2009 - A Request for a Change in Educational Offerings

What change is being proposed?  

Western State College of Colorado currently offers baccalaureate programs and requests Commission approval to extend our accreditation to include offerings at the master’s degree level. Proposed are graduate offerings that provide professional development opportunities and educational enrichment for citizens of the mountain communities of Colorado.


The three graduate-level programs proposed include a Master of Arts in Education that targets individuals who wish to be teacher-leaders within their school sites, reading leaders situated in the classroom or in school district-level positions, or educational administrator-leaders who have the capacity to direct school sites. Also proposed is a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing that is intended for students who are interested in commercial writing, poetry with an emphasis in formal verse, screenwriting, or a publishing certificate. Both the Master of Arts in Education and the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing are low-residency programs that utilize a combination of summer attendance on campus and online delivery. Teacher Institute professional development courses are proposed to provide continuing education for practicing teachers, and the curriculum includes both in-service classes and workshops during the school year, as well as an intensive two-week summer program. Courses offered by the Teacher Institute do not lead to a degree.


More complete descriptions of these three programs are presented in Appendix 1. Each program description provides the following information: 1) a program overview; 2) the connection to the College’s mission; 3) the delivery method; 4) research, including information on similar programs, 5) market and demand for the program; 6) the faculty; and 7) a budget.

 All graduate degree programs and courses are to be financially self-sustaining, with tuition and fees sufficient to cover the direct and indirect costs associated with the graduate program. All graduate programs will be financially managed through the College’s Extended Studies Program. Each of the three program proposals included in Appendix 1 contains budget information. Appendix 2 presents a summary of the College budget and that of the Extended Studies Program.


The student enrollment and financial impact of graduate programs, even at full implementation, is expected to be minimal. Graduate program full-time equivalent students (FTE-S) are expected to be no more than 200 (M.A. in Education, 130; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, 50; and Teacher Institute, 20). This is less than 10 percent of the College’s undergraduate FTE-S of over 2,000. In total, the graduate program budget will remain less than $2 million, approximately 5 percent of the College’s current budget of $38.5 million.


The primary reason for this proposed change in educational offerings is to better serve the educational needs of citizens in the region and thereby allow the College to better fulfill its statutory role and mission as a public institution of higher education in Colorado. The College’s role and mission currently reads:

C.R.S. 23-56-101. College established - role and mission. There is hereby established a college at Gunnison, which shall be known as Western state college of Colorado. Western state college of Colorado shall be a general baccalaureate institution with moderately selective admission standards. Western state college of Colorado shall offer undergraduate liberal arts and sciences, teacher preparation, and business degree programs and a limited number of graduate programs. Western state college of Colorado shall also serve as a regional education provider. 

The Commission’s policy relevant to this change request is Policy I.C.2.b: change in educational offerings.

What factors lead the organization to undertake the proposed change? 

Institutional History of Offering Graduate Programs: Western was established in 1901 as the Colorado Normal School and began offering classes in 1911. As the first college on Colorado’s Western Slope, the College prepared teachers for the state’s growing rural school districts. Teacher preparation included baccalaureate curricula and the first master’s degree was awarded in 1921.


In 1923, the College became Western State College of Colorado and expanded its undergraduate and graduate programs to better meet the educational needs of the Western Slope. The number of graduate students increased through the decades, and consistent with the College’s history in preparing educators, the majority of graduate degrees awarded were in teacher education. For example, in the late seventies, 70% of the masters degrees awarded were in teacher education and the remaining degrees were awarded in the fields of business, science, social studies, English, and music.


In 1985, HB85-1187 redefined the responsibilities of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), which included functions of program review, reduction, and discontinuance. The CCHE initiated three projects to carry out this discontinuance effort: the Teacher Education Project, the System-wide Reduction and Discontinuance Project, and the Graduate Differentiation Project. These projects led the CCHE to direct the College to discontinue the awarding of master-level degrees.


In 1988-1989, just one year before graduate studies at Western were discontinued, the College awarded 158 masters degrees. The last graduate degree was awarded in 1989-1990.


Meeting the Need for Graduate Studies in the Region: The discontinuance of graduate programs in 1990 reduced educational opportunities to regional residents and has particularly hampered the College’s ability to provide continuing education opportunities to Western Slope teachers. Currently, any graduate credits must be “brokered.” That is, even though Western assesses need and Western faculty members develop and teach the graduate courses on the Western campus, another institution is contracted to issue the graduate credits. A fee is paid, at additional cost to students, to the contracted institution that ultimately issues the graduate transcript. This has not been met with enthusiasm by students. In fact, frequently students express displeasure that their credits are transcripted by a second institution with which they have had no contact or affiliation.

