Professional school is engine of growth

The College of Professional Studies will crank out a new patent practice degree next fall, the latest addition to its growing offerings that serve as a cash cow for the University.

The graduate school for mid-career adults – which accepted 89 percent of applicants last year – has created about 18 programs in a decade, basing its options on job market demands. Enrollment has shot up 75 percent in four years.

Its eclectic offerings range from publishing to landscape design. And the quick turnaround to set up programs – which administrators stressed does not forgo academic quality – can be a financial advantage for GW.

Each new program aims to produce $1 of tuition revenue for every 60 cents it spends, creating “new income for the University with relatively little risk,” according to a 2007 report compiled by the University. The report also says the school’s purpose is to increase rigor for GW’s professional education programs by improving technology and evaluations of part-time faculty.

“[The college was] meant to be agile and quick-moving, and we were created to fill those academic needs in the marketplace,” Associate Dean for New Initiatives Toni Marsh said. “We’re different from the rest of the University…in that we do look at the marketplace and respond to the marketplace.”

Offering mostly night and online classes to working adults, the college is also cheap to run. It relies mostly on adjunct professors – who are paid far less than full-time faculty – and enjoys low overhead costs from off-campus classroom sites in Alexandria, Va. and Ashburn, Va.

With swelling enrollment and low costs, tuition revenue has steadily climbed. A 16-month master’s program in paralegal studies, which earned a national award for being a top online adult education program two years ago, costs students about $10,000 for 14 credits.

The school, led by Dean Ali Eskandarian, has looked to emerging fields to help professionals develop new skills and bolster their credentials.

Take the college’s next offering: a master’s degree in patent practice. The program is a response to the 2011 America Invents Act, which has created a “first-to-file” system and has the U.S. Patent and Trade Office scrambling to address a backlog in patent applications.

The law has created the need for patent expertise – a void the school hopes to fill.

Jack Prostko, the school’s associate dean for learning and faculty development, said the patent program was the latest illustration of the college’s flexibility and revenue-producing potential.

“I think that was part of the reason the college was set up this way – so we could respond quickly and latch on to market needs and make money for the University,” Prostko said.

The College of Professional Studies’ programs accepted the vast majority of applicants who applied last year, according to an internal document obtained by The Hatchet.

Out of the 859 applications the college received for the summer and fall of 2012, it denied 94 of them – an 89 percent acceptance rate. The year before, it accepted 87.5 percent of applicants.

All nine applicants who sought admission to the master’s landscape design program last fall were admitted.

The college also houses the Graduate School of Political Management, which offers master’s degrees to politicos and public relations professionals. Only one out of the 23 applicants to the school’s legislative affairs program last year was denied.

The college is far less selective than the University’s other graduate schools. The GW School of Business accepted 47.7 percent of its M.B.A. students last year. The Graduate School of Education and Human Development accepted 70.6 percent of master’s applicants.

Marsh said the school’s “healthy acceptance rate” stems from working adults who self-select programs.

“Students applying to graduate programs are in a far different position than those applying to undergraduate programs,” she said. “Grad applicants are older and more experienced, and they choose programs more realistically. They look for programs that will further their specific goals and in which they are likely to succeed.”

Other schools of professional studies have similar admissions processes, said George Calderaro, a spokesman for Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education. He declined to provide the school’s selectivity rates, but added that applicants there “self-select” like at GW.

“They apply after an extensive application process to determine the likelihood of their success of our programs,” he said. “A lot of people drop out [from the admissions process] or exclude themselves.”

The school has continued to pump out new programs over the last few years, including a bachelor’s degree completion program for professionals wanting to enter biotechnology and a master’s in public leadership.

It moves quicker to build new programs than most other schools at GW. CPS only requires a green light from its dean’s council to get a program proposal to the provost’s desk – unlike other colleges, which often need approval from departments or the entire faculty body, Forrest Maltzman, GW’s senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said in an email.

Before programs launch, administrators create degree proposals with projections on graduate job rates and academic goals. Marsh said she scoured job listings for patent processors to match course offerings with the skills employers seek.

Financial aid is rare because the college’s off-campus programs does not receive centralized scholarship funding from the University, Rachel Venezian, the college’s director for business planning and analysis said.

She said the school’s mission is larger: filling worker demands by providing an array of degrees.

“CPS does not develop programs as easy revenue streams,” she said. “Rather, programs are developed according to the larger regional or national needs of the workforce.”

Venezian declined to disclose revenue growth for CPS, adding that it makes up “a small piece of the University’s larger budget.” The University counted about $570 million in net tuition revenue overall in its operating budget last year.

Lauren Grady contributed to this report.

This article was updated Jan. 30, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the paralegal studies program in the College of Professional Studies takes seven months. It is a 16-month program.

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