Professional Studies evolves to meet demand
Imagine a college student, a typical Moundbuilder. What does that
person look like?
If you graduated more than 15 years ago, your student prototype
probably is 19 or so, a high school graduate, takes classes on
The Hill, depends on parents for financial support, and plans to
graduate in four or five years depending on the major.
But if you graduated in the last decade or so, you might be thinking
something entirely different.
Many Southwestern College students are working adults; they think
of themselves as employees in careers first, and as learners second.
This student has family obligations that might include both young
children and aging parents. There's a good chance she's in the
The face of college education is changing, and it's changing Southwestern
College along with it.
Ten years after the first classes opened for business at Winfield's
Downtown Professional Studies Center, 675 learners are enrolled
in professional studies programs in four sites and online. (In
addition, 154 graduate students are working to complete master's
degrees in business administration or education.)
SC's professional studies
students now live and work throughout south central Kansas and
northern Oklahoma, and attend classes
in Wichita and Winfield. They also live and work in a total of
43 states and in Korea, Mexico, Germany, Iraq, Italy, and Afghanistan.
Many never set foot in a classroom—they earn their college
credit fully online.
"We are confident that Southwestern can be competitive with
any other educational provider when it comes to delivering coursework
that is relevant, academically sound, and convenient for the learner," says
Karen Pedersen, vice president for professional studies.
As a result, SC became one of the first providers of online degree
completion in the area, and survived a rigorous competition to
be chosen a provider of online education for service members through
the eArmyU program.
This success has come despite a relatively late entry into the
adult education field.
When President Carl
Martin first considered Southwestern's entry into the degree
completion arena during the early 1990s, he knew
he was late catching this wave. Fellow United Methodist administrators
on the coasts already were talking about revitalizing their student
bodies—an on-campus population of under a thousand might
be bolstered by three times that many adult learners off campus.
"I got so embarrassed," Martin recalls. "That
set up the dynamic in which I personally saw the need for some
here, some kind of change. I got the message from the national
environment I was seeing, and I saw we weren't fitting in."
But while the national environment was ripe for change, the on-campus
environment at Southwestern was less amenable. Some faculty members
and administrators were concerned that a focus on adult learners
would distract from the college's traditional emphasis on younger,
Into this climate stepped Marvin Hafenstein. With experience in
the aircraft industry and light manufacturing, Hafenstein was unburdened
by academic tradition. He was convinced that adult learners with
some college credit needed a place to finish their degrees, and
that Southwestern College should be that place.
"I had folks from General Electric come in and talk to the
faculty to get approval of the new program," Martin recalls.
Ultimately the approval came but, as Martin notes, "I remember
that meeting distinctly because the two dynamics going on were
`here is momentum and change,' and `resistance to change.'"
Hafenstein investigated what other colleges were offering, helped devise a
curriculum, found a location downtown, and on June 9, 1994, helped open the
Winfield Downtown Professional Studies Center. The first session boasted 19
A year later, enrollment stood at 117, an increase of 500 percent, and a trend
was set that would continue as three additional centers were opened in Wichita.
The first center set the tone for future initiatives in professional
studies. Courses were delivered in the place and style most appropriate
for these nontraditional students, most of whom had full-time employment
or family commitments. Most often a three-credit-hour class lasted
six weeks, one evening per week.
The success spread to
Wichita, where a center opened in 1996 attracted 18 enrollments
the first session—and a year later had 175
Professional studies philosophy of operation has been marked by
agility of programming, and by the conviction that education is
best received when it is delivered to match the convenience of
the learner. Classes can be presented at a workplace, if demand
warrants; some classes can be applied to certification standards
as well as to graduation requirements.
Majors, too, are implemented and decommissioned as demand warrants.
Because the majority of professional studies professors are not
full-time faculty members (and those who are generally have on-campus
teaching responsibilities), more agility in response to program
demands is possible.
Now the focus on increasing enrollment is shifting to expansion
of market. The college is exploring expansion of professional studies
instruction into Oklahoma. And the success of the professional
studies center at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita has led to
additional marketing of the program at military bases throughout
the United States.
"We believe SC's online education is ideally suited to the
learners in the military," Pedersen explains. "Service
members with some college education can enroll in online classes,
and with a computer and internet connection, can continue their
education no matter where they are deployed."
SC program representatives are being hired with this goal in mind;
two full-time representatives are assigned as liaisons to military
personnel, and about a quarter of professional studies marketing
budget is dedicated to military audiences.
So what does the future hold for professional studies?
Pedersen points to the new initiatives in Oklahoma City, and to
the increased emphasis on online learning, but the future is unlimited.
"We will, at some point, have a learner in every single state
and in dozens of countries around the world," Pedersen says. "Southwestern
has, and will continue to have, a longer reach than anyone can