Where to Next? The Future of Online Education, Analytics, and Travel

Kurt Slobodzian is Vice President of Research, Nexus Research and Policy Center 

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross 

eAIR: Please describe your professional background and experience, including a description of your current position. 

I started my academic career while working on my doctorate at the University of Arizona (U of A), and later became an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. Over time, I found the pace at public universities slow and the environment stifling; five years later I (literally) walked away from that job. To the shock of many, I went to work in the computer industry. I did what we called back then Data Driven Systems. One day it dawned on me that the people who controlled the most data were librarians, so I returned to the U of A and completed a second master’s degree in library science.

 In 1995, I answered a blind newspaper ad and was hired at the University of Phoenix (UOP) as its first University Librarian. At that time, the university had 32 campuses and no libraries. Six months later I rolled out an all-digital library. It was very successful and led to many additional responsibilities, including running the department that published the curricula for the university. A year later, I was asked to take over and automate the Institutional Research Department. My final role at UOP was in international business development. 

In 2005, UOP founder John Sperling asked me to take a temporary leave from the university to run a struggling distance learning company he owned. I finally sold that company in 2010 and briefly returned to the university before being asked to help form a non-profit research group funded by the UOP parent company, The Apollo Group. That non-profit became Nexus Research and Policy Center. 

eAIR: How has your involvement with AIR—including your role as an IPEDS Trainer—helped support your professional endeavors? 

My research at Nexus is largely based on data collected by NCES, so I naturally started attending IPEDS workshops and was immediately impressed by the quality of the training provided. After one of those workshops, I was invited to review grant proposals for AIR, and later to be a trainer. I readily agreed, knowing that the best way to learn more about the data was to teach others about the data. I’ve been an assistant trainer for a year and have helped with three workshops so far. At each one I gain new ideas and a better working knowledge of the data. When Nexus hired a Research Assistant, I encouraged her participation in IPEDS workshops, and she is now able to do much of the research we are asked to perform. 

eAIR: What is your elevator speech about analytics?  

Analytics is the process of turning data into information. It is taking raw data, such as enrollment numbers, to examine patterns and use of visual or statistical communication tools to express meaningful information that people can use in their decision-making processes. 

eAIR: What do you think the future holds for online education and analytics?  

There is no stopping online education. It simply isn’t feasible to create brick-and-mortar institutions to meet the world’s need for postsecondary education—or even K-12 education. As with all education, the key to successful online learning is quality, and the only way to assess and communicate quality is through analytics.  

eAIR: What is your advice for IR professionals eager to prepare for the challenges and opportunities facing higher education?  

Get involved with your fellow professionals. Participation in workshops and association events (local, state, and /or national) is the best way to network with people who share your interests and can help you understand emerging trends. AIR also offers many opportunities for volunteer roles that can bring you even closer to people and the information needed to grow in the profession. After every training and meeting, I leave with the same feeling: It’s always great to spend a day or two with a bunch of really smart people who share my professional interests. 

eAIR: What is the genesis of your specific interest in military and veteran students? 

My primary interest in active military and veteran students is derived from the fact that they are so hard to track. The U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs are very stingy with their data and data-collection processes, so existing data are primitive. 

eAIR: What do you do for fun?  

My wife and I are avid travelers. We take every opportunity to see and learn about new places around the world and throughout the U.S.  I’m often asked, “Where to next?” There are simply too many places to see and cultures about which to learn…the only answer is, “I don’t know where, but we will be there soon!”