Article Written by Mitchell Welker.

As higher education evolves rapidly post-lockdown to fit a new job market, SCSU partnered with Academic Partnerships, a Dallas, TX based educational consultant, to launch three new online undergraduate program offerings that began on March 10th:

  • Bachelor of Science in General Business
  • Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering
  • Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BS)

According to the provost, Dr. Abbey Zink, SCSU was observing professionals attending online programs with institutions such as Arizona State instead of schools in Minnesota. These career-holders weren’t willing to give up their current jobs to return to an on-campus degree to further their goals, so SCSU chose the three most prominent and in-demand online courses to serve Minnesotans.

“If I’m a working adult and looking to finish my degree, how can I do that?” she asked rhetorically. “We need to adapt to the students of today, and we need to create multiple pathways for students to earn their degrees.”

Current enrollment numbers for these courses are fairly low, but the university expected them to start small. The nursing program leads the way since it had already transitioned to a 7 ½ week format prior to the introduction of the new online program.

The provost says she expects to see enrollment numbers increase for the fall semester as the university has additional time to market the programs. She also hopes that the number of women and other underrepresented demographics enrolling in these online courses will eventually exceed their face-to-face equivalents, indicating success in providing access and opportunity.

SCSU’s administration entered the partnership with Academic Partnerships on a basis of “let’s see how this works,” according to Dr. Zink. If they work out, SCSU could look to add to this list of online programs with the company in the future.

This new venture into fully-online and flexible class programs comes as a piece of ‘It’s Time’, SCSU’s masterplan for the future. ‘It’s Time’ debuted in fall semester 2019 and introduced radical steps to make the university more sustainable and accessible.

When SCSU President Dr. Robbyn Wacker announced her departure in fall 2023, many students began to grow curious about what the plan meant to the administration and whether anything about it would change with the departure of the president that oversaw it.

Dr. Zink responded by saying, “We’ve been given every indication from the system office that our work over the next two years is to continue on that strategic framework, and to think about how you implement it at an operational level… we all have work plans related to It’s Time, and we’re making good progress.”

She put it as “reinventing what it means to be a regional comprehensive.”

That is to mean a regional postsecondary educational institution with a comprehensive set of programs.

Dr. Zink said, “It’s been in the works for a long time, and campuses need a strategic framework to help guide and prioritize, otherwise you’re just all over the place. So, it provides us with areas to focus on. What are we going to be known for? How are we going to serve our students? How do we create tomorrow’s leaders?”

One of the provost’s specific duties was to improve the student experience, which involved coordinating the “reboot” of the class schedules beginning spring 2024.

This entailed curtailing inefficient and unstable scheduling, creating class waitlists, and beginning the establishment of a three-semester rotation in order to cement a predictable and stable set of classes for students to reliably plan around within their programs. Classes are also being moved more towards central campus to create a more vibrant atmosphere.

Dr. Zink recognizes that it was a swift change of the longstanding way of doing things from a student perspective, but that it was important to stop the wasteful practices as soon as possible.

The goal: to average at least 25 students in each class section. Currently, the only school on campus close to reaching the 25 average goal is the Herberger Business School. SCSU is actually, as of fall 2023, the most inefficient school in the Minnesota State System with regards to class sizes and spending. SCSU pays in to the state funding allocation rather than receiving grants, as a result.

The university has a “long way to go” to achieving its class size goals, says the provost, but there was one immediate effect of reorganizing schedules: the university has already saved $1 million, according to her.

In addition, the university has taken measures to consolidate and combine numerous schools across campus. The result? A further savings of $800,000 a year, she says. An admittedly impressive start to an ambitious plan.

Dr. Zink has been “impressed and encouraged” by the work being done at all levels of administration to help implement It’s Time in a meaningful way. She prays to one day have the “problem” of full classes.

“That would be fantastic!” she buoyantly remarked.

Although It’s Time hasn’t come without some teething pains for students or faculty, it still has the full dedicated backing of the university in spite of the changes at the top. And if it’s what St. Cloud State University needs to survive, and then thrive, in a swiftly changing world of postsecondary options, it’s a plan worth executing.

Secured By miniOrange