Episode 52 - SUU’s New Three-Year Degree Option

Southern Utah University has a new three-year bachelor’s degree pilot program that has been approved & funded by the Utah governor and the Utah State Legislature. In this week's episode, President Scott Wyatt, Steve Meredith, and Daniel Bishoff discuss how the program works and the innovation behind this introduction.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions to Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I’m your host, Steve Meredith, and I’m joined this evening, as I always am, by President Wyatt. Hi, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve, it’s terrific to be with you.

Meredith: Always nice to be with you. I mentioned that we’re here in the evening and our schedules are just a little bit crazy, well, really all the time, but especially crazy just right now and so, we are trying to catch a podcast when we can. And this is on a particularly interesting subject because one of the reasons that we’ve been so busy is that we just saw the conclusion of the state legislative session that happens every year in the February/March timeframe and, as usual, it’s your responsibility to represent Southern Utah University and you did particularly well this year.

Wyatt: Well, we did particularly well. Yeah, the university came through this spectacularly well and it’s a credit to everybody.

Meredith: And we want to talk about one of the initiatives that got a lot of attention from the legislative session and we have a special guest to join us to help with that and he’s going to, along with you and I, shepherd this process along. Why don’t you introduce him?

Wyatt: Yeah, so we’re delighted to have with us tonight Daniel Bishoff. Daniel is…just got pulled out of the budget office and he is now working as an Assistant to the President for Strategic Innovation. Welcome, Daniel.

Daniel Bishoff: Hey President, it’s great to be here.

Wyatt: So, we’re excited to talk about the optional three-year degree program at Southern Utah. So, this…I think one interesting way to start this discussion is this way: the governor, in presenting his proposed budget to the Legislature for this session, included, I think, two things for higher education, just two. One of them was a technology little proposal for Utah State University and the other one was this three-year bachelor’s degree program for SUU. This is the first time that I know of that the governor has ever mentioned—any governor—has mentioned funding for Southern Utah University specifically. And then the day of the session’s opening, the Speaker of the House mentioned this as well in his speech. So, although this is something that we have responded to a need for and it was our proposal, it kind of became in a way the proposal of the governor and the Speaker of the House because they drove this through the session.

Meredith: That’s a big deal.

Wyatt: It is a big deal…

Meredith: Especially those of us in the rural part of the state without as much population representation up there.

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s just…I mean, you know, it’s really an honor for us the confidence that they have in what we can do. It’s based on past creativity and innovative work that we’ve done, and it reflects their trust. To fund 3.8 million dollars for Southern Utah University to do this pilot program is really quite impressive.

Meredith: And it took it from the discussion phase to the, “Oh my gosh, this is really happening phase” in a fairly short order, which is…

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s impossible to predict what will happen during the legislative session and as early as…I mean, as late as three days before the session wound up, it didn’t look like this was going to be funded. But then all of the sudden it was and now we’re working to implement it. And that in and of itself is fun, it is huge. It’s a very collaborative process to get everybody in the room and help empower all the different groups to make decisions that relate to their pieces of this from student affairs to academics, student body officers, student activities…there’s just so many pieces of this.

Meredith: So, let me ask you and Daniel the question that probably lots of people have, and it’s a very simple question, is, “Why would we do that? Is there something broken in our current way of offering things? Or is this an attempt to provide students with an additional option? Or what seems to be driving this particular change?” We talk in this podcast about innovation and about how important that is for higher education, particularly right now, but what’s driving this particular innovation?

Wyatt: Well, there’s a whole bunch of things, but one of the leading things…so, if there are two or three major reasons, one of the major reasons is that the Legislature funds maybe $100,000,000 every year to build new buildings on college campuses in Utah. And those campuses, not completely, but to some degree are largely vacant for almost half the year. So, they’re very, very busy for 15 weeks of fall semester and they’re very busy for 15 weeks of winter semester. That’s 30 weeks out of 52. So, there’s a lot of lost capital and they want to see us find a way to make these buildings useful all year round and if they can be useful all year round then that moderates the need for buying new buildings and this is a financial issue to them and it’s one that has caused tremendous concern for years. How do we get these buildings to be fully utilized? More utilized? So, one of the reasons why the Legislature and the governor really jumped on this is a solution to a problem that they’ve been asking for solutions for decades is that this will make our campus busy all year round.

