A UMGC Academic Affairs Division for the Future

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) barely had time to slip into its new name, designed to better reflect academia’s increasingly borderless landscape, when its administration announced a bold new plan. The university’s academic affairs division would be disassembled and, using the same pieces, rebuilt into a brand-new shape.

The goal is not to be bigger, shinier or even less costly. Rather, the goal is to keep ahead of the game in the fast-moving world of online adult education.

“I call it a reboot—or shape-changing,” said Peter Smith, UMGC interim senior vice president and chief academic officer. “It’s not downsizing or upsizing but creating an academic structure and student-support structure that, given the technology or opportunity of the moment, will let us respond more quickly to the emerging universe of need.”

UMGC is preparing for a world in which lifelong learning will increasingly stake a claim on higher education. No longer will universities necessarily direct the bulk of their resources at 18- to 22-year-olds seeking degrees. In the future, increasing numbers of people—of all ages—are expected to pop in and out of college classes when they need new skills to meet their job aspirations, when they have entrepreneurial pursuits that require additional knowledge or when they simply have personal interests they want to pursue more intensely.

Employers, too, are expected to reimagine how higher education fits into their workplaces.

“The markets are moving. It’s not where you learned something, but how well you know it or how well you can apply it. It’s also about how well you work on a team, think critically and analytically and write,” Smith said. “We talk about stackables—breaking down degrees or programs into components so people can take just the bits they need. We’re also talking about how universities can be a broker of learning for the workplace.”

Since its creation seven decades ago to serve adult students outside the traditional campus, including large numbers of GIs returning from World War II, UMGC has been a pioneer in adult education. The new “rebalancing” announced Oct. 1 is designed to keep it at the forefront of that arena. Elements of the reorganization also dovetail with UMGC’s 2019-2022 strategic plan currently under review.

The crux of the restructuring calls for three new schools, organized by discipline, to replace The Undergraduate School and The Graduate School. Each new school offers both undergraduate and graduate coursework, streamlining the journey for students who want to advance from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s—and even a doctoral program.

The new School of Arts and Sciences is led by Kara Van Dam, the former dean of The Undergraduate School. Given the spectrum of disciplines it covers—from art history to English to the social sciences—it is not surprising that Arts and Sciences will be the largest of the three schools in terms of courses, programs and faculty. “The realignment allows us to ensure the right resources are in place to support our faculty, staff and students,” Van Dam explained.

Under the reorganization, overseas faculty continue to report to Van Dam.

Bryan Booth, previously the vice dean of Doctoral Programs, is now dean of the new School of Business. Douglas Harrison, previously acting vice provost and dean of The Graduate School, is now the dean of the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology.

Smith and Blakely Pomietto, UMGC deputy chief academic officer, have been overseeing the realignment, ensuring that the new schools and their staff were ready to roll by Jan. 2, the beginning of the Spring 2020 term.

In addition to building the schools vertically—rather than horizontally, as in the past—the administration and operations of the academic affairs division also have been rearranged and centralized across four new departments: the Office of the Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Student Affairs, Academic Operations and Academic Quality.

For example, tutoring services, the Effective Writing Center, and teaching and lab assistants who once reported to multiple areas of academic affairs, now exist together under Student Affairs initiatives.

The overall effect, Smith said, will be a university that is “more agile, more accountable and more consistent in its attainment of quality.”

As UMGC shifts to three schools, its faculty and programs are being rearranged, too. The recalibration reduces the number of program chairs to about 42, from 73, while expanding the number of full-time collegiate faculty to 90, from 60. Some collegiate faculty members have remained in their old jobs after reapplying for those positions; others have been rehired for different courses or programs.

As the restructuring was announced, all faculty were invited to seek positions within the three new schools. A tsunami of interviews and internal hiring was conducted and   completed. If positions remained unfilled, applicants from outside the university were considered.  When the dust settled, the overall number of positions at the university has remained virtually the same.

Pomietto said the goal was an equitable reshaping of UMGC.

“The anxiety that this created for our people was a difficult part of this process,” said Pomietto, adding that the reassignment of faculty and staff has been a particularly sensitive part of the process for her. “Making sure we attended to the human dimension of all this was the highest priority and the biggest challenge.”

 Long-time in the Making
 Serious discussion about realignment has been underway for more than three years, but the last six months saw it move forward at speed. Nearly three dozen people from across the university—including representatives from the human resources department, finance and budget offices and academic leadership—considered the best way to position academic affairs for the future. Among other things, they studied a collection of recommendations, on a wide range of issues, that in recent years have emerged from the Academic Advisory Board, the Adjunct Faculty Association, President Javier Miyares and other areas.

