A lot of jobs are now embracing a remote workplace, and it might not be long before education joins the fray. Online education has been around for quite a long time but has garnered bad rep over the years. In this episode, the CEO of Synergis Education, Norm Allgood, joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to change your mind by sharing the success of his company in producing top notch career changers. He talks about the online education industry’s growth and improvement over the years and how it can help in improving higher education. He also explains how stackable credentials are starting to jump from IT into other industries and discuss the possible effects it may have in education and employment as a whole.
I have Norm Allgood here. He is the CEO of Synergis Education. We’re going to talk about the future of education, what they’re doing with startup here in Arizona that was listed as one of the top startups in the state. This is going to be a fascinating discussion.
Listen to the podcast here:
Debunking The Online Education Myth With Norm Allgood
I’m here with Norm Allgood, who’s the CEO at Synergis Education. It was named one of the top startups in Arizona. Norm has dedicated nearly two decades of his career to expanding access to quality affordable programs to underserved populations. He’s had a focus on building an organization with a passionate culture which I’m interested in, and higher education programs. After serving in the US Army as an active duty non-commissioned officer, he earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s in his 30s. It was through his personal journey that he became an advocate for improving higher education. I’m interested in having you on the show. Welcome, Norm.
Thank you, I appreciate it.
I love anything education-based. Todd Dewett, who’s been on my show, was proposing to people about what they saw for the future of education. It’s probably best to get a little background on you. I already said that you went to school a little bit later after serving in the Army, but what led up to Synergis?
I was very fortunate when I left the military to work for Target Corporation not that long after I left the military. This was when we had 450 stores at Target and we were going to grow to 900 stores across the United States. We needed executives to fuel the growth of those stores. I don’t know if you know, but back in the day, 80% of the store executives that worked for Target had their Bachelor’s degree. That wasn’t the same in all of retail. They took a very different approach. To garner that type of talent, we were all tasked with, as district managers, to establish relationships with colleges and universities in our region, go in and lecture about Target and talk about just in time delivery and total quality management. All the buzzwords of the time and how Target fit in to that. We would leave a stack of business cards and we would attract prospected students from different colleges. Many of them have gone on to be hired with Target and run stores, districts, regions, work at headquarters and be peeled off from Target to go run things at Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Long story short on that, I had a great relationship with Michigan State University. I had an idea that what if we could take this relationship to another level and work with Michigan State University to offer an online Master of Science in Management to the executives at Target that worked retail? In 1997, roughly around there, we came to an agreement with Michigan State University to offer a Master of Science in Management, we being Target and Michigan State, to be offered completely online. Think about that, it’s 1997. It’s threaded discussions. It’s rudimentary, but we pulled it off and we built an eighteen-month Master of Science in Management with a security management focus. We rolled it out to roughly twenty students across Mervyn’s, Target in the department store division because that was all part of Target at the time. Eighteen of them graduated first time around, then the other ones continued on and earned their Master’s degree.
Target flew everybody in for the orientation, gave them all laptops, flew them back for the graduation. They were very supportive of education and they gave them an amount of money to put towards their education. It was a resounding success, and I got the bug. I finished my Bachelor’s degree and once I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I went to work for the Institute for Professional Development, IPD, which was the first company of Apollo. IPD is the first division of it. Before there was a University of Phoenix, there was an IPD. They worked with small to medium-sized colleges and universities across the United States. They signed agreements to offer associates, Bachelor’s and eventually Master’s degrees on ground from 6:00 to 10:00 at night, Monday through Thursday. It allowed these institutions to expand the density of their footprint.Things are moving so rapidly right now from a knowledge standpoint that it’s hard for information to stay relevant. Click To Tweet
I went to work with them in 2001 and began to run a single contract out of Michigan. Within eighteen months, I became a regional vice president overseeing colleges and universities in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania leading these teams. What IPD did for these institutions is they would co-develop the curriculum. They would spend IPDs money on advertising, recruit the student, put them into classes, and away they went. The money that was generated from IPD was used to fuel what eventually became the University of Phoenix. It was at one time at its peak 25,000 students spread across 61 different learning centers. I departed in 2009, I moved all the way up to a senior vice president of strategic development relocated from Michigan down to Phoenix. That’s how I got into education. It was quite a journey, but along the way, I finished my Bachelor’s degree. While I was on IPD, I finished my MBA. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of when you’re helping people change their lives, and you’re opening doors for them to take steps that they probably wouldn’t be able to do. I wouldn’t be sitting in the chair here as CEO for Synergis had it not been for those types of programs that I was able to attend.