Meredith: What are the advantages to students of these type of an effort?

Bishoff: I think there are a lot of advantages. For example, outdoor recreation is primarily doing internships in the summer and for those outdoor rec people in winter sports or winter recreation, now they have a feasible opportunity to do an internship during the winter but still go to school full-time and not spend their summer working in a job that’s not going to relate to their career.

Meredith: So, how’s this going to change what…

Wyatt: So, what you’re saying is that there’s three semesters and a student that wants to graduate—three semesters per year—and a student that wants to graduate in three years can go for all three semesters. But for a student that has a particular need that would be in the fall or the winter or the spring can choose the semester. So, their opportunities open up dramatically.

Meredith: So, we’re not actually cutting a year out of instruction? In other words, the number of semesters is the same, correct?

Wyatt: Yeah. A three-year degree is simply doing eight semesters in three years instead of four.

Meredith: And so, in order to do that, we have to have a more robust summer session. Right now, those are cobbled together in a variety of different semester lengths and formats, and one of the first things that we’re going to be doing, that Daniel and I will be working on, is the approval of a new academic calendar that is moving towards three equal semesters. One that begins shortly after Labor Day, one that begins the Monday after New Year’s Day and then a new, longer what we’re calling “spring semester” that begins during the last week of April and concludes in the 20s of July so that now we have equal length instructional semesters. Does that sum it up pretty well?

Wyatt: Right. So, you start after Labor Day and then we have roughly three weeks’ vacation over Christmas and then we do winter semester and then we have about two weeks of vacation before spring semester starts and then we have about six weeks of summer vacation after the end of spring semester and before fall starts again, from the 24th of July past Labor Day.

Bishoff: The other cool thing about this calendar is we still have our spring break and our Thanksgiving break and other breaks inside of semesters as well, right?

Wyatt: Yeah. So, it will look the same it’s just going to be slightly condensed in order to have these breaks between semesters. So, the calendar works…instead of having a 50-minute class, we’ll have 60-minute classes. Instead of having a 10-minute gap between classes, we’ll have 15 that allows for more interaction between students and faculty members between classes and then getting to another classroom across campus. So, there’s just a little bit more time spent in class each day and a little bit more time to engage between classes each day and because of that extra time in class, we shorten up the semester by a week and a half or two weeks. The students will spend the same amount or a little bit more time in class.

Meredith: So…

Wyatt: So, it’s a pretty good mix.

Meredith: So, we’re not losing any instructional time, it’s just that it’s more condensed?

Wyatt: Yeah. No loss of instruction time. The same amount just a little bit less off the end of each side.

Meredith: So, it…

Wyatt: And there are dozens of very good universities in the country that have this exact same schedule. It’s not the most common, but there are dozens of schools that have a similar schedule like this where they have this kind of offering. So, we’re not inventing this schedule by any means, but we’ll be the first school in Utah that does something like this, and we’ll be the first school near Utah that’s kind of got this kind of a schedule. BYU-Idaho has the same basic schedule, but BYU-Idaho tells freshman, “You must come these two semesters” and they are chosen by the university, not by the student.

Meredith: Hmm.

Wyatt: So, the student might feel like she was randomly selected to go winter and spring and can’t go in the fall, but her friend is going fall/winter. So, it kind of creates some frustrations for students in the randomness. BYU-Idaho does it this way, of course, because they’re trying to fit everybody in.

Meredith: Manage growth.

Wyatt: Yeah. That’s been a real challenge for them. But what we’re saying is, “You come fall, you come winter, you come spring if you want. We would like to have you come to all of them and if it doesn’t work for you, we would like you to come to whichever ones you want to come to.”

Meredith: So, if a student didn’t want to do three semesters in a year, instead, they wanted to do two, can they do that? We’re not forcing everybody, then, to take three semesters, right? You can still just do the traditional fall and winter semesters?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And then what would be the outcome for that student?

