January 6, 2010

University May Reduce Summer Course Offerings, Task Force Report Says

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The School of Continuing Education provides education to some 7,500 registered students, all of whom could be affected in some vein by the task force report released last semester regarding the school’s budget cuts and efficiency measures.

The school is responsible for running the University’s summer sessions for high school students, Cornell in Washington, the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Foundation, in addition to eCornell and Cornell CyberTower. Despite taking on greater responsibilities in the past 20 years, the staff size at the school has decreased in that time, as administrators aimed to manage the school’s vast functions with a tailored staff.

“We’ve tried very hard to have as efficient and lean a staff as possible,” said Prof. Glenn Altschuler, American studies, who is also dean of the school for continuing education and vice president of university relations.

The report outlines further strategies to reduce costs and increase efficacy, aiming to reduce staff costs by $80,000 in Fiscal Year 2011. One path to save money discussed in the report is to change the way staff are paid at the University summer colleges. The college has begun to make salaries contingent on class enrollment, as opposed to fully guaranteeing an instructor’s paycheck.

Like other colleges across the University, the School of Continuing Education will also be reducing the number of classes it provides in its summer session. The school currently offers a total of 900 courses. A good number of the classes will be combined with other offerings or cut altogether. According to Altschuler, this not only saves money, but could be beneficial to the approximately 800 high school students who come to Ithaca each summer, by offering fewer but more concrete course options.

“When we look at our offerings in any of the summer sessions, we try to look at the range of offerings and the likely number of students,” Altschuler said. “It may well be that our students would be served well even if we reduced classes.”

The report also discusses the school’s move to a “paperless” advertising system. Currently, paper brochures have been eliminated altogether in the summer session program, in lieu of e-mail brochures and notifications. At the Cornell Adult University, where alumni can enroll for free in non-credit classes, via the web or on campus, Altschuler notes the school has been “slower to eliminate all of our printed brochures, but we’re moving aggressively in that direction.” The savings from nixing paper from the school’s brochure procedure is projected to save up to $120,000 in FY 2011.

Another major area discussed is eCornell, which is one of the nation’s largest and best regarded online certificate programs. With 95 courses and 24 certificate programs, eCornell reaches over 25,000 students in 180 different countries, a breadth of service that the school hopes to maintain. However, the report suggests bringing the currently for-profit eCornell under the University as a non-profit program. Altschuler says this move could help the school respond to the demand for “our for-credit and not-for-credit online offerings.”

Despite the numerous strategies outlined for budget cuts, the task force also showed a propensity for looking towards the future and dealing with the long-term goals of the schools. The report noted that the school’s financial return with a coterie of new programs and contracts. These include a post-baccalaureate pre-med program, a renegotiated contract with the Qatar foundation, and a distance learning class in space weather.

According to Altschuler, some of these goals are already coming to fruition. Prof. Mike Kelly, electrical engineering, is currently teaching roughly a dozen scientists from Los Alamos in an online course regarding space weather, for example. Additionally, the school is collaborating with the nutritional sciences department to launch a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, which will allow students to pursue a medical career after they have received a bachelor’s degree.

Original Author: Brendan Doyle