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SCS Celebrates 75th Anniversary: 1933–2008

Wieboldt Hall

After an uncertain beginning, boom times, and busts, the School of Continuing Studies is thriving as the very model of a 21st-century school.

courses offered in 2007–2008

In 1933 the structure of adult education at Northwestern was as fixed as the bricks of newly built Wieboldt Hall. Many years and a few name changes later, the School of Continuing Studies is much harder to describe: Is it a place where you can take courses for the pure joy of learning? A place where you can gain new knowledge or skills in an emerging field? A place where you can earn a degree or certificate to advance your career?

In fact, it is all of those things — and it’s a picture of continuing education at Northwestern that would have been inconceivable in the early 20th century. To be sure, for some at the University, the potential was always there. Northwestern began offering evening classes in 1905, but these programs often met with resistance from regular faculty in Evanston. It wasn’t until the 1920s and the arrival of Walter Dill Scott as president that adult education really got a foothold at Northwestern — largely because Scott made it his mission.

A golden opportunity

Assessing the University’s scattered efforts, Scott noted that the demand for adult education was growing. He understood that long-term success in this area required not only dollars and cents but also bricks and mortar. He also knew a golden opportunity when he saw it.

In 1925 Chicago department store magnate William Wieboldt decided to make a gift of $1 million to the University of Chicago. His son Raymond, a contractor who had done business with Northwestern, alerted Scott to the impending gift to a competitor: “You must prepare a prospectus for a project that will appeal to Father.” Scott laid out plans for an eight-story center for adult education on the Chicago campus, the father was persuaded, the gift was split between the two schools, and Wieboldt Hall opened in 1928.

Scott then set to work to expand the offerings for adult students in Chicago, adding a selection of credit courses for “those who learn by night.” About 300 students enrolled in 1928, and the number grew each year — even through the depths of the Depression. In 1933, recognizing that adult education had found a home at Northwestern, Northwestern’s Board of Trustees gathered all of the University’s part-time programs in arts, sciences, music, speech, and education to create a new school: University College.

University College was an immediate success. Students generally had one of three goals: completing a bachelor’s degree; completing a master’s degree (usually in education); or taking courses purely for pleasure. The school attracted 1,200 students in 1933–34 and more than 3,200 in 1937–38, and it remained strong even through the turmoil of World War II.

Boom and bust

The end of the war brought a flood of new students to University College: Fall 1945 enrollment surpassed the previous year’s by 500, and in 1947 University College reached a new peak of 6,900 students — a third of them veterans studying on the GI Bill. This was the beginning of University College’s first boom years. According to administrators, Northwestern’s was the third-largest adult education program in the country (after NYU’s and UCLA’s), and half the evening students in Chicago were coming to Northwestern.

These students tended to focus on immediate goals. In 1948 Northwestern’s president noted that most University College students were “interested in fitting themselves to earn a better living.” While the school offered degrees, few students earned them. Despite the thousands of students who took classes, only 1,100 bachelor’s degrees were awarded by University College between 1937 and 1962. Eventually the GI bubble burst, and enrollment dropped to 3,330 in 1953.

When times were lean, tension seemed to grow between the Chicago and Evanston campuses. When University College pushed for autonomy, deans of the schools in Evanston pushed back, arguing that since they were responsible for supplying both faculty and curriculum for University College, evening courses should be under their control. Space was perennially in short supply, and even in the boom years, money was tight.

faculty members

By 1954 these problems could no longer be ignored, and the University’s Board of Trustees ordered the first of several reorganizations, creating the North­western University Evening Division. Combining University College with Chicago-based evening programs in commerce, journalism, and hospital administration, the enrollment figures looked good at first glance, but interest in the old University College programs dwindled. In 1957 the University began to offer evening courses on the Evanston campus, but due to rising tuition, inflation, stricter admission standards, and increased competition from Chicago-area schools, enrollment continued to slide through the 1960s and 1970s. By 1973 there were only 3,600 evening students on both campuses.

A year later another administrative makeover resulted in the Division of Continuing Education. But that change failed to turn the program around, and soon the University commissioned a study of continuing education from Donald Collins, then vice dean at NYU. “It was clear that the market was there, and that it could be done — but that they weren’t doing it,” recalled Collins.