Wyatt: So, with the minor adjustments to calendar, nobody…faculty and students won’t notice a difference except for this minor adjustment to the calendar. And I say “minor” I realize that it’s going to take quite a bit of work for our faculty members to adjust their curriculum to fit this slightly different version, but it’s a minor adjustment to the calendar. So, if a student doesn’t want to participate in the three-year option then that student simply has a little bit more time in the summer to go home and work and save money to come back to school. We know that’s one of the leading challenges that our students have is finances. And for a faculty member, this is completely option for faculty, whether they want to participate or not. And for faculty that choose not to do it, it’s the same thing for them. They’ll just start school a little bit later, a week and a half or two, and just a little bit quicker.

Meredith: So, more time for summer research activities or…

Wyatt: Right.

Meredith: Whatever else they’ve…

Wyatt: Whatever else they’ve got going.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, that piece of it is really an advantage. We’ve heard some faculty think this schedule is going to be far superior for them and some think that it’s going to present some challenges. That was true a long time ago when the state of Utah moved from the quarter to the semester system and there’s always these little pieces, you know? We’re a very diverse campus, like most are, with so many different disciplines that anything we do has an effect on everybody, but overall, this is offering tremendous new opportunities for faculty who choose to teach three semesters a year to get paid more and for students that choose to accelerate their program to get done quicker and out into the job force. And for those that don’t, lots of other opportunities. Faculty might be able to teach fall and spring instead of fall/winter and students might be able to choose their semesters, so there may be some nice flexibility for everybody.

Meredith: So, if a student comes to Southern Utah and says, “Well, you know what? I am going to do this accelerated thing but I’m afraid I might get burned out” you mentioned that there’s still some breaks in the semester calendar. Do they get any kind of summer break? I’m asking now just because that would be my concern if I was a student, I’d be worried about not getting any summer break.

Bishoff: Yeah, so that’s a cool thing with this new calendar is even adding another full term, we’d still have a full six-week summer break. And for those that chose not to do that extended term, they would have an even longer summer break that would end up being what? Instead of three months would be…instead of three and a half months would be four and a half months? So, yeah. For everybody doing it, you’ll still have a summer break.

Meredith: And the students that decide not to do it will, as the President suggested, be out in the workforce earlier, get a jump on whatever the good jobs are, but, President, I know one of the issues that you’ve mentioned about this particular project is that from an economic standpoint, it may make more sense for a student to do the three year program and get out in the workforce earlier. Why don’t you share a little bit of that idea?

Wyatt: So, we realize that everybody has different circumstances and so that has an impact on what’s possible for us. But if you take the minimum wage salary that most students can earn in a summer and replace that with going to school and then the minimum wage salary they could make in the summer and replace that by going to school, the student has now given up two summers of what probably is a minimum wage job and gets out of school one year quicker. So, you’re trading two summers of a minimum wage job for a year—because you get out in the workforce a year earlier—for a year of a professional salary. That’s a great bargain. I mean, that’s a great bargain. If a student can find a way to do that either through a student loan or help from family or from savings or scholarships or Pell Grants of any of these kinds of things, that is a financial significant jump-up. You’ve basically got three or three and a half months, so you’ve got a half a year of minimum wage salary that you’re trading for 12 month’s professional salary. That is a huge step up. So, financially, this is a great gain for students. Great gain for students. Plus, graduation is a couple weeks earlier, so students get out into the job market before other universities in Utah, they get out quicker in the summers if they want to do an internship for the summer, just a lot of…or summer jobs, they get the first pick. Or, if they decide to stay in school and keep going for the three semesters, which we hope that most students eventually will, then the part-time jobs that they find in Cedar City and at the university through the school year should be able to carry you right through the whole year. So, now they’ve got a stable job that they can keep and as the community sees this more stable workforce with students, we hope that we see growth in work opportunities for students.

Meredith: Along that same line, you mentioned financial aid along with the finances paying for this summer semester, how are we going to handle that, Dan? Because usually financial aid is kind of tied to a traditional calendar, right? It’s, “Go fall semester and go spring semester and that’s what we gave you the scholarship for.” How is that going to change?

