SSU expanding extended ed; explores 'hybrids'

ROHNERT PARK -- Sonoma State University is expanding its professional development and extended education offerings to include a number of new certificate programs tailored for those seeking alternative career paths or to acquire additional skills in existing jobs.

[caption id="attachment_39264" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Andrew Rogerson, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Sonoma State University"][/caption]

“SSU’s academic plan is to be a premier liberal arts and science focused university to ensure our students receive have a broad-based education with sophisticated critical thinking skills so that graduates can quickly grasp what is needed by employers and learn on the job,” said Andrew Rogerson, the new provost and vice president of academic affairs at SSU.

“With unemployment at record levels, it is ironic that businesses still cannot find workers with the skill sets they need. Our task is to produce graduates who can meet employer expectations while also educating more students for less money using new cost-effective tools.”

Sonoma State is starting to explore hybrid online/classroom courses to make it easier and more affordable for students to access business-focused instruction.

While there is continuing demand for traditional business degrees at the bachelor’s and MBA levels, enrollment in economically-based certificate programs is up 15 to 20 percent, and there has been an increase of 35 percent across the board in non-credit areas.

[caption id="attachment_39265" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Mark Merickel, dean of the School of Extended Education at Sonoma State University"][/caption]

“Extended education is the entrepreneurial arm of Academic Affairs,” said Mark Merickel, Dean of the School of Extended Education at SSU. “We are working with a number of regional organizations to provide skills-based certificate programs for those entering the world of work as well as supplemental courseware designed to improve worker knowledge in the business sector.”

The goal of this initiative is to make SSU more nimble, flexible and adaptable to changing times and responsive to student and business needs.

According to Annemarie Brown, business manager in the School of Business and Economics, “Our vision is to be the educational nucleus of a thriving North Bay economy.  We are actively looking at new ways of supporting the business community and those working in it. The School of Business is certainly on board with the new hybrid learning approach and alternative programs to expand the educational process.”

According to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the official accrediting commission for schools, course success should be based on learning outcomes, not the modality used in learning.  As a result, there is a trend toward a hybrid mix of delivery systems including in-class and online instruction and independent study.

Today SSU is supporting the “Moodle Platform,” an open source program model for learning management.

[caption id="attachment_39266" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Students studying at Sonoma State campus."][/caption]

As a result, SSU is beginning to move away from the historical model, based on seat time or filling chairs in classrooms, to embrace this new reality. This is also seen as a way to reduce campus infrastructure costs and to help keep course fees at reasonable levels.

To further expand its list of relevant  offerings to help support the local economy, university officials are planning a series of exploratory meetings with deans and department chairs, as well as community, business and chamber of commerce leaders, to identify new courses that should be developed to address employer and worker needs.

“We created a team approach to help faculty launch new courseware,” said Robert Rosen, director of programs, business and operations.  “This team includes several players including an instructional designer and a course development specialist that can assist in ramping up new programs while also facilitating the transition to an online format.”

Meanwhile, the list of business-related certificate programs at SSU is growing with an emphasis on embracing the emerging hybrid delivery approach.

For example, a new online Wine Business Management Certificate series will launch in late fall. This new program and format will expand existing Wine Business professional  development offerings. This is a series half-day, topical seminars offered each fall and spring.

A separate multi-week Wine Business Entrepreneurship program will also be offered this spring. All of these programs -- offered in partnership with the School of Business and Economics -- continue to attract those seeking to enter Sonoma County’s premier wine industry or upgrade existing skills. An increase in enrollment has been seen for all wine-related educational offerings.

In addition, there is high demand this fall for the Human Resource Management certificate as both individuals and firms re-invest in growing their HR expertise.

The new Patient Navigator certificate program attracted 18 students during its first year.  This course is gaining traction as medical institutions see the need for advocates who can chart a path for patients through the insurance and benefits paperwork maze. A post-M.A. Family Nurse Practitioner certificate is also available.

Attendance numbers for the Green Building, Sustainable Landscaping and Sustainable Development and Climate Change certificates are good and growing.

Other certificates include Conflict Management, as well as Construction Management and a School for International Training (SIT) Global English Language Teacher certificate.

The SSU School of Extended Education continues to adapt to the times. There is also a financial incentive associated with keeping pace with demand. A percentage of the margin realized from certificate programs goes into the development of new courses.

“The nation is looking to universities and colleges to return the U.S. to number one in terms of citizens with a college degree.  At the moment, only 35% of the population aged between 25 and 34 hold a higher education degree.  This puts the nation 10th in the world and makes us one of only two nations where young adults have attained less education than their parent’s generation. We must show our students that education is a solid investment.  At SSU we are committed to improving student success so that our graduates can improve their lives and be architects of our future,” said Mr. Rogerson.

For more information about SSU professional development courses and Extended Education certificates, go to or call 707-664-2394.

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