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Continuing Studies refines mission

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - September 25, 2006

Continuing Studies at UConn has received a makeover and a new name.

Formerly the College of Continuing Studies, reporting to the Provost, the unit is now known as the Center for Continuing Studies and operates under the aegis of Vice Provost Veronica Makowsky. The Center will continue to be financially self-supporting.

In addition to strengthening its existing degree programs, the Center is launching a new initiative to foster the development of interdisciplinary collaboration in emerging fields through academic partnerships.

The administration of classes offered during May term, summer break, and winter intersession is being moved to the Registrar's Office, taking effect for May Term 2007, a step Makowsky says will help the University more closely tailor its course offerings to students' needs.

"The main purpose of the Center for Continuing Studies is education for the returning adult," Makowsky says.

The changes are part of an academic restructuring proposed by Provost Peter J. Nicholls and approved by the Board of Trustees in February.

A committee of faculty, staff, and continuing studies advisory board members worked with Makowsky, vice provost for undergraduate education and regional campus administration, to plan the unit's new direction.

Nicholls says the aim was to integrate Continuing Studies more closely with the rest of the University, and to do so "in a way that highlights the fact that UConn is a research extensive university."

Sue Nesbitt, interim director of continuing studies, says, "Now everything we do is done with the thought, 'How does this fit with a land grant research university, the leading public university in the Northeast?'"

The name change reflects the fact that Continuing Studies does not have tenured or tenure-track faculty, as would a full-fledged school or college.

Its handful of permanent academic staff generally have administrative responsibility for their programs in addition to teaching, rather than substantial research expectations.

As part of the changes, a new committee of tenured and tenure-track faculty has been established to oversee the curriculum of the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program. Similar committees were already in place for the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) programs.

A number of further changes have been made to strengthen the BGS program, a degree program designed for adult students.

BGS students will now, for example, have the same general education requirements as any other UConn undergraduate.

Previously, some were given exemption from foreign language and laboratory science requirements.

"This is about academic rigor," says Nicholls.

Makowsky says the measure is not expected to reduce access to the program, since the majority of students do have the requirements they need.

The administration is working with the regional campuses, however, to ensure that the needed courses are provided at times when BGS students are most likely to be able to attend - afternoons and evenings.

The Center's market research and planning department has begun actively recruiting returning adult students, and BGS counselors have been integrated into advising teams at the regional campuses - where more than 80 percent of BGS students are based - so they can better advise adult students.

Returning adults may choose whether to study for a BGS or take traditional course offerings.

"Most will opt for the BGS program," Makowsky says, because of the amount of individual counseling and help it offers; "but counselors will give advice based on the best interests of the student."

In addition, for the first time, BGS students will be included in enrollment figures for the regional campuses.

"A BGS degree will be indistinguishable from any other UConn degree," Makowsky says.

Continuing Studies will continue to offer four tracks in the MPS program, which serves professionals seeking a further qualification to enhance their career.

These tracks are homeland security leadership; humanitarian services administration; human resources management; and occupational safety and health.

The Center will also continue to offer non-credit programs.

The new Academic Partnership Program is intended to foster interdisciplinary research in non-traditional fields. The program builds on and formalizes some of the services Continuing Studies already provides.

The partnerships, says Nesbitt, will combine the academic expertise of departments, schools, and colleges with operational and management services provided by Continuing Studies.

These may include services such as a competitive market analysis, financial planning, budgeting, and student services.

The Center will provide seed money for up to half-a-dozen projects a year, with the process occurring twice a year.

Applications will be reviewed by an interdisciplinary committee.

The first deadline for proposals is Oct. 15; the second, Feb. 15.

"We're looking for emerging needs, areas that are not addressed by traditional departments," says Roy Pietro, executive director for academic partnerships and special programs in the Center for Continuing Studies.

"We want to complement the intellectual capital that's here at the University, and help bridge the gap between departments that traditionally don't work together."

Examples of existing collaborative projects include the master's entry into nursing program, developed with the School of Nursing; graduate programs in school administration, educational technology, and gifted education, established with the Neag School; and a non-credit program in healthcare information technology, launched with the School of Business.

Continuing Studies is also exploring with the linguistics department the feasibility of offering a degree or certificate in American Sign Language.

Nesbitt says Continuing Studies offers assistance not just in assessing a project's viability, but in launching it and managing it in its initial stages.

The projects need not result in a degree, she says.

"An Academic Partnership could begin offering a certificate or a group of courses, and maybe ultimately move to a full degree. Or we may eventually say 'There's no niche for this.'"

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