Bishoff: Yeah, so, the details of that are kind of more complicated, but ultimately what we do is we take a four-year scholarship now for students and break that down into eight semesters. So, if they go in a three-year path, they get the full scholarship for every semester they attend school and if they continue on the four-year path, they still get the same scholarship for every semester they attend school. So, it’s really just breaking it from a four-year scholarship into an eight-semester scholarship.

Meredith: And as I understand it, Pell Grants are now available in the summertime?

Bishoff: That’s right.

Meredith: Which is a change that has helped us with this. And there are other financial aid options that also work in the summer. So, President, let’s circle back to one of our earlier podcasts. We had talked about the fact that the traditional academic calendar is rooted in a lot of really old traditional stuff, primarily agrarian stuff where people needed the summer off to go work on the farm and plant and reap the crops and so forth and so on. Is…do you see this new schedule, this new calendar for SUU being one of the leading-edge things that you’re trying to do that other campuses in the state may try to copy you? For example, you mentioned our Southwest Tech dual-enrollment partnership and I noticed in the paper that somebody was already hopping on that.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: So, is this one of the things that we’re imagining that we’re saying, “Look, this has worked really well for hundreds and hundreds of years, but it doesn’t reflect the current reality of the world that we live in, let’s figure out a more efficient way to do it. It’ll help the taxpayers, but it will also help students, kind of a win-win situation.” Do you think we’ll…do you think people will be following us down this row or are they going to be saying…?

Wyatt: Well, this was funded to us to be a pilot program. So, the hope is that we can make this work, as you mentioned, our dual-enrollment program with Southwest Technical College, once we got that completed then Utah Valley University’s announced that they’re going to try to do something similar to what we had done, and we’re thrilled by that. We’re thrilled that we can do something that then other schools can pattern after or learn from and do something like it, and our hope is that we can figure this out and then other schools do it as well. The financial gains of this are, for the state, the taxpayers, the communities, everybody, is just huge because you make the buildings productive all year long. By continuing to grow yet spreading those students out over three semesters instead of two means that students that participate will only be here three falls instead of four falls. So, you can see how that will decrease student body populations relatively speaking. We think we’ll continue to just keep growing but the growth will be slowed down a little bit in the fall and the winter and then increased dramatically in the spring—we’re calling it “spring” but spring goes most of the way through the summer [Laughs]—but that means that landlords who are building apartments can have those apartments rented out all year long. It will help drive the cost of apartments down during the fall and winter because they’re able to rent them out in the spring to recoup their investment. It means that our parking lots will not be as busy as they otherwise would because students don’t come back for the fourth fall, they’re only there for three falls. It means that our classrooms get used all year long. It means, when a faculty member chooses to teach three semesters instead of two, that we need to buy less offices because each faculty member is working, in terms of the times that they’re teaching, they’re teaching a lot more. So, we don’t need to hire as many faculty members, we don’t need to hire as many staff members. It’s…the operations of the university become more efficient, the impact on the community becomes better, the students can move through with less expense and get into the workforce more quickly for those that want to. It just seems like there are so many positives with this. We’re excited to make this work, we’re excited to be able to report back to the governor, to the Legislature and say, “Your investment with SUU, your trust, your confidence in us is paying back dividends for you and for students.” Everything we do is designed to help the students, but we’re also taxpayers first.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: I mean, we’re all taxpayers and we know where our support comes from. Our support comes from the Legislature.

Meredith: They are…

Wyatt: It comes from the taxpayers. We just…

Meredith: Our biggest donor. [Laughs]

Wyatt: We are totally dependent upon the taxpayer.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And all three of us in this room, Steve and Daniel and I, we’re all taxpayers. We get it. It makes sense. Why are these buildings sitting empty for four or five months of the year?

Meredith: Right.

Bishoff: Right.

Wyatt: We get it.

