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August 31, 2000

Changes mark CGS dean's first year

It's been just a year since a new dean took over the College of General Studies (CGS), but already the college is feeling the effects.

Applications and enrollment are up. New programs are in place, including a certificate program in Information Systems Design, a collaboration with the Bidwell Training Center, Inc. vocational training organization, and a new satellite site on the campus of Beaver County Community College. A pilot program has been approved to develop a certificate in conjunction with the urban studies department for University Honors College-eligible CGS students.

General Studies has launched an aggressive marketing campaign, has named a new director of community and continuing education programs and is recruiting for the new position, associate dean for academic affairs.

Dean Susan R. Kinsey, who took over the reins at CGS last August, said she's satisfied with progress toward her announced goal, "to re-invent the college by constructing new degree and certificate programs, geared toward adults and nontraditional students, that marry real workplace skills with a strong liberal arts education."

Kinsey said she concentrated on internal resource evaluation and re-allocation during her first year and now will turn more attention to building bridges within the Pitt community and with the college's constituents in the region.

Since CGS's academic courses are taught by faculty from other schools at Pitt, Kinsey said, "we need to win the support of the faculty and deans who will partner in our initiatives — if we can't do that, our outside efforts won't matter much. But I will say my personal conversations and meetings with my colleagues indicate they value the vision I try to bring to this college."

The new academic associate dean will be the link between CGS and other Pitt schools establishing mechanisms for faculty participation in CGS program development, Kinsey said. "Most new programs we introduce will be interdisciplinary in nature, and we want a dean, ideally an internal candidate who knows the University, to coordinate program and curriculum development across schools and disciplines."

External efforts, she said, include forming industry advisory boards for six "spike" industries: health care, finance, technology, tourism and hospitality, arts and culture, and manufacturing/retail.

"These groups will help with external partnership building, with the goal to develop certificate programs aimed at workplace skill development," Kinsey said. "We have to be a provider of needs-oriented educational services, to make our outreach efforts more personalized, effective and immediate, to know who we are going after and react in a rapid way to our region's workforce needs."

Simultaneously, Kinsey said, the college will re-evaluate the curriculum of programs already in place. "It doesn't make sense, for example, that our degree program in health services isn't drawing the health care audience so prominent in this region. I think many of the degrees in health services are designed to specific competencies, such as health care management or health care assessment. Our degree is very general, and while I'm not opposed to generalist degrees, in this particular field we probably need to focus on more specific areas."

This opens the opportunity to partner with other schools such as the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), public health and health and rehabilitation sciences, she said.

The CGS FY01 strategic plan, recently approved by the Provost's office, sets two priorities for the school this next year: stabilizing enrollments and setting optimal enrollment levels for current and planned degree and certificate programs.

Secondary goals include increasing the visibility of CGS as the University's community outreach wing; strengthening continuing education programs; increasing diversity of the student body, and implementing new technology systems for internal data management.

According to Kinsey, the strategic plan received a ringing endorsement from the Provost's office. "The provost and his staff approved almost everything I proposed. I was cautioned that I might be overly optimistic in an environment of limited resources. But I think that when you're doing a strategic plan you have to reach high. I don't mean be unrealistic; but you have to put challenges out there for yourself."

Kinsey said enrollment figures already are encouraging. Data compiled this August, compared with last August's figures, indicate the college's total enrollment is up 10.1 percent (from 1,725 to 1,899). Direct applications are up 24.4 percent (505 to 628) and referred applications are up 26.4 percent (333 to 421).

Referrals are students who applied to CAS and are referred to CGS for admittance consideration.

About two-thirds of direct applicants who were admitted have registered (289 of 423); similarly, 61.5 percent of referrals who were admitted have registered (235 of 382).

Kinsey said that the recent move by CAS to raise academic admissions standards has had an ancillary effect on CGS in the referral of a large number of qualified students.

"But we really want to watch our direct admits," she said. "We want to ensure that people who apply directly — the ones we target through our advertising and outreach — are going up faster than our referrals. We're still the college for adults and nontraditional students." About half the new students each year are 26 or older, she said.

To help increase enrollments, plans call to map thoroughly the demographics of current degree students, by major, by those who transfer to other schools, by age, by gender, by time-to-complete the degree and other factors, with the expectation of more targeted marketing strategies.

The overall marketing campaign, based on the theme "What counts in Pittsburgh?" comprises upgraded publications, including the alumni newsletter, the school's prospectus and other promotional materials, and radio spots, billboards and newspaper ads.

"We really are targeting the profile of our core audience for both degree and non-degree programs: the slightly older students; those with work experience and life experience; those changing careers or seeking more training within their careers; those seeking outlets for leisure and life-long learning," Kinsey said.

To strengthen CGS's non-degree programs, Kinsey said, "We want to build a model university center for lifelong learning in the college. I'm proposing to the Dean's Council a seminar where continuing education directors University-wide can get together and discuss strategies and common issues."

Additionally, CGS plans to develop and strengthen partnerships with local civic, cultural and arts organizations and expand the leisure-learning arm of the college, she said.

Plans are underway to take a close look at the college's satellite sites in Monroeville, the South Hills and, now, Beaver County.

"We're also doing a thorough evaluation of the Computer Learning Center," which is located Downtown. "We may expand it and not only geographically, but its delivery modes. With new technology, we can add electronic and/or video-teleconferencing modes. Our studies show the market will bear reaching out to other constituents, career-changers that would be self-paying, in addition to our 750-800 corporate clients. But it is a risk question: to expand a center or develop new centers is partly a leap of faith plus careful study."

How nontraditional students get their education delivered is an ongoing concern of the college, Kinsey said. "Adults want it to be convenient to the home; and yet they want the best in instruction and resources, like use of the library. When you're facing the possibility of adding sites, how do you provide the full services? We can provide advisers, meeting rooms and lounges, but some things you can't duplicate, like the stimulation of a campus environment. But studies show a sizable number of adult students are willing to sacrifice the services in favor of convenience," Kinsey said.

Programs like the University External Studies Program (UESP) have been a staple of CGS for years, Kinsey said. "As it's used now, UESP is a way to accelerate toward a degree; it frees you up to take another course during the week, for example. We know we serve that audience that makes choices based on schedules, work and family. But why not expand that delivery system to include non-degree programs?"

That's what extended education should be all about, she said.

"Extended education interfaces with non-degree classes, with leisure learning, with certificates, with life-long learning, and we want to expand our services in that direction."

All the plans won't reach fruition overnight, Kinsey conceded. She said she's making a concerted effort to enlist the input of the college's 13,000 alumni in developing the current plans and suggesting alternatives.

"I believe I'm a pragmatic person," Kinsey said. "I want to take things as incrementally as I can to realize our goals. We don't need to be thinking about extremes at this juncture, but there are necessary steps to develop programs that are at the core of our mission. There's a certain amount of risk in that, but I think of it as carefully evaluated risk."

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 1

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