I am looking back at some of that because I was involved in different aspects of education early on and my employer was AstraZeneca in ‘93. They sent me to get my Master’s. The only one they offered was University of Phoenix at the time. They had a distance learning. That was what they called it back then before online education. You could go send your work to your professor in the mail back then. I don’t know if you remember that.
I absolutely do. One of our district managers at Target, Brad, he did his MBA the exact same way that you described.
It got me interested in distance learning because I loved not having to sit through lectures and learning it the way I wanted to learn it because I had done my entire Bachelor’s at ASU and start here in Arizona. Before I went to ASU, I started night classes at Scottsdale Community. When you’re talking about the 6:00 to 10:00 at night, that was my life for years. That’s a brutal thing when you’re working 8:00 to 5:00, and you go to school all night. When I finally did finish it, I never had any inclination to get a Master’s, but when the University of Phoenix was out there looking at organizations, it was pairing up with a lot of good companies. It was considered good at the time. I was sorry to see all the changes that happened to online education that besmirched the reputation because other ones got in and things happened.
I have taught in a lot of different situations in it. The first class I taught online was in 2006. I’m thinking about how you’re going back to 1997, 2001 and some of the stuff you did. You were early in all of that because I was thinking I was early. I could see what has happened to education in that time and how it’s changed so much that we’re getting much more. We’re working to make sure people can access it in the way they want to access it. I’m curious what you do at Synergis and how is that different from other companies? Why are you getting attention as the top startup in Arizona?
For Synergis, what we do is we sign long-term contracts with colleges and universities across the United States to offer three types of programs. Prelicensure nursing, which is taught predominantly on ground. That is a second degree to somebody that’s already got a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline. We do post-licensure nursing. The family nurse practitioner predominantly is taught either in a hybrid or an online format. We do doctoral-level programs in education. Those are our three leading programs that we work in. The difference between us and other online program managers is we teach in something called three modalities. We teach on ground, blended and online. Whereas others like 2U might have some residency requirements but for the most part, they’re completely online programs. You can’t teach prelicensure nursing completely online. That gives us a unique approach and there’s only one other entity in the marketplace, Orbis Education, that does that. I was the Chief Operating Officer there for a year and learned about this revolutionary type of second Bachelor’s degree in nursing and our first Master’s degree in nursing. We’ve evolved it to.
What we do is we sign these agreements and some of our partners like Gwynedd Mercy, in Philadelphia, they were the first to embrace this type of thing. I love the IPD, where we had 61 learning centers across the United States that became arbitrage around the institution’s neck as online heated up, and they couldn’t replace the students in those brick and mortar facility. I come and I go to Orbis and I see those similar learning centers offering classes from 8:00 to 5:00 and sitting empty at night. I left the company where they would be empty from 8:00 to 5:00 and be occupied from 6:00 to 10:00. I said, “What if we could bring those thought processes together, but also use that brick and mortar as an online recruitment hub for some of these institutions that have an entrepreneurial spirit?”
We did that with Gwynedd. We were able to take their public ledger building facility. We retrofitted it with ten hospital beds for a skills lab. We put in simulation and we began to offer an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2015, which is a program where somebody comes with a Bachelor’s degree in whatever discipline. They take roughly six prerequisites. Anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and they have to pass them at a certain level, then they enter a 14 to 15-month program full-time, Monday through Friday. They do their degree, finish their clinicals, sit for their NCLEX, then they jump right into the nursing workforce.
What was appealing about that is it not only helped the institution with this brick and mortar and extending the life of it and giving them a new chapter, it also helps students because the student is moving from a job where they might be making $45,000 or $55,000 a year. Maybe it’s not as fulfilling. They’re moving into a career that has tremendous opportunities for them and in need for them. They move into that, and it’s worked very well and we have six partners across the United States. We’re either in or we’re entering eight different markets and it works extremely well. We do family nurse practitioners and EdD programs. These prelicensure nursing programs are robust enough economically for both entities that we’re able to, in some instances, offer that one particular program with the institution and it runs very well.
