First Mover Advantage

The concept of “first mover advantage” certainly applies to online learning.  The term is used in the context of a competitive environment, with the first entry in that environment often getting the advantage over competitors later to the table. In other words, there is an “opportunity cost” for delaying, procrastinating, and generally “not getting your act together.” In the online arena, this applies to CUNY’s efforts.

Online learning is not local or even regional in scope, but rather national, and increasingly global.  What that means for CUNY is that students living within the boundaries of New York City have the option of taking online programs from many institutions of higher learning throughout this country. So for example, a person wishing to get a masters degree in environmental studies/sustainability (lately a very hot academic area) can choose from several good programs — at Bard College, the University of Vermont, etc.  In the case of the University of Vermont, they had virtually no online offerings as of two years ago, but collaborated with a vendor to handle the technology and CMS component while they were responsible for creating the content. Virtually overnight, a successful program was born.

An online program in “urban” sustainability would be a natural fit for CUNY.  With expertise in business, sciences, architecture and engineering, an interdisciplinary program could have been developed with the right focus for an urban audience nationwide. Alas, such a program was indeed proposed two years ago by SPS, and steps were taken to begin the process of getting approval for an online program in urban sustainability. However, the rug was pulled out from under those proposing the program by an anonymous bureaucrat in CUNY’s Central Office. CUNY would have been a “first mover” in this arena had the program come to fruition.  Instead, we see several excellent programs already developed and operational taking its place.  An opportunity was lost.

This story brings up several questions.

a. Is there accountability within CUNY?

b. Who has veto power over such proposals and what is their track record?

c. Why does it take so long to bring an online program to market?

d. How can CUNY do better?


a. No, in my experience, there is little, if any, accountability within CUNY. People who have made disastrous decisions, like CUNYfirst and the one above are still earning their salaries if not more for a “well-deserved” promotion. Talented individuals, on the other hand, are often fired, overlooked, or resign due to frustration over the sad state of affairs at all levels of CUNY.

b. Often the persons making decisions regarding online learning are completely ignorant of the field, which includes many recalcitrant faculty in positions of governance. Rather than asking those who know the field, they instead pass resolutions in the faculty senate to equate hybrid courses with “experimental courses” and, therefore, require governance approval. That decision, and hundreds like it, are made by people in power at CUNY who don’t have the interest, humility or common sense to inquire.

c. The process to get an online program operational took four years from start to finish at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Other than the Graduate Center’s SPS, no other CUNY school has implemented an online program. In several other blog posts, I have documented various impediments to making online happen at CUNY, starting with the lack of a common vision, no strategic planning, and significant faculty resistance. While we fiddle as an institution, others are seizing the “first mover advantage” and gaining market share in a competitive educational marketplace.

d. CUNY can do better.  I will be starting a white paper, hopefully with the help of others, to be submitted to the new CUNY Chancellor. In his previous position at The University of Nebraska, online learning was one of James B. Milliken’s accomplishments. I would hope he’d be willing to entertain some ideas on how to move forward.

In summary, many within CUNY don’t fully recognize that today we are in a competitive environment more than ever, where quality enrollments are not to be taken for granted. Increasingly, the online arena is the one in which institutions compete for students across local and regional boundaries. Such programs account for the growth in many school’s enrollments, and is an important new revenue stream for those colleges. Most important, online learning can offer existing students and faculty the potential for positive learning outcomes in a manner that is both cost-effective and convenient for all university stakeholders.


University of Vermont Sustainability Programs

Bard College, MBA in Sustainability

John Jay College of Criminal Justice Online Program

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