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Engaging Local Stakeholders through Targeted Programming (Part 2)

Engaging Local Stakeholders through Targeted Programming: Strategies for Increasing Access to Higher Education (Part 2)
Creating programs for working adults that tie directly into their careers and blend theory with practice is the best approach to successfully serving the local professional market.

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

Advantages of Partnerships

There have been specific advantages to partnering through contracts, memoranda of understanding or space use agreements between CSUN and various local and regional public sector agencies. The first advantage is reduction of renting and leasing fees. By signing non-financial agreements, the MPA program has been able to sustain lower overhead costs, thus transferring the savings to students, many of whom are employees of the particular governmental agencies. Second, by working collaboratively with various county and city managers, the program has identified pressing issues and challenges these departments face, thereby enhancing instructional strategies and delivery of content, increasing its relevance to the public sector audience. Third, by closely working with public sector partners, the MPA program has succeeded in reducing marketing costs and maintaining a competitive tuition.

One of the critical issues in the success of the MPA program has been the issue of cost effectiveness. Considering the rising cost of higher education, continual threat to student loans and the increase in borrowing costs, the MPA program has worked with the University’s finance department to maintain the cost of attendance within the reach of most individuals.

Finally, due to direct reliance on student tuition for the sustenance and expansion of the public sector programs at CSUN, the University has been able to forego state funding for one of the largest graduate programs in the state of California. Reliance on student tuition has allowed certain funds to be reimbursed to University departments and services, thereby enabling these units to withstand reductions in state funding.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

In summary, the creation of entrepreneurial graduate programs depends on clear definition of objectives and operationalization of these objectives by relying on subject matter experts from the community of professionals in the field. Simultaneously, it is essential for the program to have direct relevance and daily practical application to the needs of the clientele. It is also crucial to have a program that relies on strong academic, theoretical foundations along with practical aspects. Synergy of this nature is possible through careful curricular design and scheduling that permits students to take the theoretical courses up front and have more applied classes, such as budgeting or human resources, later as simulation-applied classes.

Use of the cohorted model allows for a greater educational undertaking as it is more focused and, presumably, more productive. This model motivates students and improves performance leading to greater comprehension of objectives, increased self-esteem grounded in group work and peer support, and also gives faculty the tools to address student deficiencies.

Finally, driving the curricular design based on the market needs of public sector agencies shows the agility and responsiveness of the non-traditional model of higher education designed for mid-career professionals.


In quite distinctive ways, this model facilitates a modus operandi for integrating “conceptual” and “practical” elements of professional activity through curriculum design and delivery. While this approach is appropriate for many types of students, it is especially effective in optimizing learning in adults and other non-traditional students. Using this model in the MPA program, CSUN has embarked on shifting a greater number of programs into the self-support model. By Fall 2013, it is anticipated the self-support Master of Social Work program will exceed enrollments as compared to the state-funded program on-campus. Collaborative partnerships, whether with public or private organizations, are becoming the preferred model of educational offerings by public higher education institutions.

To see the first article in this series, please click here.

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