Cannaday: SCPS Taking Many Steps To Support 'Grow by Degrees'

August 25, 2010 — With almost two years under his belt as dean of the University of Virginia's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Billy Cannaday is filling in some details of his vision to expand the school's offerings and better support Virginia's pressing higher education needs by "preparing adult learners for today and the future."

Expanding the school's offerings, Cannaday explained in a recent interview, can help meet the "ambitious but critically important" goal of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council's Grow By Degrees campaign – to see the state's colleges and universities award 100,000 additional associate's, bachelor's,  and graduate degrees by 2025.

Perhaps the most important way the School of Continuing and Professional Studies can help meet that goal, Cannaday said, is by expanding the areas of the state where the school offers its bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degree-completion program, which features evening classes tailored to working adults who are tackling part-time study on top of job demands.

Offered in Charlottesville since its inception in 1999, the BIS program has been expanded to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the two most densely populated regions of Virginia, through partnerships with Northern Virginia and Tidewater community colleges. Those expansions have roughly doubled the program's annual enrollments, bringing this fall's total to nearly 300 students.

Building on the template of those partnerships, the BIS may be offered next in the Richmond area through partnerships with John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds community colleges. This fall the school is collecting data on Richmond-area demand for a BIS program; Cannaday is optimistic, based on data from the state secretary of education showing that the Richmond region has large numbers of adults with some college education but no degree. An expansion decision and announcement are expected in January 2011, he said. If approved, the first Richmond classes will begin in 2012.

After Richmond, the school will explore expanding the BIS across the rest of the state, including two areas of the state that are most in need of increased higher education for the workforce – Southside and Southwest. (A similarly needy area, the Eastern Shore, is already served by the existing Hampton Roads partnership with Tidewater Community College).

Hoping to build on the increasing popularity of the BIS degree, the school wants to offer a master of interdisciplinary studies degree. With help from some veteran U.Va. faculty, Cannaday said, the school plans to submit an MIS proposal to the U.Va. Faculty Senate in the spring. The aim is to create MIS concentrations that respond to increasing workforce demands in fields such as public health and intelligence (serving, for instance, Defense Intelligence Agency personnel now located in the Charlottesville area).

In a move that may help jump-start job opportunities in Southside Virginia, a region that has long struggled with some of the state's highest unemployment rates, starting this fall or spring, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies plans to partner with the Darden School of Business' Tayloe Murphy Center to offer non-credit courses leading to an entrepreneurship certificate. The pilot program will focus on how to support entrepreneurship in economically depressed areas, Cannaday said.

A small but important boost to the workforce will come from the school's plans to expand the highly successful Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program from an average of roughly 20 students per class to around 30.

Created in 2006, the intensive yearlong program enables "career changers" to complete all of the science prerequisites necessary to gain entrance to medical school. The program's graduates boast a 95 percent acceptance rate to medical schools, including some of the nation's most prestigious, thanks to "a very rigorous selection process, demanding curriculum, and a strong support system involving fellow students as well as program staff," Cannaday said.  

As part of expanding enrollments, the school is working to "build new relationships with adult learners," he said, with a focus on customer service. To that end, the school is creating a division to manage student services and enrollment. Next spring, the school will roll out two pieces of software (purchased as part of U.Va.'s Student Systems Project) to improve the student experience: Hobsons' ApplyYourself for online recruitment, applications and admissions, and Connect for customer relationship management.

Perhaps the best example of the new student service focus, Cannaday said, is the complete redesign of the school's website, slated to launch in March. Based on feedback and interviews with hundreds of current, past and prospective students, the new website is being designed by NewCity of Blacksburg for better usability.

The new website will eventually incorporate short video testimonials from students.
"We want to make it easy, quick and intuitive for adult visitors to get answers and resources," Cannaday said.

— By Brevy Cannon