In an electronic variation on correspondence schools, business executives are taking courses by "computer teleconferencing" from a new management institute in La Jolla, Calif.
At the School of Management and Strategic Studies, which opened last January, students pay $24,800 for two years of study -- but attend in person for only eight days every six months. In between the semiannual gatherings, they participate in "seminars" using computer terminals in their homes or offices.
The school bills itself as an institution "for executives likely to occupy key future roles in the upper ranks of business, government, and nonprofit organizations." Courses include "The Private Sector and the State," "The Management of Scarcity and Abundance," and "Technological Progress and People." The school is run by a nonprofit think tank, the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute.
"We began with the idea that computer teleconferencing would be a useful adjunct to our program, but it has been so successful that we've come to rely on it almost entirely," says Richard E. Farson, president of the institute. He contends that teleconferencing participants contribute remarks of higher quality than they would in a live seminar. "You can edit what you say first," Farson says. "It's a lot like the nineteenth-century art of letter writing. It's fun to see it brought back by a computer."
A professor begins each electronic conference by transmitting a written "lecture" to a central computer. The students receive it at their leisure by phoning the computer and connecting it to their own personal computers (supplied by the school). Then they type questions or comments and send them back to the main computer. Each person's message is automatically added to the original lecture, so that by calling the computer every few days, participants can review the latest comments and add thoughts.
"The program gives me access to top academicians in the social sciences," says Dennis C. Hayes, president and founder of Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc. of Norcross, Ga., a fast-growing computer peripherals maker with 120 employees. "Teleconferencing is probably the only way I could do this. It makes it possible for me to participate when I have time."
The school doesn't have its own computer in La Jolla. Rather, it uses one run by the New Jersey Institute of Technology in a program called Electronic Information Exchange System. The school's favorable experience has prompted the NJIT to start its own computerized extension school, set to begin next spring. It plans to offer three-month courses, for approximately $650 each, in managerial, professional, and technical areas.