ITEM 116-2802-R0902  Proposal                                                September 19-20, 2002

Objectives and Needs

 

Enhancement of the institution’s approved mission and objectives. “Service to its region” is an element of the Montana State University-Northern mission.  The proposed program serves the needs of members of the regional population who, while their career goals may require further study outside of the north central region of Montana, are reluctant to relocate for financial, social or cultural reasons at the time of initial enrollment.

 

Maintenance of “strong partnerships,” including educational partnerships, is also an aspect of the institution’s mission. The Associate of Arts degree would create a structure to support new partnerships between MSU-Northern and other institutions, especially partnerships with other units of the Montana University System. The proposed degree emphasizes studies generally recognized as transferable, and explicitly so recognized within the university system.  At the same time, the degree would permit enough election  to allow students to tailor their studies during the first two years to meet specific program requirements at institutions to which they might intend to transfer.

 

Improvement in enrollment/retention is recognized as a major priority in the institution’s Master Plan.  As an open admissions institution, Montana State University- Northern admits many students whose educational goals are not well formulated at the time of enrollment. While some students categorized as “undecided” may simply have failed to communicate a major preference and others may in fact have “decided” to transfer, students with undefined educational goals comprise a significant fraction of the institution’s total enrollment.  Advisors have long recognized that these “undecided” students are at high risk for dropping out. Provision for a coherent but flexible plan of study, such as the proposed Associate of Arts degree, would support efforts to retain these students.

 

Need for the program

1.   Student demand.  Initial enrollment in this program is expected from the current undecided population, and from the imperfectly overlapping population of students who transfer from Montana State University-Northern to other baccalaureate degree granting institutions.   Data provided by the institution’s Registrar’s Office indicate that many Montana State University-Northern students are “undecided,” and that their number may be increasing.  Appendix C shows that the average number of undecided students at MSU-Northern over the last 5 years, is 157.  In fact, for Fall 2001, the number of “undecided” students, 182, equaled enrollment in Elementary Education, long the institution’s most heavily subscribed major.  Admissions personnel predict that a majority of students who would otherwise be undecided would enroll as Associate of Arts students.

 

Retention of “undecided” students is also a problem for MSU-Northern. . . or any educational institution.  Since their educational goals are unformed, undecided students are extremely fragile and vulnerable.  Appendix D sets out the retention rates for undecided students at MSU-Northern during the last two years of complete data.  That data demonstrates that on average, 37% of undecided students leave MSU-Northern.  That compares to 24% of all other MSU-Northern students during the same time period.

 

Inter unit transfer data provided by the Commissioner’s Office show that 36 students who had previously enrolled at Montana State University-Northern attended other Montana baccalaureate degree granting institutions in the Fall of 2001 (data concerning transfer to out-of-state institutions were not available at this writing). A degree providing for completion of the university system lower division general education requirement and incorporating the system transferable core would benefit many of these students.

 

It is reasonable to estimate that 100 plus students would enroll in the program for the first fall term during which the Associate of Arts degree became available. 

 

2.   Economic development and manpower needs.    Many states plan for entry into the higher education system for financially limited or site-bound citizens, or citizens who know they will seek a baccalaureate degree, but haven’t determined which degree, through strategically located community or junior colleges which offer an associate of arts degree designed for transfer to a multi-university.  Montana has established very few of these special purpose entry points (with the exception of the tribal colleges, none in Montana State University-Northern’s  primary service region).  As a result, financially limited, site-bound, or undecided students may initially enroll at one of the state=s regional universities, with little regard to the baccalaureate programs available at that university.  This creates a conundrum.  It is in the interest of state work force development to provide qualified citizens from north central Montana a route to specialized baccalaureate programs.  It is not in the interest of the State to support every specialized baccalaureate program at every regional university.  Creation of an associate of arts degree designed for transfer, especially transfer within the university system, serves the State=s interest of workforce preparation by providing a route to specialized baccalaureate programs for citizens of the north central region.

 

Because the Associate of Arts is not a terminal degree, it is not possible to say which sectors of the workforce students who complete the degree would enter.  In the case of students who would transfer from MSU-Northern after completing the degree, informal feedback from previous transfer students indicates a wide range of high demand occupations, from special education teacher to pharmacist.