It’s interesting how many people have spun off from Apollo in some form or another. I worked with Laura Palmer Noone who was the president there for a while. She was very good at knowing all aspects of the education realm. I found it fascinating to see where everybody focused their attention. That you went out into nursing is an interesting spin-off. Where did the medical part play for you? You don’t have that as a background.
Not at all. When I became the Chief Operating Officer at Orbis leaving IPD and going to them, they were really innovators in this particular space. Not that they created the program. It was already out there, but they put it into a repeatable process that could be rolled out at institutions in markets that had high nursing demand. For some personal reasons, I needed to leave that position, but at the same time, I couldn’t just telecommute between Phoenix and Indianapolis all the time. I decided after a year that I needed to be more homebound, but it gave me the opportunity to do this.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I never pitched this idea of Synergis to anybody. I received a phone call from Ryan Craig, who is a real thought leader in the educational space and had started a university ventures fund. He was asking me to be the CEO of another entity that they were thinking about starting. I’m talking with him and I passed on the opportunity. We got to discuss IPD and I went ahead and pitched my idea of what is Synergis on the phone. A couple of weeks later, they flew me out to New York. We sat down, hammered out the deal and within eight weeks, we started the program. That was interesting overall for us. I had never raised money before and they gave me a substantial amount of money to start the organization. It was pretty profound. I’ve never been a CEO or an entrepreneur. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s a big risk when you go out there and you start up a company.Never go into a market where you can’t coexist with your competitors. Click To Tweet
Ryan and the team were wonderful in shepherding me and the organization along. We’ve had our ups and downs, no doubt. We’ve had some missteps, but we’ve also done some good things, breaking even in 2016. Amassing that capital onto our balance sheets so that we could deploy it to new business opportunities and growing at double digits in 2020 and 2021 forecast. It’s been quite phenomenal for us overall. At the same time, it’s beautiful to hear from a school district that takes on a doctoral level student that we prepared, o hospital organization that jointly with our partner institution, graduated with a family nurse practitioner or graduated with their Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Hearing a Chief Nursing Officer say, “These are the best nurses we could possibly have.” This isn’t their first job, their career changers. They’re passionate, they’re A-type personalities. They’re not partying like a rockstar when they get their first paycheck. It’s not their first paycheck. They’ve been in the workforce for years. It’s really fulfilling.
If you think about how we’ve structured ourselves, we only enter into those degree programs that we know that the student, when they graduate, is going to be able to earn a job that changes their life. There are a lot of people out there that have put a lot of degrees in front of people that they may not be able to do anything with in the future. That has gotten the industry as a whole into some trouble. It’s not to say you enter it with bad intentions, but there are needs in some instances for a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. There are even more needs for stackable credentials. There are more needs for skilled trades. There are so many things along those lines that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on as an educational third-party service provider to the space that we could be changing lives in a lot of different ways as well.
You brought up many interesting things in that discussion. I am surprised you haven’t run into you in DesTechAZ. Do you go to that here in Arizona?
I did AZ Startup Weekend and I did the military boot camp for a lot of entrepreneurs. I usually do but no, I have not done that particular one.
Wozniak goes to that with his Woz U and there’s a lot of education-based things that are fascinating what they’re dealing with. I know ASU participates. When you talked about stackable credentials, it made me think of somebody who had been on the show and was here talking to ASU about keeping track of any education that people have had through blockchain, which will be fascinating to see how they’ll track what we need. You’re talking about getting actual degrees and not necessarily certificate programs, which some of them are going in that direction. You’re accredited with what accreditation body?
What we do is we’re not the degree-granting entity. We sign these long-term agreements with these colleges and universities to help them develop the curriculum. It’s their subject matter experts. It’s our instructional designers. We do the marketing and the enrollment. They accept the students, do the financial aid, do the teaching and conferring of the degree. We help them with a lot of things along the way. We’re SIS agnostic and we’re also regional accrediting body agnostic. We work with SACS schools. We work with HLC Middle States, ROSCs. We work with multiple boards of nursing in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. We work with multiple state departments of education or Board of Regents, name it depending on what state you’re in. We have to navigate all of that and be very familiar with all of those.
