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August 31, 2006

CGS moves to Arts & Sciences

Pitt has made sweeping changes in the way it administers continuing education by integrating the College of General Studies (CGS) within the School of Arts and Sciences (A&S).

The move, announced Aug. 2, gives A&S Dean John Cooper an additional role as dean of the College of General Studies and moves former CGS dean Susan Kinsey from a role focused on day-to-day operations to a more planning-oriented role in the Office of the Provost as associate vice provost for continuing education. In addition, five CGS staff members have been moved to the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Provost James V. Maher, in announcing the moves, stated that the changes would better integrate the education of nontraditional students into University operations and policy-making.

Vice Provost Robert F. Pack said the new position in the Provost’s office demonstrates the University’s commitment to the role continuing education plays in the range of educational opportunities that Pitt provides.

“We felt we needed a specific focus in this office on continuing education,” he said, noting the rapidly changing needs of nontraditional learners.

“It’s a very volatile group,” he said, adding that the administration has been grappling with the question of how best to deliver the University’s services to a wide range of learners.

Noting the importance of the University’s response to the constantly changing needs of nontraditional learners, Pack said, “One of the things we wanted to accomplish was to create more of a focus within this office from a University perspective on the broader concept of continuing education.” Plans are underway to increase the number of online course offerings, particularly in the form of additional professional master’s degree programs, Pack said.

“The time is now right for the University to increase its presence as an online provider, particularly at the graduate level,” Pack added.

“We don’t intend to start offering online undergraduate degrees. At heart we are still a campus-based program,” he said, adding that one of Pitt’s strengths is the relationship between students and an active research faculty in a relatively small environment. “We want to keep that distinction for our undergraduates, although there is room for a judicious application of online instruction.”

He said, “It does seem at the master’s level, there are some real opportunities because we have a well-recognized professional master’s program.”

Course development is ongoing, and Kinsey, in her new role, will help deans across the university identify opportunities to add online courses and programs.

Online courses are well suited for professional programs because they can serve practicing professionals who want to upgrade their knowledge but can’t afford the time for a regular campus-based program, Pack said.

“This also enables us to extend our geographic reach,” he said. “In Pittsburgh we don’t have the population that can support a lot of programs. The nice thing about online is there is no geographic area.”


From an incoming student’s perspective, there will be few visible changes. One improvement is that nontraditional students no longer will have to determine for themselves whether they belong in CGS or A&S. All will apply through Admissions; staff there will determine the appropriate path.

Another change is that non-degree students — such as guest students from other universities and high schoolers taking college credits — will fall under the CGS umbrella rather than being in A&S, as has been the case.

While some administrative functions, such as business practices, can be standardized between the two, CGS will remain somewhat distinct within A&S.

“CGS will continue to be an independent academic unit that will admit its own students, offer its own programs, graduate its own students,” Pack said. “So it isn’t really totally accurate to say CGS has been made part of Arts and Sciences.

“CGS will continue to have its own mission, to have an advising staff because the advising needs and interests of the students are very different.”

Kinsey said that the services offered by the McCarl Center for Nontraditional Student Success, which helps nontraditional students balance their education with their life and work, will not change, nor will the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program, which targets older learners.

The shift in focus will bring attention to the needs of nontraditional students and broaden the options open to them, Pack said.

“When CGS was a freestanding unit without its own faculty, its ability to develop new programs was limited because it didn’t control the resources that were needed to develop those programs. Now [with CGS as part of A&S] they’re all in one place,” Pack said.

Rather than negotiate with the various academic units for classes, as Kinsey had done as CGS dean, deans and department chairs are expected to consider the needs of nontraditional students in planning course offerings.

“It makes the dean and each department chair equally responsible for providing the whole array of courses to all the students. CGS students are no longer somebody else’s students,” Pack said.

For example, he said, a “department will be responsible for a seamless curriculum that will run from 8 o’clock in the morning to 10 o’clock at night that will include courses on Saturday, that will include courses in Mt. Lebanon and Monroeville. And the chairman in structuring his or her offerings and assignments now simply takes that into account.”

“Some of it is just a perception thing, but it’s an important perception thing. They’re now their students. They now own these students and are responsible for them.”

Kinsey agreed. “It’s clear that with one unit overseeing the needs of CGS along with the needs of Arts and Sciences students, those departments no longer can say, ‘This isn’t my priority,’ because it will be part of the priorities. So, it clearly will facilitate some of the innovation (Pack is) talking about,” she said.

The practical implications have yet to settle into individual departments, given that the changes have been announced only recently, leaving department chairs to wonder about how they might be affected by the news.

Political science department chair Barry Ames said he hopes the change means he will know how many night or weekend classes he will be able to schedule each term, to aid in long-term planning and in scheduling adjunct and other part-time faculty.

English department chair David Bartholomae said that although he has received no new directives from the dean’s office, he is not anticipating much change in the way English classes are offered.

“Because we offer so many sections, we’ve always offered sections day and night,” he said, adding that the courses offered already serve both the CGS and traditional student populations.

However, he sees one aspect as a simplification. “It will be a single administrative unit rather than two that we’re dealing with,” he said.

“It’s a good move,” said Rami Melhem, chairman of computer science. “I think it will give us the opportunity to serve nontraditional students, especially those not majoring in computer science,” he said noting that it is crucial for everyone to have some knowledge of computer science and technology.

Melhem said evening sections are offered at least once a year for courses required for the major and every two years or so for elective courses. In addition, a few computer service courses are offered on Saturdays. “If there was more demand, we would add more,” he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 1

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