Richard Capezzali's work has found its way into many of our homes. His creation Education Connection and its catchy commercial jingles have played on television sets across the country--but his career in higher education is fascinating and spans several decades, He has been associated with not only the some of the most successful ventures in higher education (Kaplan University), but some of the most innovative ventures as well (Test Drive College Online). In a recent transaction, Education Connection was acquired by Education Dynamics (a revered higher education marketing organization) and Capezzali is now Executive Vice President and focused on growing the Test Drive College Online program.
You helped grow Kaplan University from a single student to thousands upon thousands over only a six year period--what can traditional colleges and universities learn from your success in marketing Kaplan?
I think it is simple – you must articulate what your value proposition is and it must be personal. Ask your students why they chose your school and what they like about it. What is the culture of the institution? How does your faculty feel about their mission? What sets your school apart? Higher education is a crowded and competitive landscape and colleges and universities need a real identity, not gimmicks. Tell your story truthfully and tell it often.
Speaking of telling a story, you founded Education Connection--the television commercials have garnered a lot of attention—do you ever find yourself singing the jingle?
No, but my grandkids love them! To be honest, I didn’t like the TV spots at first. But we tried other messages and none captured the interest that the jingle did. We’re just trying to reach prospective students and the commercials have been a good way to get folks thinking about education. We recently announced Shannen Doherty as our new spokesperson. She is currently earning her Liberal Arts degree online from a university she found through Education Connection. Even though she has a successful career as an actress she wanted to earn her degree. She’s a great role model for prospective students because she’s showing them that it is possible to earn a college degree despite a challenging schedule and years spent away from school.
Kaplan and Education Connection are only two of your successes, but your career in higher education spans four decades, how do you view the current higher education environment?
It’s an incredible time to be involved in higher education. We have an immense opportunity and responsibility to help Americans gain the education and training they need to build sustainable careers. I think the downturn in the economy magnified the importance of a college education and has inspired a new generation of prospective students to earn a degree, many who do not fit a traditional mold. As an industry and a nation, we’re realizing that we must innovate and expand access to higher education to produce a more skilled workforce and to be globally competitive. While initially there were some missteps, I believe the result has been greater emphasis on helping students find the right school and the right program for their career goals, which has made the industry stronger and better able to serve future students.
You left the more formal world of higher education and now lead an innovative program as the creator of Test Drive College--you must see things differently from your current vantage point--what advice would you give current leaders of higher education institutions?
From working at one institution to now helping to fulfill the needs of nearly 1,200 colleges and universities, what has served me well in both capacities is a focus on higher education’s shared mission: to help improve people’s lives through education. I think it is important for leaders to inspire everyone across their institutions; to work in support of this because if we all assume some responsibility, the students and the institution are better able to realize success.
What is the most important contribution you've made to date in higher education?
I would consider Test Drive College my most important contribution because of its purity of mission.
Why do you consider it so?
It empowers people to make a more educated decision about online education and prevents them from making a costly mistake. It also helps colleges and universities identify students that are academically prepared and can successfully complete a degree program.
Test Drive College--how does it work?
Test Drive College offers prospective students a risk-free opportunity to try anonline college course at no cost and no obligation while earning credits toward a college degree. To assess their college readiness, students must first take and pass a College Competency Exam developed by Test Drive College. The test effectively gauges a student’s aptitude through freshman-level English and math questions. Once a student passes the exam, he or she is assigned an advisor who enrolls them in the program and helps them select a Test Drive College online course. Currently, students can choose from five common college courses: Introduction to Business, Criminal Justice, Medical Terminology or Psychology and English Composition I.
Once enrolled, students are given a preview of what they would likely experience in a typical online degree program. Each course is instructor-led, five weeks long and involves about six to eight hours of study a week. Students are required to read assigned materials, complete homework and participate in discussions, revealing if the demands of college coursework fit into their lifestyle. About 50 percent of those that enroll in Test Drive College complete and pass the course and close to 80 percent decide to use their credits toward a degree (the other 20 percent usually learn from the experience that they are not suited for online education). The American Council on Education (ACE) has evaluated and approved all Test Drive College courses, so students who pass their course can apply to transfer those credits to any ACE member school.
The entire process is free to the student and they are under no obligation to matriculate to a partner institution. For students, Test Dive College allows them to experience online education and see if they are prepared for college-level study before committing to a degree program and paying tuition. For colleges and universities, it acts as a tool to qualify prospective students, since those that have completed and passed a Test Drive College Course are more likely to be successful and graduate. Ultimately it results in more qualified students enrolling in degree programs.
Education Connection focused on student recruitment, how are you improving student retention with Test Drive College?
Test Drive College helps improve student retention by helping colleges and universities identify qualified students. Students who successfully complete a Test Drive College course show that they are academically prepared for college-level study and can balance going to school while maintaining their lifestyle. Test Drive College supports increased retention by helping students make an informed decision about enrolling in a degree program, and helps higher education institutions recruit and enroll students more likely to be successful.
Student placement after graduation is of increasing importance, what would you do to better connect graduates with employers following the completion of a degree?
I think a great way to connect graduates and employers is to provide more internship opportunities while students are still earning their degree. Students gain valuable work experience, as well as network with those in their field. It also gives employers a chance to see if that student might be a good addition to their team upon graduation.
Are traditional colleges and universities better at helping students find employment?
I think all colleges and universities should be helping prepare students with an education that is marketable and will help them find employment. While I can think of examples of traditional schools and career schools that offer terrific career services, this isn’t an issue to define by institution type. All higher education institutions should make it a priority.
You've had a lot of successes, but I'm sure that there were some missteps along the way--what is your biggest mistake?
I like to see mistakes as blessings, because they provide an opportunity to learn.
What did you learn from that?
One opportunity came as a result of the scrutiny faced by the sector over the last year. While I think we all recognize that there is an education crisis in this country, not everyone seems to understand that if we are to achieve the goal of producing more college graduates, it will take all of us working together. I learned that we need to do a better job of communicating the role career colleges in particular can play in support of that goal.
What's the next big thing for Richard Capezzali?Education Dynamics will soon be launching a resource website for international students seeking information about educational opportunities in the U.S. While American colleges and universities are often attractive to international students, finding the right school and program can be difficult. In addition to information about available opportunities, we’re going to offer tools and resources to help international students understand the American university system and college application process. We're also launching ChristianEducation.com which will help students that are seeking faith based education and we are just getting our online high school, Suncoast ready for launch.