The following interview is with Dave King, associate provost of outreach and engagement at Oregon State University. King is an industry leader when it comes to devising innovative approaches to post-graduate education; he and his team spearheaded a post-baccalaureate BS in computer science that’s turning the heads of employers and administrators alike. In this interview, he discusses innovation in the graduate education space and shares his thoughts on the role of outreach and continuing education (CE) in driving this innovation.
1. Why is it important for institutions to be innovative in their approaches to post-baccalaureate, graduate-level programming?
It’s important because of the competitive nature of the marketplace these days. We seem to be at a point where we’re seeing a lot of new programs that are being very creative in the way they attract students. Innovation is going to be critical to be successful. Innovation also really has to drive learner success. [The combination of the two] is why it is so important.
2. What role does outreach and CE typically play when it comes to innovating a university’s graduate programming?
We have a fairly unique integration here among our credit, non-credit and CE and extension programs. We try to create a ‘spectrum of access’ so any learner can find, across this spectrum, any spot they want to fall into that hits what they need.
It could be, from one end of the spectrum, just raw information straight from a research project that somebody with a PhD could manipulate for their own purposes in their business. On the other end would be fully online graduate degree programs. In the middle, you have all of these other areas that we’re talking about — CE, individual credit courses, undergraduate degree programs, extension programs.
The importance of connecting those is that when you start to create learning opportunities anywhere along that spectrum, you should be able to use those at other spots along the spectrum. That way, you’re improving learner success by providing them access to whatever type of learning opportunity they need.
3. Ideally, how should the responsibilities of individual faculties and outreach/CE be divided when it comes to creating and delivering innovative graduate-level programming?
Although the faculty members have responsibilities, it really should be driven more by the learner. There are learners out there who need graduate degrees, without question. Those folks are going to be rewarded for getting their graduate degree in the marketplace by employers and other entities in society. What really should drive it is what the learner needs are.
The graduate faculty who are creating these programs need to find a spot along the spectrum that supplies the learner access in the best way possible to [meet their] needs. Not everybody needs to have a degree. Take a 50-year-old worker; we still would like to see someone of that age come back to learn things, but they probably don’t need a graduate degree. They probably just need to be better at their job tomorrow.
4. When it comes to understanding what learners need, does outreach play a role at all in helping faculties understand what the various learners coming back to the school actually need, or is that more of a responsibility each faculty and department maintains internally?
Outreach, obviously, depending on how your institution comes at it, should have a better understanding of what’s going on in communities, in certain aspects of the target audience, because in many cases the outreach programs are actually in those communities and can bring that information back to the campus in a way that actually helps people understand what the needs are. Individual faculties and departments and disciplines, as a whole, all contribute to our understanding of what the learner needs are.
5. When it comes to developing the innovative approaches to delivering this programming, does outreach play a role there or is that again mostly held within departments themselves?
At our institution, there are quite a few faculty members we work with who have split appointments. They just naturally bring some of that outreach understanding to the table. But overall, no matter where you are within the faculty structure, it’s up to the faculty to understand the value of innovation in meeting the learner needs. Just, for instance, think about how you effectively improve learner success in a flipped classroom or in a blended classroom and apply that not only to the outreach areas, but to graduate programs and to others. We spend a lot of time worrying about economies of scope in graduate programs where we think about economies of scale in undergraduate programs. We need more graduate programs with a finite number of students who are successful. Innovation is about the only way we actually grow in those areas.
6. Is innovation an explicit priority of outreach units, or a byproduct of the demand to drive accessibility and revenue?
I don’t think you can be successful without innovation; however innovation unto itself probably is not going to be attractive enough to faculty members. You have to actually show how innovation improves learner success.
7. Is there anything you’d like to add about the role of innovation in graduate education and how outreach can take the lead in supporting an institution’s focus on graduate programming?
With the competitive nature of the graduate marketplace right now, the graduate students we’re getting are expecting to have as much opportunity of success as possible. A lot of times, we’ll see students come to a program fresh and new, who bring new ideas themselves. In engagement, in outreach, these days, what I say is we have to learn as much as we teach and listen as much as we talk. It’s not just any one of us or the early adopters or even the faculty administration or any individual sector in this discussion bringing innovation to someone else. Everybody involved, together, learning from each other and then moving ahead with the innovative ideas.
This interview has been edited for length.
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- In order for an institution to be successful in the modern higher education marketplace, innovation must come from every level, not just continuing education.
- Innovation is critical to ensuring an institution can meet the needs of prospective students at every stage of the academic spectrum.