Profiles in a DU Pioneer Education: University College, part one
University College is the University of Denver’s college of professional and continuing studies. We sat down with recently-appointed dean Michael McGuire to learn about the college.
Q: Give us a brief overview of your division – a general snapshot of the education you provide to students.
A: University College (UCOL) is the college of professional and continuing studies at DU. UCOL actually has a long history: in 1938, the then College of Liberal Arts added UCOL as a part-time and evening division. DU has a history of putting programming out there for adult learning, which I imagine back then was forward looking.
UCOL takes a student-centered approach to teaching and learning. We design and deliver our programs for busy adults, for whom we cultivate an active and inclusive learning environment. We really focus on providing our students with a career-relevant and practice-based education. We guide our model by sound learning outcomes that emphasize critical and creative thinking, effective communication and decision making, which all rolls into making sure our students are learning how to create solutions to challenges they face at work and in their communities.
Our programs focus on helping our students master specialized skills that are fundamental to their chosen field of study. Additionally, we’re helping our students learn how to learn: our students should leave programs like ours having developed the agility to adapt to changing circumstances. This is how we prepare our students to be practice-ready: some of what they need to be effective in their careers today will change and will be different from what they will need five or 10 years from now. We can teach them how to adapt and continue to make an impact.
UCOL program content is a combination of the latest research and best applied practices from the different fields of study we serve. Our approach is influenced by evidence-based and problem-based learning models. It’s slightly different from some traditional models, but very relevant and effective for the students we serve. The composition of our faculty also reflects this method. We have a mix of practitioner faculty who work in the fields in which they teach and appointed DU faculty. Students respond to that balance; we hear that all the time in evaluations.
As a college, we offer a wide and varied portfolio of programs. We have 11 masters programs, about 40 graduate certificates and a bachelor completion program. We offer our courses online, evenings on campus and utilize a hybrid of the two. Additionally, we’re piloting a “HyFlex” model in select courses, where some students attend a class physically and some attend virtually. We continue to experiment with different formats and incorporate relevant instructional technologies to find course structures that best serve our students.
In addition to our degree programs, we have non-credit programming through our Enrichment Program and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which are both effective community engagement programs. We also have the Institute for Leaders in Development, which is a yearlong non-credit program that helps develop the next generation of Colorado philanthropic leaders.
Q: University College has a “nontraditional” student body; describe the type of student you are looking to draw.
A: Our students come from all walks of life. While about 60 percent of our students are from the Denver metro area, we have students from every state in the U.S. enrolled this spring quarter. They have varied socio-economic backgrounds and come from all stages in their professions. They’re at that point in their careers where they’ve been in the workforce for 10-20 years and aren’t able to put their lives on hold to come back to school full time. We really attract adults who are serious about and committed to reaching their educational and professional goals, who want to do it through rigorous study and application. They are typically already on the path of the career in which they want to advance and want to put their education to use immediately. Our students are practical and pragmatic, which doesn’t mean they want a “stripped down” version of education; they want to be challenged. I think we attract this type of student because we are the University of Denver and they understand the value we offer.
It’s important to them, and they are willing to put in the work, to earn a degree that is well-respected in the marketplace from a trusted institution. There have been some questionable actors in the field of adult learning over the decades, which can tarnish the image of what the real high-quality players are doing. Our students have always been pretty discerning – there’s a value in attending DU.
Q: University College is working hard to stay ahead of the challenges facing higher education today (shrinking pool of qualified students, more competition, tuition pressures, technology, etc.). What are some things you are doing to stay successful? What differentiates you from your competition?
A: This is a dynamic time for higher education in general, as well as for non-traditional adult education. To stay competitive we have to “stick to our knitting.” At the core of what we do is to deliver a high-value education to students. I refer to value as more than quality; adult learners factor many things into the value proposition. They are looking for top content and instruction, they want to know what instructors will expect of them, they want to be in a program with strong peers and they need scheduling and instructional flexibility that can facilitate the integration of learning into their lives. They seek a learning experience that is relevant to where they are in their lives.
Quality and rigor are the most important components of our value proposition. High-quality is a subset of high-value. That’s where we’ve always been in the marketplace and where we need to continue to be. It’s a maturing market, and what happens in a mature market is that clearer distinctions are drawn between different providers; we want to stay on the high-value side of it.
We continually evaluate our programming; our academic program directors do an excellent job engaging with community and industry leaders to receive input about what’s going on in the different fields with regard to professional practice. We ensure our curriculum stays fresh and professionally relevant.
We also continually look at how we deliver our education to students. There is this shift happening where students are looking for more modularity. It’s important for us to explore how we can deliver that; how we can look at different formats and structures to help our students gain the education they need. Additionally, we want our alumni to feel like when they need a “tune-up” they can come back to us! We’re looking at our certificate programs, which are now six courses, to evaluate whether we should have different levels, including shorter options.
By Katie Watt
Posted June 2, 2015
Q: What does it mean to you to be appointed dean after serving as interim dean? With your experience and knowledge of the college, what are you hoping to bring to the programs?
A: It’s very humbling. I feel like I’ve been given a great opportunity to work with our faculty and staff to make changes to the model that will position us to be competitive and lead the field in the decades to come. There’s a lot of potential for UCOL locally. Denver and Colorado are really hubs of economic activity where innovation, knowledge and creativity thrive. We can play a role in supporting and nurturing this community. It’s just a really fantastic challenge, and one our faculty and staff are up for. UCOL faculty and staff have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and we really want to move on that.
I’ve had nearly two decades of experience at UCOL and in this segment of higher education, and I hope I can bring insights that can help UCOL become one of the leading continuing and professional education colleges in the nation. We want to be known as top-tier, which doesn’t mean the biggest. Right now, we are focusing on the goal of high-value, high-quality, as I mentioned previously. We spend a lot of time and energy on instructional best practices in adult education, including pedagogy and technology. New technology is emerging all the time, and it’s our job to evaluate that technology and train our faculty how to use it to enhance the learning experience for our students. We want to be one of the leaders who set best practices. This doesn’t mean we’ll be the largest, but we will be seen as thought leaders.
Q: How do you describe the value of collaborating with other University schools and departments?
A: Cross-unit collaboration is an advantage for all students who might be looking to come to DU. There are many opportunities for creative programming that fall in between different units, but by coming together, two or more groups can develop this programming that can serve a student population that we’re not serving right now.
We and Sturm College of Law recently received approval for a dual JD and MS in Healthcare Leadership. We’ve been partnering for many years with the department of Geography and Environment in the delivery of the online MS in Geographic Information Systems.
Right now, we’re collaborating with the Morgridge College of Education, the Graduate School of Professional Psychology and the Graduate School of Social Work to develop the Center for Professional Development. This new center will offer non-credit professional development courses. This gives us the opportunity to provide short courses for alumni, staff and community members to enhance their professional skills. We’ve already hired the executive director and are looking toward fall for an official launch. It’s very exciting; a program that will really benefit students, alumni and community members.
Q: What do you want our campus community to know about University College?
A: I would love people to know that we really focus on high value. We want to be a good, contributing citizen at DU, which includes collaboration with more units. A collaborative model is characteristic of what other leading colleges for adult education do, and collaborative relationships in a maturing market are also something the adult learner is looking for. They take into consideration how connected you are to other parts of campus and how they can benefit from that connection.
Finally, we really strive to provide an engaging and challenging education experience for our students that energizes them and allows them to contribute in their own way, to have a powerful impact in their profession and community. Our students and alumni are out there doing really great things!
By Katie Watt
Posted June 9, 2015