That’s similar to what ZoBio did with Ashford and some of these other bodies. They handle all the administrative type of things and not the admissions. Is that what you’re saying?
ZoBio created what is called an online program manager and they do all of the administrative functions. GCE, very similar. They did the same thing to create that. There were people that built themselves from the ground up without being an institution and then spinning it off. ZoBio spun off from Ashford. GCE spun off from Grand Canyon, whereas Synergis was built from the ground up as an OPM. EMBENET was built from the ground up as an OPM before it was purchased by Pearson. Deltech before it was purchased by Wiley. We’ve taken a different path, but yes, you’re absolutely correct. That’s what we do behind the scenes. For us, the word ‘online program manager’ is a little disingenuous because 52% of our students are on ground.
It’s an interesting focus of where the future is going to go if it’ll be on ground or certificate programs. I had this conversation on a LinkedIn discussion with Todd and he would ask you, “What are you going to tell your kids? If universities are struggling, are online options the way to go? Are technical schools the way to go?” I still think companies value degree programs. If that’s what the company values, do you think that’s going to change in the near future? Will you have to adjust to more stackable credentials or something else? What do you foresee?
I think it will be both. You will have a lower percentage of companies that require the same type of degree programs as they did in the past. They will still require a degree, but they won’t require it for as much advancement or even entry into the organization. Stackable credentials, where it got its start was in IT, is starting to spread to other areas whether it’s financial planning and analysis and a whole bunch of other things. There’s so much rich content out there that’s very valuable that never existed years ago. The only way to obtain that was to go into a degree program and try to ascertain that. There are so many ways of gaining that you didn’t have before.
Do you need to spend $150,000 in an executive MBA program to get it or could you build upon certain portions of it throughout your time in a particular area? Corporations will continue to value the degree, but I also think there is a shift where people are starting to think about, “Maybe they don’t need a degree, but we need to send them back to X, Y or Z to earn this credential,” because it’s much more timely. It’s twelve weeks. They’re going to be able to come back and apply it directly. We’re not going to be waiting eighteen months for it and by that time, who knows if the information they learn is still relevant.
Things are moving so rapidly from a knowledge standpoint. Once you step off the court to do a degree like you and I did, you were still working, I was still working. Even still, you only have 168 hours in a week to be able to do these types of things and so much bandwidth. Something is going to have to give. Once you step off that court a little bit, you’re no longer in the basketball game. You no longer have the flow of it and getting back into it is challenging. If you’re able to step out for a very short period of time or not step out at all while you’re doing your stackable credential, you might be able to benefit from what we’re describing here.When you start to cut corners and do silly stuff, you start to sacrifice the integrity of your organization. Click To Tweet
One of the things I also did education-wise is I’m a certified medical rep. They had this certified CMR certification program that is almost like a Master’s, but they didn’t call it a degree program. It was very challenging. It was a couple of years’ worth of anatomy and physiology type of things. I could see getting into something like that as a focus for maybe improving pharmaceutical reps, which I was at the time, and different programs like that. In Arizona alone, you’re competing with some big names, Grand Canyon and some of these others who offer certain programs. What do you do to stand out from GCE or somebody else that competes with you?
We compete against Orbis in Georgia, for instance. They work with Mercer and we work with Brunel. It’s such a large market in Atlanta. We have the capacity to both have good programs to offer a rich learning environment. It would be more challenging if we were trying to be in an environment that was significantly smaller, 400,000 people population-wise for a city would be very challenging to have both of us compete. When we’re in those markets with them, we have to be acutely aware of how many prerequisites they’re doing and the type of student that they’re attracting. The relationships they have with hospitals versus us.
We’ve never gone into a market where we coexist with them where we’re not able to offer a great product. At the end of the day, the program I’m talking about the prelicensure, it is governed to a certain degree by the size of the learning center and the number of clinical rotations. You can get in that area where a student can still drive to them. Whereas an online program, you can throw a wide swath across the United States for a family nurse practitioner program and pick up those students. A prelicensure nursing, you’re going to be able to put in 200 students a year, and then maybe you have 300 ends in enrollment. Down the street, you have something similar, but there are only many clinical rotations. There are only many students in that particular marketplace. With the right size population like Atlanta, you’re able to coexist and offer two very quality programs.