Meredith: So, it…those of us…those of our listeners that follow regularly know that our last batch of podcasts has been about innovation and we’ve had people from around the country join us and talk about new initiatives and other things that they have been working on that we have found particularly interesting and one of the questions that we always ask them is what have been the barriers? After the fact, we often ask, “What was your favorite surprise?” Or, “What was a negative thing that you hadn’t planned on?” But we’re new enough in this, this only happened eight or nine days ago, something like that, so we don’t know what the surprises are yet because we’re still about to find out, but what do we anticipate the barriers to be? And I’ll go first. So, my father was a businessman and he used to keep—this is always weird to me and kind of funny—he used to keep a leather-bound version of Green Eggs and Ham on his desk because the thought it was the world’s best sales manual and he gave it out to his salespeople, regularly, gave out leather-bound versions. [All laugh] Just, “You simply don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” “Would you, could you in a box? Would you, could you with a fox?” You just keep asking the question. So, one of my favorite books that is kind of along that same line is a book that was popular, probably now 15 years ago, called Who Moved My Cheese? It’s kind of an allegory of two little mice, one of which gets completely freaked out because the cheese isn’t in the same place that it’s always been, right? So, one of the…I think one of our barriers, one of the things that we’re going to overcome, is just the natural human tendency to fear change or to worry, perhaps needlessly, about things that probably will never come to pass and yet they seem to loom large during a planning or an initial phase of a project. So that our listeners know, Daniel and I have been tasked by the President to help, as I mentioned, shepherd this along a little bit. So, I think, Daniel, is that fair to say that one of the things that we’re going to have to deal with right off the bat is this is moving everybody’s cheese?

Bishoff: Yeah, I definitely agree. People sometimes struggle with change and I think that’ll be a big part of this is trying to help move those along that have lost their cheese.

Wyatt: And along the way, the worries that some people have all…we’re happy when we express them because all of those help make the program work better. Most of the people, they say, “You know, I’m concerned about this…” or “I worry about this…” or maybe, “A thought about this…” Some of those are really going to help us make this more successful in the end.

Meredith: That’s right. That’s right. The worries that people express, whether they turn out to be founded or unfounded, will help us avoid pitfalls, they’ll help us make the right decisions as we go forward, but it is also true that people just fear the unknown. [Laughs]

Wyatt: That’s right.

Meredith: And at this point, as you like to say, President, we have landed and burned the ships. [All laugh]

Wyatt: The ships are burned. [Laughs]

Meredith: That’s right. So, there’s no swimming back.

Wyatt: It’s…the ships have been burned. That reminds me of a little story about Cortez that’s probably not true, but it’s still a great story. He burned the ships to motivate everybody. So, we’ve been given 3.8 million dollars to build this program, and in a sense, our ships are burned. But now we have this brilliant group of people that are Southern Utah University and as a group, we get to pick our path. And the path may not be exactly the way you, Steve, Daniel and I think the path ought to be, but we’ll all find the path together and it’s going to be a beautiful path.

Meredith: So, President, we have…we’ve asked Dan what he thought his biggest barriers might be or I expressed what mine…I thought mine might be, how about you? What concerns do you have? What are the hard things that we need to get out in front of and make sure happen successfully and regularly?

Wyatt: So, we’ve got almost 1,000 full-time employees and we have about 11,000 students and it’s really hard to communicate with everybody everything as fast as we’d love to. Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got their own thing that they’re working on. I think one of our biggest challenges is going to be communicating out and back each step of the way. What we’re doing, getting feedback quickly, helping everybody feel like they’re empowered to be part of all of the decisions that impact them directly. I think that’s always the challenge that we’ve got.

Meredith: Which is weird in this era of instantaneous communication.

Wyatt: Well, that is the problem.

Meredith: That is the problem. It’s accuracy of communication and…

Wyatt: Well, and even me, I mean, I’m looking at my phone right now, Steve, and it says—I shouldn’t admit this to the world—but it tells me that I have, at this moment, 356 unread emails. So, I’ve got a lot of…and this is kind of a steady flow. And I know that a lot of other people have similar challenges, so, if we send out an email…

Meredith: The 211 of those that are from me, I apologize for. [All laugh]

Wyatt: I mean, we just all have…really, we all have a lot to do. And it’s hard to…we’ve had forums on this, we’ve had a number of forums but not everybody is able to attend those even though we have each of our forums twice a day to try to make it for everybody’s schedules. Those are a little bit challenging, emails are difficult, so I think the communication, as you said, change is challenging for everybody—most people, not everybody, but a lot of people—and then communicating back and forth so that everybody knows what we’re doing. But, the lack of the communication and the change combined cause some people to be really nervous and worried about what’s happening. So, I think those are two of our big challenges.