In 2008-2009, Western delivered, as brokered through other institutions, 54 graduate courses, enrolling 537 students (head count) and generating 31 student FTE.

The inconvenience of brokering graduate credits and the extra cost in doing so has had a consequence: Western regularly provides post-BA teachers and administrators undergraduate credit for courses that could qualify for graduate credit at other institutions.


Western State College of Colorado as a Regional Education Provider: In 2003, Western was statutorily designated as a “regional education provider.” Western has taken this responsibility seriously. In assessing regional needs, certainly of highest importance has been meeting the educational needs of area k-12 teachers. This includes strong demand for graduate credit.


Western has been delivering graduate credit and programs under the auspices of other institutions, but this has its limitations. The academic integrity and financial sustainability of the programs can be better assured with College oversight and accountability. This was realized by the Colorado General Assembly in 2007 when legislators revised Western’s statutory role and mission to again include graduate programs.


Since the spring of 2007 when the governor signed the role-and-mission legislation, the College has been working diligently and thoughtfully on the development of graduate programs. These programs will not only help the College meet its statutory obligation; they will also help meet educational needs of citizens in the region.

What necessary approvals have been obtained to implement the proposed change?

The three graduate programs proposed were conceived, developed, and proposed by the faculty in the Teacher Education Program (M.A. in Education and Teacher Institute courses) and the English Program (M.F.A. in Creative Writing). These proposals were then reviewed, amended, and approved by—in order—the Graduate Studies Committee, the Curriculum Committee, and the Faculty Senate. The proposals were then reviewed and approved by the Vice President for Academic Affairs.


Per the policies of the Western State College of Colorado Board of Trustees, new degree programs must be approved by the Board. The M.A. in Education was approved by the Board on December 12, 2008. The M.F.A. in Creative Writing was approved by the Board on February 20, 2009.


In the State of Colorado, degree programs that lead to teacher licensure must be approved be the Colorado State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The State Board of Education approved the M.A. in Education on June 10, 2009 and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education followed with their approval on July 9, 2009.


Documentation of these external approvals is provided in Appendix 3.

What impact might the proposed change have on challenges identified by the Commission as part of or subsequent to the last comprehensive visit? 

The last comprehensive visit to Western State College of Colorado by the Higher Learning Commission occurred during spring 2003. Two challenges were identified in the areas of the general education program and assessment. The College addressed these challenges and submitted a written report concerning the general education program to the Higher Learning Commission in 2004 and hosted a focus visit related to assessment in 2006.


We do not see the implementation of graduate programs as having negative impact on the general education program nor the assessment program. Encouraging is that our past and ongoing work on assessment will greatly assist us in the assessment of graduate courses and programs.

What are the organization’s plans to implement and sustain the proposed change? 

The faculty has spent over two years discussing the appropriateness and viability of graduate programs at Western, graduate studies administration, funding, policies, and procedures. This work has involved several faculty teams including the academic department chairs and directors, the Academic Policies Committee, the Curriculum Committee, the Assessment Committee, and the Faculty Senate. The faculty dialogue has been open and frank and the work thoughtful and purposeful. As ultimately forwarded by the Faculty Senate, the recommendations have been those that will help the College balance our commitment to undergraduate teaching and learning and our dedication to meeting the needs of regional citizens desiring graduate programs. Maintaining academic integrity and excellence of both the undergraduate and graduate programs have been objectives throughout this effort. 

The College has had to reinstitute an administrative structure for graduate programs. Graduate studies oversight has utilized primarily existing structures, such as the Faculty Senate and its standing committees (e.g., the Academic Policies, Curriculum, and Assessment committees) and the office of Academic Affairs. Unique in this administration of graduate studies are: 1) oversight provided by a Graduate Studies Council, a new standing committee of the Faculty Senate; 2) a designated graduate faculty; and 3) leadership by an Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies. Descriptions of these three new, integral elements in graduate-studies administration are included in Appendix 4.


The College has used this faculty and administrative structure to develop policies and procedures to manage curriculum development, student admissions, and records. The policies related to graduate studies are included in Appendix 5.


This structure for graduate studies administration and fundamental graduate studies policies were approved by the Faculty Senate on February 11, 2008. Included in this work was the amending of the Faculty Senate bylaws to include a new standing subcommittee, the Graduate Studies Council. At the February 25, 2008 Senate meeting, nine faculty members were nominated for the five-person Graduate Council, with final selections made at the March 3, 2008 meeting.


With the organizational structure in place, it was possible to seat the Graduate Studies Council and for them to become oriented to their work as outlined by the campus community and to begin reviewing graduate-program proposals and graduate courses.