You offer a Doctoral program in education, which is a little bit different than the other two. I used to work as a Doctoral chair, so I’m fascinated by the fact that you have that. Why education?
We first got into it because we know that in 2025, some of the nursing accrediting bodies would love to see family nurse practitioners. Instead of getting an FNP, everybody required to get a DNP. We see that probably happening earlier like in the ‘30s. We wanted to understand the doctoral level approach. We set out with our chief academic officer John Donohue, he works for Synergis, and he created alongside Gwynedd Mercy the first EdD that we offered as an organization. That came out in 2014. What it basically was is instead of doing an EdD where you do all of your coursework, then you do your dissertation at the end or PhD program. There was such a failure rate, a high percentage of people that were ABD. We decided, “What if day one, they started to build upon their thesis or their dissertation?” By the end, the last class, they dot their i’s, cross their t’s, they turn it in, and in 30 months, they’re finished with their doctoral program and education.
We designed it that way. We also saw that there was such a tremendous need. Both in nursing and in education, there was pent up bottlenecks at both groups coming out of the recession where everybody either returned to the education field or the nursing field because their 401(k)s are 403(b)s tanked and they needed to beef them up or they delayed retirement. With the economy going the way it is, people are retiring and getting out of it. You’re seeing huge swaths of nurses leaving, of college administrators in K-12 leaving. With this Doctoral level program, we’re able to fill that void. It’s done extremely well for us in Pennsylvania, where we attract students from all over the country. We have another program in Wisconsin and we have another program in Atlanta. All three programs are doing extremely well. We do two cohort starts a year. We have anywhere from 150 to 180 full-time students in that program that are attending it. They’re able to do so many things in the K-12 arena and also in the college ranks as well.
It seems like you’d have a good market for physicians to get educated in business or education-related things. Have you looked into that at all?
We looked into the niche programs. Somewhere you could take an MBA for instance and get that to an MD. There are some pretty robust programs out there. What we’re looking at and examining is, you have a lot of OT and PT, Master’s prepared individuals. To get a clinical doctorate is one thing, but to get an EdD is another to be able to teach. The accrediting bodies would like to see it like a 50/50 split. We’re looking more along the lines of a Doctoral-level program in those areas that allows a nurse practitioner to teach in a classroom with a doctoral-level degree or a physician assistant to get their EdD. That’s the direction we’re headed and looking at pretty aggressively. We see that as a huge opportunity out there for people to advance in their careers but also to give back. They have so much rich experience that they can offer to a new physical therapist, occupational therapist, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
I wanted to explore some more. You don’t see a lot of these education startups become the top startups in a state like this. I was excited to have you on the show. I think a lot of people probably like to know how they could find out more. What’s the best way for them to learn more about what you’re doing there? Can you share something?
Reach out. I love to mentor entrepreneurs. I love to spend time with them and I’ve spent a lot of time with different people, whether they’re at Great Hearts Academy, ClickIPO or some of the other wonderful entities within the Arizona market. I spent a lot of time over coffee or on the phone talking to them about fundraising. About the importance of having good legal representation. The importance of really having a robust accounting team that can tell you what is on your balance sheet. Are you running out of money? Do you need to do a fundraise? What are all of the nuances about it? Because there’s no real book out there to teach you how to be an entrepreneur. There are a lot of books written, but there’s no step-by-step manual. This business is tough. There’s a reason 90% of them fail in the first year. I look to people like Matthew Pittinsky and Gregg Scoresby. Matt’s over at Parchment and Gregg’s at CampusLogic. They laid the groundwork of bringing entrepreneurs together in the Valley. I followed their lead in many instances to take entrepreneurs under our wings and be able to help them. We’re completely open to that.
