Education on trend

Written by Karen Long

This fall the kids born in the year 2000 head off to colleges across the country. This isn’t their parent’s higher education: As Generation Z takes over college campuses new opportunities in technology are opening up, students have more options than ever in how they structure their post-secondary experience — and they have an innovative variety of support as they complete it.

Stackable credentials

WSU Tech (formerly WATC) and Butler Community College have long been known for offering certificates and badges — short courses that award a microcredential and allow students to jump into the labor market right away — but now even four-year universities are getting in on the action.

“These are what I call stackable credentials,” says Andy McFayden, executive director of marketing and community outreach with WSU Tech. They’ve just put the finishing touches on an even closer affiliation with WSU, which will smooth the way for more flexible credits leading to four-year diplomas. While the two institutions will continue to grant degrees separately, they have shared governance. By combining their strengths they offer more streamlined pathways for students — from a GED on up to a Ph.D., and every possible combination in between.

The WSU faculty has just approved a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, according to WSU provost Dr. Richard Muma. The program will provide a track for graduates of WSU Tech’s associate of Applied Science degree. It’s being approved by the Board of Regents and should be launched fully next spring.

Two years after starting their WSU Workforce Education and Badge Program, WSU now offers over 60 different badges in everything from Jazz Improvisation to Computer Programming.

Lori Winningham, vice president of academics at Butler Community College, says they are redesigning programs and streamlining them with front-loaded credentials.

“If you want to be an auto technician you can go through our program, and in one year be out working in the field with your certification,” she says. The technician can be part of the workforce while completing an associate degree or knocking off some gen ed credits. Butler has also restructured their welding program this same way.

Friends University is beginning to partner with businesses to develop certifications and badge programs, starting this year with coding boot camps and Six Sigma workshops.

“The people who end up in those may not be in the market for a degree — or they may already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree,” says Dr. Ken Stoltzfus, dean of the college of business, arts, sciences and education. “But there are some kind of specialized skill they need that Friends might be able to connect them with.”

Combine all these institutional partnerships and stackable credentials with the ever-growing trends toward online education and high schoolers earning college-level credits, and the ability to structure your own college experience has never been greater.

Wrap-around services

Colleges in ICT are getting creative and developing 360-degree strategies to support students and ensure that they finish their educations.

At WSU over 40 percent of the student population are first-generation college attendees. “We’re really focused on supporting them and developing more wrap-around services for them once they get here, so they can graduate in a timely way,” says Muma. The university is part of a national program called Supplemental Instruction, in which peers who’ve already taken a particular course and done well help their fellow students find the resources they need to master the subject matter.

“It has a direct impact on improving the student’s GPA. We have long-term data analysis on that,” says Muma. In addition WSU also assigns transition mentors to freshmen, provides tutoring, and they’ve implemented a Student Early Alert System so professors can raise a flag early if they notice a student struggling.

Friends University is looking for ways to offer students “high-impact educational practices,” according to Stoltzfus. He says experiences such as seminars, internships, study abroad or conducting research with a faculty member are shared intellectual encounters that stand out to students once they’ve graduated. “Students who are involved in these high-impact practices as an undergrad — one, they’re more likely to graduate, and two they tend to do better academically.”

Butler is seeing similar success with their Accelerated Learning Program, or ALP, according to Winningham. Instead of enrolling in a single developmental course in english or math, students take it simultaneously with the regular college-level class to shore up areas of weakness. Butler has also overhauled their traditional three-hour math and english courses by breaking them down into one-credit-hour modules.

“Students come in and they only have to take what they need. That saves them time,” Winningham says. “And the really cool thing is, we’ve seen as much as a 20 percent increase in students’ success.”

The popular Wichita Promise program at WSU Tech, providing guaranteed tuition and fees for a handful of programs every semester, has been in place for a couple of years now, says McFayden. In June they received a $500,000 grant from the Wichita Community Foundation for the new Wichita Promise Move program, which will also cover relocation costs, living expenses and potentially signing bonuses for students who relocate from out of state to study for high-demand careers.

“Our message is we want to invest in folks to move here, live here, grow and be a successful part of the community,” says McFayden.

High-flying technology

It’s an exciting time for students of any age who are interested in cybersecurity, drones or game design — and it’s never been easier to get started in these tech specialties.

“I saw something recently,” says Winningham, “that said Wichita’s becoming known as the cybersecurity center with all the different schools offering degree options in that particular area.” Butler recently signed a 2+2 articulation agreement with Friends University to allow students to earn an associate in Cyber Security and then transfer to earn a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security at Friends — or even go for a master’s.

Starting this fall WSU Tech will also offer a brand new cybersecurity track in their Information Technology Systems program according to McFayden. Graduates can transfer to WSU to complete a major in Engineering Technology with a concentration in cybersecurity.

Winningham says that Butler is launching their Unmanned Aircraft Systems major this fall in partnership with Kansas State Polytechnic, which has the number-two-ranked UAS program in the nation.

“The field of drones and unmanned aircraft is exploding,” she says, “The technology is applicable in agriculture, real estate, insurance, photography, mass communications and more.”

At WSU, Muma says they’re looking closely at Generation Z and the “gamification of education.”

“How can we engage this new generation around this interest in gaming? It’s being talked about a lot in education, and it’s already led to a lot of things we’ve experienced — particularly in health care — such as robotic surgery and simulation.”

The university is working on offering certificates, badges and even a full-on degree program in the field. The program is housed in Shocker Studios, home to the new Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts, in the newly renovated Harry Street Mall. A branch of WSU Tech will be joining them there when the center fully opens this fall.

“We’re really interested in it,” says Muma, “not just because of the technology side; it also brings in the liberal arts because there are design aspects, there are writing aspects and also the fine arts. It brings in so many different aspects.”

 
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