Every entrepreneur relishes the opportunity to improve his or her business acumen — provided there’s little time, hassle or cost involved. Two unlikely rivals — Donald Trump and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) — think they’ve licked the problem with their new online business schools. But do they make the grade?
Although Trump University was established in May 2005 primarily to impart lessons in real estate, president and co-founder Michael Sexton says surging enrolment by small-business owners — almost 250,000 at last count — has forced it to build the entrepreneurship portion of its curriculum. About 60 courses pertain to business owners, and Sexton aims to offer 100 by the end of 2007: “Our long-term goal is to be the largest provider of small-business education in the world.”
The Donald himself makes numerous appearances in course-related Web videos, including an introductory segment in which he proclaims in his trademarked fashion: “I didn’t want to put my name on anything to do with education unless it was going to be the best.”
Faculty include professors recruited from major U.S. universities such as Northwestern, Columbia and Dartmouth, plus Trump’s pals from “the school of hard knocks.” As for the teaching philosophy, it’s hands-on; for instance, you’ll analyze potential competitors in “Accelerate Your Business Growth,” and develop a turnaround plan for a failing restaurant in “Build a Powerful Marketing Strategy.” While teaching assistants provide feedback on assignments, you won’t receive credits or degrees.
“We didn’t want an academic ivory tower,” says Sexton. “Everything we teach is grounded in practical application, and that cannot be judged.” So, if you want something to show for your hard work, you’ll have to visit the campus e-store, where you can buy all manner of Trump University memorabilia, including a baseball cap for US$21.95 and a golf shirt for US$39.95. Or you can just settle for the bill, which will range from US$150 for a basic click-through course with two or three assignments to US$12,000 for a “mastery” course, an instructor-led multimedia program that includes live teleseminars and a business coach.
A more affordable option is the CFIB’s online Small Business Management Certificate program (SBMcertified.com). Launched in October, the 20-hour program comprises a series of click-through, text-based courses on topics such as financing, strategic management and international trade. Although it’s far more sedate than Trump U, the price is right: $200 for three students.
CFIB president Catherine Swift says the organization wanted to take the guesswork out of course selection, so it tailored the curriculum to the most common learning needs of Canadian entrepreneurs.
Unlike at Trump U, there’ll be no guessing how much you learned at CFIB school, which does test and grade its students. Achieve a 70% course average, and you get to print out a Small Business Management Certificate you can hang on your wall. It might be less functional than a baseball cap, but it might be more meaningful.