I’m open to that. Reach out, I learn a lot, whether the industry is similar or dissimilar. There are so many learned experiences that I can pass on, but I also can learn a lot from newer entrepreneurs coming into the fold. The one thing I will tell you, entrepreneurs need to think about when they’re doing it and why are they doing it. This isn’t a get rich quick type of business. I’m reading a book, The Infinite Game. It’s not, “We’re going to play for four quarters. We’re going to score the most points and we’re going to win.” This is going for a long time and you should build it like it should be around in 10, 20 and 25 years. When you start to cut corners and you start to do silly stuff, you start to sacrifice the integrity of your organization. A lot of entrepreneurs that I talked to, they think, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to be rich. I’m going to be this, have a nice car and a nice house.” You’re thinking about it totally the wrong way.
Are you looking to go public with this? Are we looking IPO in your future? What are you thinking for Synergis?
I’m not looking to do an IPO. I’ve learned a lot from watching a lot of IPOs that have happened. When the street controls the learning that happens with your partner institutions and you’re driving to grab the students. Sometimes that is an accelerator that can lead to bad things. Kudos to people that have been able to take their company public and do some things. I am more about building a great operation, great relationships with our partner institutions, delivering high-quality education. If you do all of those things, you’re going to continue to grow. You’re going to continue to offer great services. One day maybe we absorb other companies in the healthcare space, whether it’s continuing education or it is in education that helps the student prepare for NCLEX. There are so many different legs of the stool that we could layer in. I think you could be quite large. I think you can do a lot of good things even as a privately held company.Content that can be repeated and be built out by institutions will continue to grow. Click To Tweet
A lot of schools are going either private or nonprofit because the for-profit thing has got such a bad reputation. There are a lot of changes and what I’m seeing is a lot of redevelopment of the curriculum in some respects too. A lot of people asked me a question and I’d like to ask you. If we start going into more certificate-based or we start changing things, I’m concerned about losing the glue that holds it all together. The humanities, soft skills, the critical thinking type of things. Since I’m a curiosity expert, how are you incorporating curiosity and all this education?
That’s powerful to think about. That is something that you don’t get in the stackable credentials and that’s also why I think you need something to undergird that, an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree if you are truly just going to layer in skills on top of it. You do need critical thinking skills. You need to be able to think about, “What’s next?” One of the things we do when we sign these long-term agreements, they’re 10 to 12 years in length with our partners. We build in on Synergis’ dime, three major rewrites of the curriculum. We don’t take a cookie-cutter approach when we work with our partners. It is their curriculum. It is their subject matter experts. We work with them to build out the curriculum and then once it’s built, we go into minor revisions almost immediately.
Every three years, we get into major revisions. Sometimes it’s sooner that you have to do a major revision, but we have those things built-in. Some people will say, “Why are you earmarking so much money for that?” For the same reason the car industry can’t put a vehicle out and say, “For ten years, this is going to be the design.” It makes absolutely no sense. Technology is moving at lightning-quick speed. We went to an institution that wanted us to entertain taking over their MBA and it was a very well-known institution. We sat down and we’re looking at some of their curriculum, there was literally a reference to Enron not being a bad company, but it innovative. It was stated. It was scary.
Unless you build that in and then you build the metrics around it to say, “This is how it’s built out and when it is revised.” We use a tool called Coursetune to map out all of our objectives and our outcomes and how they tie to the industry, to the individual course outcomes, to the block of outcomes that are required for this particular portion of the degree. You’re able to look at all of those things. It’s not like set it and forget it. We’re not talking about the Ronco rotisserie here. This is something that takes a lot of work. People that don’t think that revising the curriculum and updating it and staying on top of your game are important to lose out and that student loses out. That’s a key piece of what we did. From day one, we built out a very robust instructional design. Instructional strategies and media specialist department that falls under academic services that work with these colleges and universities to ensure that we have the glue that binds these degrees together. The humanity portions of it are still in there. That critical thinking is still in there. It’s very important.
Working as an MBA program chair, I remember how you develop courses that maybe take a while to develop them. By the time they’re out, things have changed. You don’t even know what jobs that innovation is going to create by the time they’re done with the four years or how many years they go through the program. The ability to update these courses as needed is critical in my thought process. Do you have an advisory board you work with who helps you with these types of things?
