in turn, reduces costs.

  1. We streamline student services and automate previously labor-intensive processes through technology.

Technology supported student services and systems allow Patten University to reduce manual/administrative paper processes, and implement efficient practices that help to decrease costs.

At many traditional schools, student services are not automated. Legacy systems often make it difficult for schools to make any large-scale technology transitions after they have been using the same third-party system or vendor for decades. UniversityNow built its own technology applications, as well as a technology platform designed for the outcomes-based education model being delivered by Patten and other schools in the UniversityNow Network. This enables Patten to streamline its student services, tailor them to its learning environment, and deliver them in a less costly way.

  1. Patten University’s online instructors spend 35+ hours per week working directly with students. In addition to course instructors, enrolled students get assigned advisors who work directly with them.

To further guarantee student success, Patten’s faculty is primarily full time, and its instructors and advisors spend more than 35 hours per week working directly with students. UniversityNow’s technology platform, which provides real-time feedback on student performance, further empowers instructors and advisors with real-time insight about how their students are performing, and which students need the most support to succeed.

  1. Patten University’s programs are focused on delivering academic instruction and support that prepares students for today’s workforce.

Many universities engage in significant cross-subsidization, using the majority of the surpluses generated by student tuition to subsidize non-instructional activity (e.g., sport teams and special initiatives). For example, according to The Fiscal Times, schools promote research unrelated to undergraduate education. “[When schools] lower teaching loads to promote research subsidized by tuition fees ostensibly paid to provide for student instruction . . . [they increase] tuition sticker prices” (3)

Patten University focuses on delivering academic instruction and support that helps students earn a degree that prepares them for today’s workforce and future studies. We do not subsidize non-instructional initiatives. As a result, our tuition and fees are tied directly to the delivery of our the academic programs.


(3) “12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising,” The Fiscal Times (June 18, 2012)