University to push hybrid model for graduate programs

When brainstorming ideas for a graduate certificate program in LGBT health, adjunct psychology professor Stephen Forssell needed a plan to attract students who balance jobs in health care organizations or emergency rooms.

He decided to pitch his 18-credit program to administrators in mid-June as a hybrid combining online and classroom learning with fieldwork in hospitals – a model that graduate and certificate programs at GW are increasingly turning toward.

“If we’re trying to recruit students in the workplace, it’s easier for them to remain in the workplace if they can do some of the learning at a distance,” Forssell said. “They don’t have to go to a classroom every day.”

At the end of June, the University will ask graduate and certificate programs to consider the switch to hybrid curricula to adapt to student schedules and increase revenue, the first step in converting or creating a dozen such programs over the next five years.

Denis Cioffi, director of the faculty-driven Teaching and Learning Collaborative, said the University will add two to three graduate hybrid programs next year. Administrators have $300,000 in funds from the Innovation Task Force to dole out to programs deemed best suited for the switch. Selected programs, which will be chosen by September, will receive a $60,000 grant for planning and advertising the move, as well as technology upgrades.

Hybrid programs have piqued administrators’ interest in the last two years, drawing investment from the Board of Trustees and the Innovation Task Force, but this push is the widest and most concrete so far.

Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Stephen Ehrmann said the University has been working to blend online and traditional courses.

“The best place to study may not be on campus. It may be a mix of places. I think GW has been gradually making progress in this area,” Ehrmann said June 7.

He said administrators have not yet decided how to pick the first batch of programs, but said the provost’s office would likely choose programs catered to working professionals who plan to use online and classroom learning.

When students enroll in courses that hold classes outside Foggy Bottom, it adds breathing room for the University beneath the city-imposed population cap, Cioffi said.

Almost 16,400 students took classes full-time last semester, totalling just 159 students under the D.C.-regulated cap.

By converting some programs to hybrids, graduate students accumulate fewer credit hours on campus, allowing GW to increase revenue by adding students – tuition dollars it would not otherwise see under the enrollment cap.

“The primary driver is to improve education. We start with the idea of we can have a better program, but of course it also helps us with the [enrollment] cap,” Cioffi said.

He added that the University will not focus on undergraduate hybrid programs because those students do not need to be off campus as much, and it would not provide much enrollment cap relief.

Workshops will begin this fall to help faculty and program directors learn how to create a successful hybrid program.

“We want to guide faculty. There’s certainly apprehension, there’s no question about that,” Cioffi said. “These are new tools they need to learn.”

Converting entire graduate programs into hybrid rather than single courses because “it’s easier to improve education working across the degree program,” Ehrmann said.

The College of Professional Studies and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development both already offer some hybrids, and a master of fine arts program in dance is wrapping up its first year as a hybrid program.

Students in GSEHD’s early childhood special education program have benefitted from the hybrid model, special education and disabilities studies professor Jay Shotel said. The 43-credit program includes about 25 credits on campus, but the hours logged off campus help students juggle internships to teach special needs children.

He said going hybrid has also helped the program cut tuition costs by 20 percent.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.