We leverage the faculty at our partner institution and the subject matter experts, but what they get a benefit of with us is we’re able to give them ideas of what other institutions are doing. A family nurse practitioner program that’s at this institution might be approaching this subject matter differently than you are. Your course is presented in such a way that the students aren’t getting it. We’re seeing retention issues there. Could we look at this and layer in some of the ideas? Of course, we’re going to recreate it from the ground up for you and it will be your own, but there are certain ways of approaching things. We have this built-in incubator of thought leaders because we have multiple institutions doing very similar degrees.
We learn a lot from them, whether it is the number of prerequisites that we require coming into the program. A lot of the institutions when they start off, they almost have the student take a second bachelor’s degree just in prerequisites before they can get into the nursing program. That’s not necessarily any indicator of success. We look at all of those different things and we leverage the portfolio of wonderful institutions that we have out there and the knowledge that they bring to the table that we can apply across the board allowing them to be very competitive against larger players in their market. It enables us to offer a very high-quality product with high retention rates, high NCLEX pass rates, high placements with EdD that are comparable to some of the larger names in the space.
You’re saying what I think would make a great addition to any online organization of educational school. We’ve got such a focus on learning on YouTube. Everybody wants to search and learn from little short videos. I would like to have seen a more of an intra-YouTube within schools that have searchable how-to, so you don’t have to actually be within the class that in addition to the classes you’re taking. Maybe you need to search something that that’s not taught in this particular class but it could come up and you need to know. You don’t see that within the schools. Do you think we’ll see something like that in the future where it’s more YouTube-ish feeling and some of the courses?
Content that can be repeated and be built out by institutions will continue to grow. It’s one of the reasons we have a rich media specialist division within our academic service area. They’re building out content that just frankly didn’t exist. I would love to see it to be open source. I know YouTube is open source but without the commercials and create a library that can continually be updated. That would be very profound. Because just speaking of nursing, we’re teaching towards an NCLEX test. We have a lot of the same objectives. There are only so many textbooks that you’re going to use. It’s not like you’re teaching all of these different courses in associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s degrees in Business, Education and Engineering. This is sharply pointed in the healthcare area and you could start with something along those lines and then grow from there.
Are you using any simulation software at all?
Our simulation comes in the form of the mannequins at our locations. We do about 20% of our overall teaching where simulation is done hands-on in the skills lab with the nursing department coupled with the actual instruction that’s built out through the faculty instruction guide and everything along those lines. For us, particularly around nursing, there’s only so much you can do with simulation before you really have to be hands-on with the patient.
I’m wondering about any portfolios that maybe showcase what they can do. Has that come up in any of the courses you guys deal with?
Not necessarily. The biggest thing that we work towards is the outcomes within the institution that we need to achieve in order for the student to be best prepared. Sometimes it varies because, in a particular area, we may have a different demographic that needs different types of added pieces to their portfolio or their education to be able to work in that space. We’re always dealing with those types of things, but nothing as you described.
It’s interesting to see what is happening in the nursing realm. I had Jos De Blok on my show. You might want to check out that show because it’s interesting to see what they’re doing in Europe. The way that they’re self-selecting of who they want to work with rather than having any leaders in nursing. It’s become big and I asked him if he could do that in the US. We’re so capitalistic here, he couldn’t get it to fly here that well. It is going to be interesting to see what happens with the future of nursing and all the things you’re working on are fascinating. I was excited to have you on the show, Norm. This was so much fun. Thank you.
Thank you. I always love talking about Synergis. I always like talking about the students. We’re changing lives with our partner institutions and you’re a lifelong learner, Diane. Your passion for education is clear. I appreciate you having leaders from different spaces to talk about that. It’s a very powerful message that everybody needs to hear.
It is something that I am looking forward to seeing the future of education. I’m glad to see that you’re getting recognized for doing great things.
I’d like to thank Norm for being my guest. We get great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can find them at DrDianeHamilton.com. I like this episode because I like to talk about the future of education just because I’ve taught so many classes and I’ve been involved in education for so much time. I’m very fascinated by where it’s going in the future. There’s a lot of talk whether there’ll be degree programs or certificate programs. For me, I was very passionate about online education. In fact, my first book was The Online Student’s User Manual. I was so interested in helping people who were wanting to get into online education as an alternative.
