Over the last number of years, many Universities in Wisconsin found declining enrollment in their graduate education programs. Much of this was due to changing legislation on the state level that ultimately resulted in a shift on how or if teachers in K-12 public schools received funding for graduate degrees. Universities had a number of options. They could do nothing, waiting things out or leaning on the endowments or other funding sources. They could discount tuition, hoping that would draw people back in who now had to pay more out-of-pocket. They could also increase recruitment efforts. Or, they could to cut back on staffing. One University did something different. It listened and responded.
Several leaders in that School of Education decided to start meeting with superintendents of public schools: asking questions, listening, and learning. One of those questions was, “What do you need?” Note that they did not start with what they offer. It was a genuine desire to understand the goals and needs of a public school district and then to see if it was possible to provide that. One response was that they needed customized programming that connected with the strategic goals and documented needs of that district. They didn’t necessarily want a pre-packaged graduate program. Instead, some wanted non-credit professional development or credit-based coursework in a specific area of need and interest (Response to Intervention, flipping your classroom, improving school relationships, etc.). The University replied by working with people in that district to design customized training, courses and curriculum.
Other districts explained that they had a shortage in an area, like the fact that they needed a number of new school counselors. So, the University responded by setting up a special on-site cohort just for that district, recruiting from teachers already in the district or people pre-identified as good candidates. Once the cohort of students finished, that might be the end of the program in that location. It was just there to meet a specific need at a specific time. Note that it was not a University recruiting in that area as much as district leadership doing much of the recruiting, and the University just helped provide the education.
Similar to this last one, some district wanted to provide a master’s degree to existing school personnel, but they wanted to integrate some custom training in the program, training that met goals of the district: maybe an emphasis on data-driven decision-making or the Common Core. The University replied by working with them to adjust the curriculum while maintaining the integrity of the program and meeting all requirements for licensure and accreditation. These thematic cohorts met immediate needs while preparing people in a new licensed area.
The name of the University is Concordia University Wisconsin (yes, I’m biased), and they call this the Preferred Educational Partnership program. As of writing this, ten school districts in Wisconsin have already signed on an more are interested. CUW has a partner campus in Michigan, Concordia University Ann Arbor, and they are also beginning district partnerships in that state. Because the partnership allows the University to save money that would otherwise need to be spent on marketing and recruitment, the partnership comes with a 24% tuition discount for any employee of a partner district, making the CUW/CUAA programs among the more affordable options in the state, whether they are face-to-face cohorts or collaborative online courses and programs (4 of which recently gained national recognition as among the best and/or the best buys for online degrees…these are offered face-to-face or online).
The PEP program boast four distinctives:
Tuition Reduction: Optimize partnership benefits with our tuition reduction—a 24% tuition discount when teachers join a cohort leading to a license or master’s degree.
Needs Assessment: Rely upon us to work with you and your organization to identify and reevaluate educational needs and provide support services.
Relevant Programs: Meet Educational objectives and enhance faculty expertise with highly respected, fully accredited programs in a wide range of licensure programs and technology options.
Flexible Delivery: We can provide expert instructors and consultants, or we can draw on Master teachers from your resources.
This is a new, interesting and exciting shift in higher education. It is far from the ivory tower that incubates concepts in a vacuum. This is a servant leadership vision, one that values listening as much or more than telling, partnering more than dictating, and customized programming instead of pre-packages curricula. Imagine the possibilities if such a model were to expand, building rich connections between higher education institutions and organizations in the community and region.