 

3.   New courses and course requirements.  No new courses are proposed.  The Associate of Arts degree would require 15 to 16 credit hours of Fundamental Skills Courses, 27 to 29 hours of General Education (all but six from the Transferable Core), and 18 credit hours of free electives.  Appendices A and B describe the proposed program content in more detail.

The degree has been reviewed by the internal curriculum proposal process in place at Montana State University-Northern.  That process includes approval by the Faculty Senate, the full faculty, the Provost and the Chancellor.

 

Adequacy, Accreditation and Assessment Issues

 

1.   Adequacy of present faculty, facilities, equipment and library holdings. All courses included in the proposed Associate of Arts degree as required or selective are currently offered by Montana State University-Northern.  In fact, all of them are taken by other students to satisfy MSU-Northern general education requirements or specific degree coursework.  Qualified faculty are employed to teach those courses, and are adequately supported in terms of library holdings, facilities and equipment. The institution currently has the capacity for future expanded enrollment in this program, with the exception of existing sections of limited enrollment general education skills courses.  To meet expanded enrollment, the institution would contract with adjunct faculty to provide additional sections of courses such as algebra, speech and college writing.

 

2.   Special accreditation.  No special accreditation efforts would be required to establish the program.

 

3.   Assessment plan. The required fundamental skills courses, in mathematics, English, speech, and computer science are currently assessed by program faculty, as reported to the Northwest Association of  Schools and Colleges.  An Educational Master Plan developed during the past year commits the institution to assessing its general education program in terms of Core Educational Values.  All fundamental skills and transferable core courses would be subject to that assessment.  The same Master Plan calls for assessment of all programs according to an Academic Score Card.  That Score Card is attached as Appendix E.

 

Impact on Faculty, Facilities, Costs, Students, and Other Departments and Campuses

 

1.   Additional Faculty requirements.  No additional faculty would be required to establish the proposed Associate of Arts degree. In the event of future expanded enrollment, the institution would contract with adjunct faculty as needed to teach additional sections of fundamental skills classes.  The current cost for contracted adjunct faculty instruction at Montana State University-Northern is $500 per credit hour.

 

2.   Impact on facilities. Establishment of the program would create no new impact on facilities.  Facilities are adequate to support expanded future enrollment.

 

3.   New costs.  Creation of the program would create no new costs.

 

4.   Impact on enrollment.  It is estimated that 100 students would enroll in the Associate of Arts degree during the first fall term in which the program becomes available. However, since initial enrollment is expected to come almost entirely from students who otherwise would register as undecided, the program is not expected to impact total institutional enrollment when established.   While it is recognized that, in the future, the program might attract additional students from the north central region of the State who might otherwise enroll at other institutions, or fail to enter the higher education system, no realistic estimate for those student numbers is available.

 

5.   Number of graduates.  Since the Associate of Arts degree is new at MSU-Northern, an estimate of graduates is difficult.  Using retention percentages as a guide, however, it may be reasonable to expect 40 graduates/year; or 400 over a 10-year period.

 

6.   Student-faculty ratio:  Since the program requires a minimum of 63 credits, depending on the specific courses selected for the degree, the Associate of Arts degree will require 2.63 faculty to deliver the coursework.  I.E., 63/24.  If number of majors reaches 100 students, the student/faculty ratio is 38:1.

 

7.   Relationship to other programs on campus.  No similar program is offered by Montana State University- Northern.  With the exception of a required Introduction to Computers (CIS 110) course and six credits in Technology and Applied Arts (Area D), all required or selective courses in the proposed degree are offered by the College of Arts and Sciences.

 

8.   Relationship to other institutions.  The Commissioner’s office reports that the Associate of Arts degree is available from the following state institutions:  Missoula College of Technology-University of Montana, Montana State University-Billings, the University of Montana-Western, Dawson Community College, and Flathead Valley Community College.  In the north central region of the state, the following tribal colleges offer this degree: Blackfeet Community College, Fort Belknap College, Fort Peck Community College, and Stone Child College.

 

The proposed degree differs from other associate of arts degrees available in the region in the range of options offered for fulfillment of general education distribution requirements, and in its relatively high number of open elective credit hours.  The proposal is unique in its incorporation of the Montana University System Transferable Core.  These several special aspects of the proposed program are designed to facilitate development of articulation agreements, and transfer within the Montana University System.