Bishoff: What would you say to those people that are nervous about the change and don’t have the answers that they want?

Wyatt: Add another email to me. [All laugh] I think if…I think what we would say is that they should be calling you, Daniel, or Steve or me because what we’re doing right now is, is we’ve put a lot of our duties on hold and the three of us are spending a significant amount of time on this and of all of our jobs, talking, listening, getting feedback, answering questions is possibly the most important thing that the three of us are doing right now.

Meredith: This podcast is an effort to help get the word out accurately and in a timely way and, as you mentioned, I think the three of us were in five separate and distinct meetings with different constituent groups today, four or five anyway, and that’s going to be our life. And that’s going to be our life. We’re going to be meeting road warriors for a little while to make sure the word gets out and gets out accurately and to calm fears. To make…and the truth is, this is what makes it the hardest for people in higher education because, as you mentioned, everybody here is brilliant. I find myself in many, many rooms where the concern is not at all, “Am I the smartest person in the room?” But the concern is, “Can I even keep up with the people in the room?” I regularly feel that way but spreading the word and spreading it accurately about what is going to transpire and how it’s going to transpire or to solicit feedback about how things should transpire is sometimes hard for smart people to wait for. They would much rather, because they’re critical thinkers, they’d much rather imagine every pathway and I think it’s incumbent on the three of us to simply say, “You know, that’s great feedback” and to shrug our shoulders and say, “We don’t know” when we don’t know because the truth is that, despite the fact that the ships were burned behind him, Cortez had no idea what was over the next hill and the same is true here. We’re really, truly plowing new ground and, despite the fact that it’s up to you, primarily, to set the course for us, we relish all the feedback that people are going to give us because it will…

Wyatt: It’s going to make it better.

Meredith: Yeah, it will help guide the process.

Wyatt: Of a better ship. Daniel, you and Steve are…one of the challenges with this is putting together degree maps, three- and four-year.

Bishoff: Right. And we’re hoping that those other smart people on campus that know a lot more than we do about specific things can help drive that and come up with a better offering in the end.

Wyatt: Yeah, why don’t you describe the challenge of three- and four-year degrees.

Bishoff: So…

Wyatt: The assumption is that everybody can graduate in three and everybody can graduate in four. How does that make our…complicate our world?

Bishoff: Yeah. [All laugh] So, as an example, if we’re offering a course every other spring semester like we do now in a four-year degree program or we’re offering a fall/spring sequence, and if you don’t take it in the fall, you have to wait an entire year before coming back to that, we have to leave that in place ultimately and we have to add other offerings in winter and summer every other semester to be able to keep what we’re doing alive and not change it and also account for people that want to speed up the process. And on top of that, we need to try to make sure that we have people to fill those classrooms. So, it’s a really complicated carousel of course offerings to try to make sure that we don’t change what we currently have, we don’t disrupt our current students that don’t want to speed up the process, but we still allow that flexibility for those students who do want to speed up the process to do it.

Wyatt: Yeah, so, making it so a student can graduate in four years only going to fall and winter and then making it so a student can graduate in three years going fall/winter/spring. Three times instead of four years’ worth. For the students, it’ll just look nice and smooth. [Laughs]

Bishoff: Yeah, students should just have more course options available every term and it should just make their lives easier, ultimately. They have more choices, they don’t have to wait as long to get courses, sequencing isn’t as important because it’s offered in more than one term…I think there are a lot of benefits for the student.

Wyatt: The first spring semester as we really start rolling this out, we assume that the number of students that come in the spring will start out a little bit slower and then build up as the culture changes. So, in fact, I think the first couple springs are going to be the best times to be here. The weather’s going to be awesome…

Meredith: Classes will be small.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Bishoff: Small class sizes.

Wyatt: Classes will be small. Cedar City is never more beautiful than it is in April, May, June, July. Great times. Seven national parks within a four-hour drive and the closest one is 20 minutes from campus. It’s a great place to be that time of year.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: You can’t beat it. So, this is…one of the fun things about it is getting students to be here when we’re the best. When it’s the best. And we have a lot of students that attend SUU from Salt Lake and Wasatch Front, but we have a lot that come from Clark County, Las Vegas, and for some of those students, they might enjoy the more moderate weather in the summer than the Vegas weather.

