Published on 2013/08/27
Engaging Local Stakeholders through Targeted Programming: Strategies for Increasing Access to Higher Education (Part 1)
While creating programming that appeals to local industry is an important step for higher education institutions, structuring it to meet the needs of the students who will be enrolling is equally important.

This two-part series describes how the Master of Public Administration program at California State University, Northridge took advantage of its urban location and developed extensive graduate degree and certificate programs through partnerships with local public agencies.

Today’s urban-serving universities should take greater advantage of their location by engaging the stakeholders they plan to serve, thereby enhancing their curricular strengths.

American national political and thought leaders continue to identify the educated population as a catalyst for greater urban prosperity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the past three decades, higher educational attainment among 25 to 29-year-olds has increased from 22 to 32 percent for baccalaureate degrees and experienced a two-percent increase among master’s degrees. The Center projects a 13-percent increase from 2009 to 2020. While state funding for public higher education institutions continue to decline (as a percentage of state funding), the trend of students seeking higher degrees will continue. In fact, according to a National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2006) analysis, state spending and revenues will continue to decline as states face potential budget deficits and their obligations towards unfunded mandates. With these trends in mind, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) embarked on positioning and identifying areas of growth in order to supplement declining revenues through entrepreneurial initiatives, such as increases in grants and contracts as well as the design of more programs aimed at mid-career adults. To this end, the University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, in partnership with the Roland Tseng College of Extended Learning, embarked on developing educational programs specifically designed to meet the career aspirations of working professionals.

Public-Public Partnerships and Advancement of Educational Opportunities

The start of public sector programs is not new to CSUN. Thirty years ago, when the CSU Chancellor’s Office decided to end the consortium of all of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs, many campuses decided to house this particular program within a specific college. The MPA program became the first self-supported entrepreneurial program at CSUN, whereby students paid for each course directly without any state subsidies or funding. This model continued until 2000, when deans at both the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Tseng College changed. Under the new administration, and as a result of a shift in state financing, top administrators shifted the priorities within the College away from non-credit programs to graduate credit programs based on self-support. The original design of the MPA program with direct reliance on self-support and student tuition became the preferred mode of delivery for this program aimed at mid-career adults. In 2004, a new director emphasized a different approach by launching the MPA program in a cohorted model at various off-campus locations with set start and end dates, fixed tuition, fixed curriculum and in direct partnership with local and regional governmental agencies. This strategic move allowed mid-career adults to join the program without the uncertainties related to scheduling, pricing and other issues associated with traditional models. Although eliminating some elements of choice, this fully-structured model has enabled mid-career adults to take advantage of the MPA program, ensuring better graduation rates and time-to-degree success. The program has increased from 200 to approximately 1,300 enrollments during the seven years since the inception of this model.

This was the first of a two-part series shedding light on CSUN’s process of creating a graduate degree and certificate program specifically geared to the needs of a major local employer. To read the conclusion of this series, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Ian Richardson 2013/08/27 at 9:59 am

Sometimes it scares me how “novel” it seems to “meet (students) where they live”, but that seems to be the driving theme behind this article.

A program was designed for working professionals in such a way that working professionals would actually be able to enroll in and take the courses conveniently. This should be how all programs are designed, not just some.

What I’m trying to say is that while this program appears to be the exception, it should be the rule. And it’s high time that we, as an industry, saw that.

Ryan Loche 2013/08/28 at 1:00 pm

Sounds like a great initiative on CSU Northridge’s part to revamp an existing program to better serve an identified local population. I would be interested to know how CSU Northridge determined how to structure the program. Minassians says some elements of choice were removed and others (tuition, time to completion) were fixed; I wonder if there was any consultation with prospective students before settling on these terms.

C Demichelis 2013/08/28 at 2:28 pm

This is an interesting piece.

It’s not often I find literature on targeting mid-career adults, who presumably already have some type of postsecondary credential. The focus of a lot of pieces about non-traditional higher education seems to be on adults who are enrolling for the first time or reentering without previously completing a credential.

I hope the second part of this series will touch on how CSU Northridge came to identify mid-career adults as a target market, and the strategies adopted by the institution to develop and market programs for this particular group.

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