The age of online higher education of all levels continues to grow each year, and in a world that is increasingly more technologically savvy, the ability to study and earn a degree without ever setting foot in a classroom is becoming more and more commonplace.
Whether that is healthy, and whether the loss of actual human interaction and discussion is valuable is a big debate, but for the time challenged and the budget challenged, the for-profit online world of education can be seen on almost every bus shelter, infomercial and recruiting site out there. Some lager outfits, like the University of Phoenix, have sought to distance themselves from the competition, and others have sought to find marketing niches to set them apart in the conversation.
One of which is DeVry University, which last year found a unique niche by partnering with the United States Olympic Committee to provide online education and enhancement programs online to athletes with little time for formal and traditional education during their training and competing years. The partnership started with six Olympic athletes and has grown to about 200 enrolled today, including American gold medalist bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who was featured in DeVry ads during the games.
This year, DeVry will try another wide ranging partnership with a little more grassroots appeal, a partnership with Minor League Baseball that will give them exposure at all 160 minor league franchises ranging from rookie leagues to AAA and will include online promotions, signage and other events to drum up awareness to the millions who flock to games over the course of the summer.
However in addition to the wide-ranging consumer sponsorship, DeVry will institute a higher education program to assist minor leaguers interested in pursuing a degree, as well as providing 20 full-ride scholarships to minor league players, staff, alumni and other team and league employees, as well as reduced tuition for interested players and their spouses. Like the USOC partnership, the athletes become the advocates, and the success stories out of the partnership can be merchandised as equity for DeVry while providing a very unique service for those in MiLB who are in many cases just out of high school and thrust into the rigors of MLB without a fallback when their careers end. Even for those MiLB player who spend some time on the NCAA level, the ability to complete a degree, or help a spouse who has sacrificed for them, get their education is also appealing.
The DeVry partnership also falls in a pretty unique niche for minor league baseball, a category that is probably not over-sold locally throughout the minor league system, giving the program a real chance at success in markets big and small. The program will also make for a nice test case for other potential sponsorships, from the D-League to minor league hockey, using young athletes and those toiling at the lower levels as ambassadors not just for DeVry, but for online education as well.
Will it succeed? The USOC program seems to be taking hold, and while the experience at the minor league baseball level is sometimes more geared towards young people and giveaways, the ability to tell positive stories by engaging young athletes looking for a fallback when the time on the diamond becomes short is a good one, especially as you aggregate the stories across all levels of baseball and in a host of markets.
For MiLB it’s a smart partnership, and for DeVry it seems like an educated guess at success, with an RI that can drive brand, enrollment and good will. A hot could be in the making.