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Plans Advance to Strengthen School for New Learning

On the recommendation of a DePaul task force and external consultants with deep experience in adult higher education, the School for New Learning will accelerate new program development.

Provost Marten denBoer discussed the task force reports in late April at a gathering of School for New Learning faculty and staff. He also has begun accepting nominations from SNL faculty for an interim dean and has solicited input from the school's faculty. An appointment is expected in late May.

"The School for New Learning has a long history of innovation in serving adult learners and has nurtured a vibrant academic community that includes many students and faculty of diverse backgrounds. For many years, the school led its field and set the standard within DePaul for developing practices that focused on learning outcomes," denBoer says. "I'm grateful to the DePaul task force and to the consultants from the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning for taking an unvarnished look at how SNL can adapt to changes in the adult learning landscape and begin finding ways to thrive."

When denBoer announced in October that School for New Learning Dean Marisa Alicea would step down at the end of the 2016-17 academic year, he said the leadership transition presented "a good opportunity to reflect and assess" the future of the school. At the same time, the university also anticipated that the U.S. Department of Education and Higher Learning Commission would require DePaul to increase the number of credit hour equivalencies required to complete a BAIFA degree.

In light of this, a 15-member university task force began meeting in November to gauge the financial and enrollment realities of SNL, identify opportunities for the school to implement new adult-centered programs, consider the benefits and risks of offering the new BAIFA degree and make recommendations on the school's future. Membership included four SNL faculty members, as well as faculty from other colleges and administrators from Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management and Marketing.

In addition, the university asked consultants from the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning, or CAEL, to review SNL's market position, enrollment strategies and business model. The four consultants spent time learning from SNL faculty, members of the task force, Academic Business Management, the provost, Enrollment Management and Marketing staff and others working with adult-focused programs at DePaul. Its findings provided an unbiased third-party assessment that task force members took into consideration when forming its final report.

In a report submitted to the university and the task force in February, the consultants recommended a "major reset" for SNL that cannot be achieved with small tweaks or basic cost cutting. CAEL urged DePaul to "use the urgency of the moment to make the kind of thoughtful reorganization of the School's work that will be necessary not just for its survival but for a next generation of leadership in quality learning for adults."

The task force recommended, and denBoer agreed, that SNL should continue focusing on serving adults in the university's student population as a separate college "so that the college and the university focus on adults remains strong and distinct."

The task force voted 9-5 in favor of not moving forward with the new BAIFA degree, a bachelor of arts with an individualized focus area that would require 192 credit hour equivalencies to complete. Starting in the fall, only continuing students will participate in the current BAIFA program. SNL will continue to provide the bachelor of arts in decision analytics, the degree completion program and graduate programs.

At the same time, SNL will create additional degree programs that complement its mission of promoting adult education. Already, the school is seeking approval for a bachelor of arts in business administration with the goal of offering it to students who enroll in the fall. 

Other recommendations provide a starting point for the path forward. These include examining SNL's cost structures and class sizes and considering a new name for the school that better reflects its focus on adult education. denBoer will form a second task force to consider how to complete this next phase.

"The SNL task force reinforced the importance of adult education at DePaul and the need to make significant changes to meet the school's steep challenges," he says. "One of its most important assets - the faculty and staff who are the heart and soul of SNL - will be instrumental in helping the school chart a new course that reflects a legacy of innovation and commitment to adult learners."