Bishoff: Agreed. I know I would.

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Meredith: So, you mentioned the challenges with rolling this out and that the faculty and department chairs and deans are going to be, not helping us, but completely instrumental in helping to build those three-year course plans. What’s your sense, then, of the number of programs that we’re going to be able to roll out initially? Do you think…I mean, we’re not…even though the Legislature has been very generous to us, we’re not going to be able to…it’s not reasonable to expect that we will be able to roll out every single program on the very first day, right?

Bishoff: I think that’s right. We’re hoping to have a large offering of programs, but we’re trying to be efficient in that process and think about, “What’s our student enrollment demand?” And also consider what the state is looking for with four- and five-star job placement. So, those are the degrees we’re going to focus on are, “Where are our enrollments at SUU?” And “What are the four- and five-star jobs that we need majors graduating in?” And that’s where we’re going to kind of start with the push out because you’re right, it’s going to be difficult to do just that and to incorporate all of our degrees right off the bat would be not very efficient for one and very, very challenging to do.

Wyatt: Yeah. It’s…hopefully, we’ll end up with—it’s hard to guess, isn’t it? Hopefully, we’ll have about 60% of our degrees in the first year and then just keep picking away at the rest of them. Our goal is to have them all.

Meredith: Right. Eventually to offer all. And I think our goal as we’ve discussed it is that we’ll have 100% of the programs with a three-year pathway. We, again, may not be able to afford to offer all of them right off the bat, but at least there will be preparation made in every department and in every program for a three-year pathway for students and we’ll just roll them out over subsequent years.

Bishoff: Right. That’s one thing we are doing right off the bat is gathering information from all of our majors and trying to identify the hurdles that we’ll run into throughout the process.

Wyatt: So, we’ve assembled lots of groups on campus to help work through this three-year degree option for everybody and, Daniel, you and Steve are two helping lead this project out. Daniel, why don’t you say something about the primary focus that you’re working on? And Steve? I think it’d be fun to just let everybody know what the two things you’re doing. It might help when faculty and staff have a question that they know that they can call you.

Bishoff: Yeah. So, I came into this from the budget and data analytic side of the house, and that’s primarily what my role is going to be here is trying to figure out how we distribute this money to deal with compression, to deal with equality, to deal with changing contracts from 9-, 10-, 11-month to full-year contracts, that type of thing. And trying to help us be efficient. That’s a big part of what I’ve done at SUU so far and I think that’s a big part of this process too as we roll out degree plans. Offering a course every single term doesn’t make a lot of sense and creating some efficiency around that and a carousel of course offerings to support the students but not be wasteful of our resources is, I think, where I’ll add the value.

Wyatt: And Steve, you’re…

Meredith: A long time faculty member, so, part of my responsibility will be able…will be to visit with departments and deans and faculty to help them overcome the barriers. And there certainly are some to shrinking our academic calendar just a little bit and changing course length and those types of things. And the great news is that Legislature has helped us with that. They’ve given us some funding to help people that are going to be asked to do some extra work. So, part of my job will be to help through that process. Help departments and department chairs and deans to get to Daniel the three-year degree pathways. And strategic communication, I think, is going to be part of what I’m doing. I’ll be working with our marketing office to make sure that the news is accurate and timely and, of course, part of what we do, part of what all three of us will be doing, will be that. We’ll be visiting consistently, I think, for the next several weeks, every constituent group that we can think of from community based groups to church based groups to almost every conceivable student type of gathering, open forums, and so, part of my job I see is as making sure—and I’m sure Dan feels this way too—that we’re there supporting you as this gets delivered and when people have questions, then we would be the primary source of contact. And if it’s a financial or an analytical question that they go to Dan and if it’s a, perhaps, a curricular question or a communication question or a “How can we get this done? How can we move away from an old model?” That that would probably end up in my inbox.

