Empowered and UCLA Bring Career Retraining to the iPad

11/21/12Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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participate in class discussions as well as one-on-one meetings with their career counselors and instructors, he says.

Most of the class readings and lesson materials are available through the iPad app, though students may also need to spend $400 to $500 on books during a full one-year certificate program, Poizner says. Weekly assignments and tests are done on the iPad.

UCLA Extension retains full control of the academic content of the Empowered programs, but these can vary somewhat from the school’s traditional offerings on the same topics. Poizner says the courses are designed for students to complete within 12 months, usually by taking two courses per quarter. Empowered students sign up for a full certificate program, and pay for the sequence as a package. By contrast, UCLA Extension’s other students can take classes one by one, at their own pace, and pay tuition for each course as they go, Sandeen says.

Tuition is higher for the Empowered programs because they include extra services, Sandeen says. The program in Financial Planning costs $7,500 to 8,400, depending on the payment plan chosen. A similar certificate program already offered at UCLA Extension costs $4,750.

Empowered offered a discount rate of $5,940 for those who sign up before Dec. 1, when prices will rise to $7,500 or more. The company has scholarships and payment plans tailored for students at different income levels.

The company’s iPad app creates a “social learning environment” where students can form study groups, build a network for their future careers, and prepare for their job searches as soon as they begin classes. Students log in to Empowered’s iPad Learning Center, where they see class announcements and a calendar of upcoming weekly assignments and discussions. They can also click on a photo gallery of fellow students, teachers and counselors. A green circle below the photo means that person is also online and may be available for questions or idea-sharing. If a student hasn’t logged in for a while, a staffer will get in touch.

For its first certificate offerings through Empowered, the UCLA unit chose 10 career skills that dovetailed with national job growth projections, and that also aligned with the typical strengths of mid- to late-career adults: work experience, broad perspectives, and communication skills, Sandeen says. Among the most popular are the Patient Advocacy program and the Marketing and New Media sequencea. The other certificate programs include Health Care Management, College Counseling and Nonprofit Management.

Sandeen says the enrollment target for the inaugural quarter was around 200 students, and actual turnout was “very close.’’ Students from 37 states have signed up, Poizner says.

The private startup plans to adapt many more of UCLA Extension’s certificate programs for the iPad platform. New offerings may be announced as early as mid-January, the UCLA unit’s Associate Dean, Michelle Stiles, says.

Poizner says he expects Empowered’s student body to reach 1,000 members within a few years, and rise to multiples of 10,000 in the long term.

The joint enterprise can scale up according to a pattern already developed for UCLA Extension’s new Collaborative Online Program Department, Sandeen says. A traditional instructor designs each course in a certificate sequence. The school then hires enough “teaching instructors” to teach the students who have signed up each quarter. The maximum class size is 25 students for each instructor. The university can draw from a large pool of qualified part-time instructors to serve an expanding Empowered student body, Sandeen says.

“The beauty of it is that instructors don’t have to be based in LA,” she says.

Empowered may work with other universities in the future, Poizner says. But the company will not become a service business to help schools get online.

“Working with UCLA Extension is all we need right now,’’ Poizner says.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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