I know it’s gotten a lot of bad reputations in some respects from some of the schools that didn’t do the things that they should have done, but I am still passionate about how having people learn in an online setting. In fact, I saw the chief learning officer from Google talk about how online education is really going to be the way. Younger people are very fascinated by learning that way. There are some things like nursing and medical type of training that you do need to be hands-on. The different forms of learning are critical. I hope that when they’re developing these programs that they take into account a lot of the things that I talked about in terms of behaviors and soft skills and critical thinking, emotional intelligence and the humanities that comes into that whole realm as we talked about the glue.
I like the idea of being able to pick and choose and have maybe keep track of our education and through blockchain technology, but I hope that we don’t lose what holds it all together that makes it all meaningful. The more things that we explore and the more areas we understand, the more in-depth or knowledge, the better we’re going to be. We know a lot of companies hire for their skills and their knowledge, but then they end up firing for their behaviors. I want to make sure that we continue to reinforce some of these important behaviors. That’s why I go around talking to so many organizations about behavioral things like developing curiosity and perception. My last book that I’ve been working on is all about perception. Perception’s all about incorporating IQ, EQ and the two CQs, Curiosity and Cultural Quotient, and combining the process of what you go through to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and see yourself from their perspective. It sometimes is a huge aspect of it.
I hope some of this certificate training goes into developing curiosity, perception, emotional intelligence and developing all these different behavioral skills. Many HR departments are struggling with people who can’t get along. We know that they’re losing $500 billion a year for engagement issues. We know it’s in the billions for communication, for emotional intelligence, for conflict. All these things are stemming from the inability of people to have these strong soft skills training. I know companies look to higher education for them to get it there. Higher education sometimes looks to K-12 and parenting and different things, but I think it needs to be reinforced in all areas. One of the boards I work on is the LeaderKid Academy, which is dedicated to improving soft skills like emotional intelligence in K-12 kids. That’s based out of New Jersey. Rishi and Preeti Dixit had created that.
It’s such an inspiration of what they’re trying to do to make sure that we get kids these strong important skills at a young age. Whether we’re doing it through online education, through certificate programs or through wherever we’re getting it, I’d like to see people focusing more on developing their curiosity to explore areas they hadn’t already learned. We’re finding a lot of people are getting into status quo thinking from being tunnel-visioned into one interest area. Whether you’re interested in getting an MBA or nursing or whatever program you’re in, it’s always good to explore the areas you don’t know or that aren’t in your program on the side. Whether you learn it through YouTube, Audacity or any of these programs, you can find that there are many fringe things that make you more interesting. Steve Jobs had famously said how dropping in on a calligraphy course changed the whole font and everything that he used in Apple computers.
Anytime you could take something on the side a little bit different, train yourself to learn some skill you never thought you were going to find interesting, it could only make you pull in different aspects into what your decision-making skills are based on those experiences. I hope all this discussion about education has fostered a discussion about what can be included in your educational process. Thank you to Norm. What a great discussion. If you’re interested in more information on the Curiosity Code Index or reading the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code or becoming certified to give the Curiosity Code Index, that’s all at CuriosityCode.com but you could also find it at DrDianeHamilton.com. It’s in the drop-down at the top under the Curiosity information. Have a lot of great content on the site. Check it out. All the information of how to hire our company for training and speaking and everything else is all there. Thank you for joining us for this episode. I hope you look forward to the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Synergis Education
- Todd Dewett – Previous episode
- Orbis Education
- Great Hearts Academy
- The Infinite Game
- Jos De Blok – Previous episode
- The Online Student’s User Manual
- LeaderKid Academy
About Norm Allgood
Norm Allgood is the CEO at Synergis Education. Synergis Education was named one of the top startups in Arizona. Norm has dedicated nearly two decades of his career to expanding access to quality, affordable programs to underserved populations. Norm’s focus has been to build an organization with a passionate culture dedicated to creating quality, higher education programs that are valuable, delivered efficiently and accessible to an ever-evolving student base. After serving in the U.S. Army as an active duty noncommissioned officer, Norm earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in his 30s. It was through his own personal journey that Norm became an advocate for improving higher education and creating a repeatable framework for colleges and universities that expands access to education in high-demand fields.
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