During the next year, the Graduate Studies Council provided initial review and evaluation of three graduate programs as proposed by departmental faculty. Their positive recommendations were then forwarded for consideration per the College, Board of Trustees, and state curriculum review processes. Ultimately the three proposed programs are those presented in this request to the Higher Learning Commission.


The two proposed degree programs are low-residence programs, meaning that much of the resources, communication with staff and faculty, registration, and advising will be made available through electronic means. Each of the five separate components in the Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs has been reviewed regarding our degree programs. Critical are the College’s provision of technological infrastructure and information technology (IT) support necessary to maintain reliable Internet connections and access to the course management system (Blackboard), email, and other web-based services. These demands are similar to those imposed by the undergraduate programming, and the College is committed to supporting the IT needs of these graduate offerings.


The director of the library or her designee serves on the Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Senate and in this capacity participated in the review of the proposed graduate programs. This allowed for the assessment of information resource and service needs. The graduate programs will utilize existing library resources and services.  The library director does not anticipate purchasing or acquiring additional materials or resources to accommodate the graduate program.  Library collections, primarily electronic research databases acquired for the undergraduate curriculum and professional needs of faculty researchers, will be available for students and faculty in graduate programs. Should additional resources be needed in the future, the College is committed to providing such resources as necessary to deliver an outstanding graduate education.


Students in remote locations can access most of the library’s databases and electronic materials online. Like current Western students who do not reside on campus, Western’s graduate students will be able to conduct research using the library’s catalog and databases via the Internet.


The library’s interlibrary loan services will be available to graduate students when resources can be delivered electronically. At present, 95 percent of the articles requested through interlibrary loan services are delivered via e-mail. Through the Colorado Libraries Collaborate program, many graduate students who reside in Colorado will be able to utilize their local public libraries to access print resources. Western’s library staff will assist in any way feasible to obtain the resources that our graduate students require.

 The library supports two virtual reference services that will benefit a low-residence graduate program. A chat service allows students to communicate directly with a Western librarian. The State of Colorado’s AskColorado virtual reference service puts any library patron in touch with a Colorado librarian.


Library staff members also are available to faculty, including graduate program faculty, to provide access to resources on the use of the College’s course management system. Tutorials and guides will be developed as needed to support the graduate curriculum and enhance the students’ learning experiences.


Graduate students will be eligible for financial aid through student loans, primarily federal Department of Education loans. Once accreditation is earned, the College’s financial aid office will begin the work necessary to access these loans. The Western State College Foundation College currently provides over $500,000 annually for undergraduate scholarships. With the establishment of the graduate program, fund raising and establishment of endowments specifically for graduate student scholarships will become possible.


The Ann Zugelder Endowment provides funds of approximately $20,000 per year to offset costs of the Teacher Institute and keep the tuition affordable for educators seeking professional development opportunities.


The faculty has worked diligently to prepare for the offering of these graduate programs. With an extension of the College’s accreditation to master-level programs, the College would promptly begin testing necessary procedures and prepare to market the programs. Should HLC approval come in the spring of 2010, implementation would begin as soon as summer of 2010.

What are the organization’s strategies to evaluate the proposed change?

The expected outcome of this change will be to offer exemplary graduate-level courses and programs on the Western campus and for the College to be better positioned as a regional education provider. An increase in summer student enrollment is also anticipated. These outcomes will be measured by student enrollment and the number of course offerings; assessment measures of student learning; and public and employer input on the College’s ability to meet the continuing education needs of regional citizens. The Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies will report annually to the campus community and the Board of Trustees regarding graduate student enrollment and program sustainability.


Assessment for the graduate degree programs will be similar to that of the undergraduate programs. An outline of program goals will be submitted to the Assessment Committee, and a complete discipline assessment plan, describing the level of student learning and how goals have been met, will be required in May of each academic year.
The Assessment Committee’s charge requires that every discipline submits discipline and program goals, as well as a full discipline assessment plan each academic year. These submissions are reviewed by the Assessment Committee, and feedback is provided to the disciplines. During the review of annual discipline assessment plans, the Assessment Committee will examine graduate assessment goals set by disciplines and monitor assessment progress.


The College’s assessment of academic programs also includes a more extensive program review, which occurs every five to seven years. These reviews utilize annual assessment data as well as the input of an external reviewer. Identification of strengths, challenges, and recommendations for improvement are an outcome of each program review. Graduate degree programs will be scheduled for such reviews.



   Appendix 1    Proposed Graduate Programs

Master of Arts in Education Proposal

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Proposal

Teacher Institute Proposal

   Appendix 2     College and Extended Studies Budget Summaries

   Appendix 3     Documentation of External Approvals

   Appendix 4     Administration of Graduate Studies

   Appendix 5     Graduate Studies Policies