Rowan targets graduate students

When 25-year-old Ashley Symons decided to pursue a master's degree in secondary education she started looking for a college with a program that was close and convenient.

A Rowan University graduate who lives in Washington Township, Symons ended up choosing Wilmington College because she liked the customer service and the way the program fit with her daytime work schedule. Fifteen months later, Symons is student teaching and is on schedule to get her degree in January.

Symons, who decided to continue her education after she was unable to find a job with her undergraduate psychology degree, is the kind of student Rowan University wants to attract with a new initiative being called the College of Professional and Continuing Education.

By new Provost Ali Houshmand's calculation, there are some 1.4 million people living in the South Jersey region age 25 to 64, an age bracket Rowan University for the most part has been unable to serve with the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. traditional classroom set-up.

Like Symons, many who are looking to advance their career through education turn either to for-profit institutions or any number of the continuing education options at private and public colleges and universities in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

"We're ignoring a large segment of the population because we have never created a program for them," Houshmand said.

Houshmand and the new college's dean Horacio Sosa know what it takes to grow a continuing education program. The duo of former Drexel University administrators were hired earlier this year and touted for their successes growing the Goodwin College of Professional Studies into a 2,000-student college that generates approximately $22 million in annual revenue.

Bill Lynch, interim dean of the Goodwin College, said accessibility and flexibility are key to the Philadelphia-based private university's adult education programs.

"We're pretty much looking at every opportunity we can to make it more flexible and convenient," Lynch said.

This philosophy has led to the private college forming partnerships with Burlington County College and other area community colleges and signing articulation and dual enrollment agreements. It has also led to the development of accelerated programs with classes offered partially and fully online, on Saturdays and in the evenings.

A similar concept is behind Rowan's new college, which will serve the region with online, evening and weekend classes on the Glassboro and Camden campuses as well as at other satellite locations beginning in the fall of 2007.

"The population is there and it's our obligation to provide the education to that population," said Houshmand, who has been traveling to area community colleges to pitch the new college program in hopes of forming partnerships.

According to a 2005 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau of the Philadelphia metropolitan region, there are 392,257 people 25 years and older in the region with some college and no degree, 15 percent of the 2.5 million people who fit into that age category. Another 150,955 have associate's degrees, according to the survey.

Those numbers are driving an unprecedented increase in demand for higher education degrees and certificates from employers, according to Lisa Paris, communications manager for Peirce College, a center city Philadelphia school that has been dedicated to non-traditional learners since its inception in 1865.

"I think the bar has been raised with employers," Paris said. "A bachelor's degree is often a minimum requirement for many jobs."

Rowan, which has seen part-time enrollment numbers drop from 4,162 to 2,370 between 1992 and 2004, isn't alone in its efforts to tap into the under-served market.

Emily Richardson, dean of university college at the Chester, Pa.-based Widener University, sat on a Rutgers University panel last week focusing on providing more access for adult learners within the university system.

"More people are going back to college than ever before," Richardson said. "It's a time for a lot of universities to look at their situation and see how they can better serve this population."

More details about Rowan's new college are available at www.rowan.edu/colleges/cpce.

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Date Published: Monday, November 13, 2006 (All day)