On my white board in my office at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), I have written down three big questions which I hope at some point during my time here to be able to answer:
- Why are we here? I am interested in answering that question for both the school itself and for the program/major I am responsible for, Information Systems Management (IFSM).
- How do we help faculty to make a difference?
- How do we reduce barriers to student success?
Our mission is to provide education to adult learners, what are often called non-traditional students. This is expounded on in the UMUC web page here.
I have read that much of the growing income disparity in the US can be traced to an income gap between those who have a college degree and those who do not. Worse, it seems that in families where the parents do not have a college degree it is increasingly unlikely that the children will. UMUC, and schools like it have an important role in solving for this disparity.
About 85% of the classes being taught at UMUC are provided on-line, the rest are what we call hybrid, typically the latter meet one evening a week with the rest of the interaction on-line. My second question relates to defining best practices for faculty teaching often in an on-line environment, generally to non-traditional students. The answer is not obvious, at least to me.
Our students are generally more mature than traditional students; at least if being a bit older can be equated to being more mature (my wife would argue the point in terms of her husband). However, they also have significant time demands, many with jobs and/or families that require a lot of their time and focus. While the trendlines regarding student completion rates are going up at UMUC, they require us to continually focus on how we can continue that improvement.
As I wrestle with these issues, the often overwhelming logistics challenges of managing some 200 part-time adjunct faculty, over 500 classes per year holding over 15,000 students, can distract from focusing on the why of what we are doing and the how we can improve.
At a minimum, it occurs to me that I and the IFSM team have the opportunity within our space to improve the lives of a group of students many of whom are the first in their family to get a degree and who often thought they personally never would. How often do we get to make a difference?