“Seventy years ago, [we] really wrote the book on distance learning. We had professors with textbooks in suitcases getting on DC-3s and flying across the Atlantic Ocean. We were the leaders in the state and the first institution that was committed at each step of our development to meeting the needs of working adults,” Smith said. “Seventy years later, that part of the marketplace has gone upside-down, driven most recently by technology.”

In 1978, when the university decided to add graduate programs, it seemed logical to create a new, separate graduate school. Master’s degree candidates at the time were mostly mid-level professionals who already had a degree under their belts, so the undergraduate and graduate programs worked well as self-contained units. Nowadays, however, courses—from undergraduate to graduate—are often most effective when collaboratively designed. UMGC’s reorganization will make that easier.

While the reorganization has meant wide-ranging changes for faculty and staff, it is business as normal for students. Classes continue. Professors are still available to discuss assignments. No courses are scheduled to change.

“Students probably won’t notice we had an organizational realignment,” said Pomietto, “although I do hope that over time, they will notice that they’re having better experiences.”

Students may find themselves on the dean’s list of a new school, but Harrison, in the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, underscored that the student experience “is not disrupted or changed in any immediate way” and no programs are being eliminated.

“What people should take away from this,” Harrison said, “is how we position ourselves for growth and sustainability in the future. These changes put us in a better position to respond not just to existing marketplace needs but to meet the workforce demands of the future.

“We will be able to more easily collaborate with industry partners,” he added.

Harrison said there also will be more opportunities for prior-learning credit. This is especially relevant for adult learners who can use workplace seminars and courses for UMGC credit. Prior-learning credit is already available in some programs, most notably for service members in cybersecurity classes.

Harrison said conversations are in the works to address how workplace prior-learning by employees at NASA, the CIA, the National Security Agency and other government departments might also be converted into credit—as well as how UMGC could be the provider of professional courses required by those agencies.

Smith said new tools will be put in place to assess prior learning so that students “don’t have to pay more money to demonstrate knowledge they already have.” And there will be expanded opportunities to take advantage of the current UMGC course in which students, with the assistance of a professor, prepare portfolios that substantiate prior learning. Experts in the subject matter then evaluate whether that learning and experience qualifies for credit or other academic consideration.

The Challenges of Change                                                                                  
 Building a new school from scratch is difficult. Creating a school from the component pieces of two existing schools, as UMGC has done, is an even heavier lift.

“The organizational structure you want to change is an economic structure, a policy structure, a practicing structure. To take that and turn it upside down—I don’t think it’s ever been done at a university before,” Smith said. “This is a new academic enterprise.”

Booth, the dean of the new School of Business, said it was relatively easy to determine what classes fell under his school. He also noted that since employers are more familiar with courses offered through a business school, the reorganization should be a plus for business students.

The School of Business—designed with a Department of Business Administration, Department of Accounting and Finance and Department of Business Management—has a chair for each department, 11 program directors and 17 collegiate faculty.

“Some of the program directors may have worked in The Graduate School, some in the Undergraduate School,” Booth said. “The relationships among the people in the school’s leadership team are what will make it successful.”

He added: “We know how to run nontraditional adult-focused learning environments, either 100 percent online or a variation of hybrid or face-to-face instruction. That’s not going to change.”

For the new School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, the greatest challenge may prove to be the rapidly changing menu of competencies and skills necessary to work in cyberspace. Even the idea of a School of Cybersecurity is novel in the United States.

“We’ve long been a leader—at least for a couple of decades—and the reorganization plan acknowledges that longstanding strength,” said Harrison. “A School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology formalizes our leadership in this space. The programs are the same but, by organizing them within a school, we’re making them highly visible.”

Harrison said the integration of undergraduate and graduate programs into each school has been “one of the most exciting elements” of the process. He said bringing experts together to advance programs that share graduate and undergraduate credentials will open seamless opportunities for students. For example, a professional who takes UMGC classes and returns to his or her job, only to later pursue a UMGC master’s degree, will find the enrollment process easier “because they’ve already been with us as an undergraduate.”

“We’ve been trying to do that for some time but it’s harder when you have the degree programs separated,” Harrison said. “Our new organization is going to create pathways that are going to accelerate the programs.”

Van Dam said she knows of no other institution of higher education that has gone through such a restructuring—principally because few schools were set up like UMGC. “Most institutions are organized the way we’re headed from the start. Having a School of Business, a School of Arts and Sciences, et cetera, is the normal academic structure of the majority of universities,” she said.

Both Smith and Pomietto said the framework for realignment is solid but what happens inside it is intended to be flexible. Input from staff and faculty working on the frontline with students will be pivotal in shaping the processes that fill the new structure.

“It’s going to take two years for this to all shake out,” Smith said. “We’ve got the game plan and now we’ve got to follow through with that plan. We’re going to become more learner friendly and better in terms of academic quality and better about offering a clear bridge between learning and work.”