Old name, fresh approach

Collins himself had the opportunity to right the ship a few years later when he became associate provost at Northwestern. In 1983 in yet another restructuring, University College was reborn, and Collins was named dean. He and his team soon revamped and broadened the curriculum, offering nearly 40 different undergraduate majors and a range of certificate programs in subjects such as computer science, writing, accounting, and publishing. The master of arts in English program, which had gained little traction since it was founded in 1977, was revived, and a master’s program in liberal studies — an early example of an interdisciplinary humanities program at the University — was added in 1985. Collins also oversaw the 1987 founding of the Institute for Learning in Retirement (the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute since 2005), which became a model for similar programs around the country.

By the early 1990s enrollment soared to between 7,000 and 9,000. Faculty morale improved as teaching excellence was emphasized, and students touted the accessibility of a Northwestern-quality education. By the mid-1990s, however, the Chicago continuing education market again grew more competitive, and enrollment at Northwestern fell to about 4,000.

A 1998 self-study concluded that academic standards were high and undergraduate programs strong. It also revealed that University College’s audience was increasingly professional — management, banking, and health care were among the top professions noted — and that about half of these students took courses for personal enrichment. This seemed to suggest that University College was sitting on a field ripe for cultivation.

With Collins’s retirement in 1999, Richard Lorenzen became dean. With a mandate from the University to enlarge the College’s portfolio of educational offerings, Lorenzen spearheaded extensive market research. These efforts found an untapped audience of professionals, most with bachelor’s degrees and many having done graduate work, still hungry for education. The school began offering professional development programs to help students advance or change their careers. To reflect this broader agenda, the school’s name was changed to the School of Continuing Studies.

New opportunities

With the retirement of Lorenzen in 2002, Thomas F. Gibbons picked up the reins — and the pace — at SCS. As the founding director of DePaul University’s Office of Continuing and Professional Education, Gibbons had built that program into a significant force in the Chicago education market. Under Gibbons the academic core of degree programs at SCS has remained as strong and serious as ever — but there is something new as well.

Wieboldt Hall classroom
“On the one hand I see a lot of continuity and expansion of earlier SCS efforts,” says Robert Gundlach, professor of linguistics, director of the Writing Program, and interim athletic director at Northwestern. He has also taught in SCS master’s programs and worked on policy issues with SCS in his role on the graduate faculty advisory board. “On the other hand I see a really dramatic and wonderful new twist coming in the last three or four years. The leadership of SCS is thinking very hard about how students might be engaged by ever-more-sharply focused learning opportunities.”

Indeed, at SCS the cutting-edge techniques of niche marketing are being applied to the sometimes-cautious field of education. For example, the audience of career-minded students that SCS hoped to reach through its six initial professional development programs in 2000 has exploded. In response the school has created a kaleidoscopic array of degrees, certificates, institutes, and courses that cater to seemingly every level and area of interest — from several days at a Summer Institute to several years in a master’s program, in fields ranging from arts appraisal to forensics, from sports administration to premedicine. Today there are more than 60 certificate programs; SCS introduces new open enrollment courses and Summer Institutes every year, and if recent history is any guide, more graduate programs will be on the books in coming years as well.

From that career-focused base it was a short leap to adapt existing courses, or create custom classes, for corporate clients seeking to educate employees. These corporate clients have expanded SCS’s reach beyond Chicago — and even the United States — as business organizations increase international operations.

Powerful partners

What’s the source of all of this curricular creativity? Linda Salchenberger, associate dean for academics, explains that faculty and staff come up with a lot of the program ideas. That’s only natural, given that they are the people having the most contact with current SCS students. Increasingly, however, ideas for programs are coming from SCS’s academic partners within the University. Where once Northwestern’s lauded professional schools might have eyed an adult education program with suspicion, today they recognize the unique strengths SCS brings to the table.

undergraduate degree majors

A good example is the Master of Science in Medical Informatics Program, founded in 2006. “The Feinberg School of Medicine approached us about the MMI program,” explains Salchenberger. “They had the idea, and they knew that there were markets we could reach that they couldn’t. We have the ability to grant the degree, develop the curriculum with their faculty, admit and register students, and provide the customer service their students need and want.” The result is a pioneering program that has received an award for creative academic programming.

