Being in the right place at the right time isn’t always about luck. More often than not, people and companies are successful because they put themselves at that intersection intentionally. That’s exactly how Steve Hodownes describes Orbis Education, the leading provider of services that help universities expand their healthcare education programs and his decision to join the company as its chief executive officer in 2015.
Hodownes has a consistent track record of creating extraordinary growth in the online education sector. He previously served as CEO of the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) where he built a team from a dozen people sharing a small office suite to nearly a thousand employees. Together, the team grew the institution’s online revenue from $18 million to more than $400 million.
Now, after nearly three years under Hodownes’ leadership, Orbis growth is surging. During a recent Q&A session, Hodownes shared some keys to Orbis’ success and credited a strong business model, positive macro trends and talented team.
How is Orbis different from other Outsourced Program Management (OPM) companies?
OPMs started around 2005 as a way to helps schools meet new demands for more flexibility and generate leads for new students. They provide capital that schools don’t have as well as marketing expertise and admissions at a pace that schools are hard-pressed to achieve. They also build courses.
Orbis is different because we have our own intellectual content, and we are completely focused in one space – healthcare. We partner with universities and healthcare partners to educate licensed healthcare professionals. We are also different because we are directly connected to the employer both from a curriculum and employment perspective, so we bring a lot more to the table than a typical OPM.
Another very important difference is the outcomes our partner programs achieve. High retention rates, graduation rates and NCLEX pass rates are typical of these healthcare programs.
What makes this the right place, right time for Orbis Education?
Orbis has a great offering in a market that is ripe for the product and a great team. The company’s founders understood that the supply and demand are out of balance in both healthcare and on the academic side and developed a solution that helps both.
Take nursing, for example. There is a tremendous nursing shortage today that is predicted to worsen in the coming years thanks to an aging population that requires more care and aging nurses who are retiring. At the same time, schools face several challenges when it comes to educating future nurses. They are limited in the number of students they can accept into their programs by space constraints and access to faculty and healthcare partners for clinical placements. Orbis removes those barriers for our academic partners which enables them to expand their program offerings and educate more students.
You are known throughout the industry for your success at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). What strategies that helped propel growth at SNHU did you implement at Orbis?
A few things come to mind. First, at SNHU, we excelled at using data to make decisions, and we are doing the same thing here. Second, we built a winning team. Most of the foundational team assembled at SNHU is still there and continues to have great success because the right people and the right processes were put in place. We have done the same here at Orbis. We put together a team of great people and put processes in place to capitalize on their strengths and enable them to succeed.
Finally, we believe that culture trumps everything. When people throughout an organization understand the mission of why it exists, the vision of where we want to go, and the strategies of how we’re going to get there, the whole team wins.
At Orbis, we are very transparent. We share lots of information so that people understand and are engaged in the process. We want everybody to know they are valued, to understand why they are doing what they do and how it ties into the team win. This type of culture encourages everyone to find better ways to do things and creates a winning atmosphere that enables growth.
Does Orbis have plans to expand beyond the healthcare space?
Not at this time. Being totally focused in one space enables us to be more efficient and knowledgeable in this specialized area. There are a lot of intricacies to developing and managing healthcare programs that are very different from general education programs. Our team has unmatched expertise and knowledge of this space that differentiates us and makes it difficult for others to compete with us.
There is also tremendous opportunity to grow within the healthcare market. We can grow by partnering with more schools. We can grow into other disciplines beyond our current nursing and occupational therapy offerings such as physical therapy, mental health and autism.
We can also grow by expanding the breadth of programs within each discipline. In fact, we just signed a contract with one of our academic partners to provide a pre-nursing program for people who don’t have the credits or degree to get into the nursing program. We foresee developing nurse practitioner and doctorate level programs so that we could offer programs that run the gamut of nursing education.
What does the future hold for Orbis?
Orbis is going to dominate the healthcare space. We have put the best team together and are growing at an exciting pace. We now have 14 academic partners whose programs’ enrollments are consistently growing. For the next term that begins in August, we expect to have three sites start 100 students. At the same time, these programs continue to achieve exceptional outcomes in terms of graduation and licensing exam pass rates.
As we take on more high-quality partners and healthcare programs, our team here grows to support them. We now have nearly 300 employees and are growing at a rate of 50 percent per year. We are expanding into additional office space in the building that currently serves as our corporate headquarters and are also in the process of working with a planner for the development of a new corporate headquarters site in anticipation of our lease expiring in December of 2019. Ultimately, we want a space that meets our current and future needs and reflects our progressive culture.
This is only the beginning for Orbis. There is tremendous opportunity in this market for us to grow, and we now have the team and processes in place to make it happen.