Also new this year is a graduate certificate in clinical research and regulatory administration, offered in partnership with the cutting-edge Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

graduate degree programs

In program development SCS leaves little to chance. “We always do a market test to see if the waters are deep enough,” says Salchenberger. In addition to market research, the school gets direct feedback from SCS students. “Students speak very quickly with their money and their feet,” says Qung W. Go, who has taught in the professional development program in information systems project management since retiring from Accenture in 2002. “If it’s not relevant, you’re not going to get the enrollment.”

Spinning the web

In January 2007 the master of science in medical informatics became the first graduate degree to be offered online at Northwestern (the onsite version continues as well). It was a natural extension of a program designed for a tech-savvy audience and a way to allow students outside Chicago — or those in the city with demanding schedules — the opportunity to pursue an important program. About 140 students are enrolled in the online MMI and about 60 in the onsite program.

As Northwestern’s first online degree program, SCS’s MMI program has broken new ground for the University. In spring 2008 Northwestern University received authorization from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools for SCS to offer master’s degrees online. SCS is the first school at Northwestern to receive such approval, which must be sought for any significant change in the University’s educational sites, including online degree delivery. This approval opens the door for SCS to develop and offer additional online master’s programs.

The reaction of the commission’s team after the November site visit gives an indication of how far ahead of the curve the school is in this area. “They said, ‘This is outstanding. We think you should be presenting to other accreditation bodies on how to do this well,’” says Joel Shapiro, assistant dean of graduate programs at SCS.

Online options are expanding in other programs as well. SCS has started offering individual online courses in the museum studies certificate program and will eventually offer the entire program over the web. Online instruction is combined with assignments related to field work in local museums. Here, as in several other SCS online/onsite hybrids, the split between Chicago-based students and those living elsewhere is about 50/50.

These web-based efforts are not limited to course delivery. In March the school launched a community web site for the medical informatics program intended to be a place where students can share research and best practices, learn about job opportunities, and discuss topics of current interest in health care. It also provides another avenue of interaction with faculty. Similar web sites for other programs are planned.

New styles of learning

Of course even the best-designed web-based communities and most rigorous distance learning experiences cannot replicate every aspect of a residential graduate program. That’s why SCS is implementing an on-campus component for online MMI students this spring. As part of the leadership course required of all master’s degree students at SCS, online MMI students will spend three days at Northwestern, where they will meet each other and faculty and participate in educational and experiential programs at the Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The goal is to strike a proper balance between distance learning and face-to-face interaction. “Creating a learning community around the subject matter is important,” says Salchenberger. “After graduation our students will have met colleagues and like-minded professionals from across the country through the program.”

new programs introduced in the last 12 months

Some will argue that technology-driven learning will inevitably change the way all classes are taught. To that SCS administrators say: Yes — and it will be better. Salchenberger says that SCS’s work with online learning has helped the school and its faculty stay in touch with the sort of learning and teaching styles students today want: “Much more interactive, much more engaging, much more applied, using problem-based learning, and focusing on learning outcomes.”

As students’ interests and needs change and the marketplace evolves, SCS is well-prepared not just to keep pace but to blaze the trail.

“With the retirement of the baby boomers and the millennials taking on leadership roles, there are lots of opportunities to provide new kinds of education,” Salchenberger says. “Smart companies are going to think about how to make that transition and how to share the institutional knowledge residing with all of these people who are about to retire.” Whether through corporate education programs or some future version of its professional development certificate programs, SCS is on track to meet these needs.

These efforts have been noted — and supported — by those at the top of the University. “The changes that have occurred in the School of Continuing Studies have been important both for the School and for the entire University,” says Northwestern President Henry S. Bienen. “By partnering with other schools within the University and developing innovative programs of its own, SCS has reaffirmed its importance to Northwestern and provided increased opportunities for nontraditional students to receive the benefit of a Northwestern education.”

awards for creative programming in the last three years

As it celebrates its 75th anniversary, the School of Continuing Studies has discovered that the key to success in continuing education in the 21st century — as it is in business, technology, medicine, and other fields — is continual innovation. Salchenberger says there’s really no alternative if you want to be a leader.

“Our mission is innovation and responsiveness to the marketplace. As you get closer and closer to the edge of being a leader, you have fewer and fewer schools to use as role models, and it becomes more challenging to come up with that next great program. You are forced to innovate.”

— Tom Fredrickson

The research of John Balz in his article “Hours of Destiny: The Promise and Peril of Night School of Northwestern” is gratefully acknowledged.
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