Wyatt: Well, it’s fun to have this breadth of background and experiences of everybody that’s working on it. I’ll throw out this as a fun little story towards the end of our conversation here. I was asked to come speak to a class for engineers, we have this fine engineering program and there’s a class that’s on Management for Engineers and I was asked to come and spend a day visiting with them about management issues. And it ended up that, in the course of this conversation, that this three-year degree option came up, so I was just talking to them. And my initial assumption was, you know, engineering classes are really hard. I haven’t ever taken one, but my dad was an engineering professor, I’ve got a brother and several brother-in-laws that are all engineers (electrical engineers), and I thought, “These guys are probably going to say, ‘Nah, this is going to be too hard for us.’” But I kind of outlined the opportunities and then I asked the class how many of them might be interested in it and the majority of them shot their hands up pretty fast. And that just kind of surprised me. And then the faculty member that was teaching the class, our engineer, said that he was really interested in it too. So, my initial assumptions about what was going to be difficult may not be as difficult as we thought once we just kind of spend the time thinking it through. And, of course, the more we think about how this helps students move through in a timely way, reach their goals, reach their options, the more we think about that this is primarily for those faculty that want to participate, there’s just so much good in it.

Meredith: We had a colleague mention in a cabinet meeting the other day the notion of being student centered and the notion of being student centered as it relates to us personally and then as it relates to the institution. And his comment was that we are all, on a personal level, very student centered. It’s why we went into this business. We love working with young people at this incredibly important time in their lives, we love supporting them in the decisions that they’re making and the challenges that they face, but sometimes, institutions are not especially student centric. We try to make sure that they are, but bureaucracy being what it is and just the natural course of human events, if you will, sometimes we move away from that. This seems to me to be one of those moments where we as an institution are making what we all agree is a hard choice, a hard cultural change, really in the institutional interest of students. We are all personally interested as well, of course, but this is a time where we as a group of people, as an institution, simply say, “It’s hard for us, but we’re going to make a cultural change, we’re going to make a calendar change, we’re going to do some things because we know that this is going to be in the best interesting of our students.”

Wyatt: And we’ll still see the kind of students that come to SUU continue to come. We have so many great students who come to SUU just because their parents did and their parents had a great experience or they have friends or, you know, the specific programs. So, we’ll still the same kind of students that have come here for the past continue coming. And, as you know, we’ve grown an average of about 8% each year for the last four or five years. So, a lot of growth going on here.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: But I believe that what we’ll find over the next several years is that our growth in new students will be led by those students who are serious about their education. Students that know what they want to do and are after it. Of course, we’ll still find a place for those that don’t know what their major is because we’ve done very well for those students, but the degree option for three years, I think, is going to draw some really great students and that will help elevate the whole quality of the experience.

Meredith: And we know that this current generation of students is more worried about getting into the workforce and specifically focused on training for work, more so than any generation prior to it.

Wyatt: Yeah. And when I was a student…how long ago was that? 40 years ago, the last thing in this world that I would have wanted…

Meredith: Man, you are old. That’s all I have to say about that.

Wyatt: Yeah, I…yes. Mr. Grey Hair sitting next to me.

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: I should say, “Mr. Grey Beard sitting next to me.”

Meredith: Yes, that’s right. Mr. Grey Beard.

Wyatt: 40 years ago, I don’t think I would have considered this, but my daughters all wanted to do it. At least the two…at the time that we started talking about it, I asked my two youngest daughters that were in school and they were both absolutely would love to do it. I think students today tend to be more interested. And every student group that I’ve visited with so far—I don’t know if your experiences have been the same, Dan and Steve—but every group I’ve talked to after about 30 minutes so that they really understand the direction we’re headed, it’s just like almost uniform, “Absolutely, this is the greatest idea ever. Even if I don’t want to do the three-year degree option, I can see how this is going to help me.”

Meredith: Right.

Bishoff: That’s my experience as well. Everybody that understands the direction we’re headed is happy. Either for a longer summer break or more options in the summer or whatever the case may be, but most students that I’ve talked to are really happy with it.

Wyatt: All of our…most of our study abroad happens in the summer when it’s the most expensive and if a student says, “I want to go to school in the fall and the spring and go on a study abroad in the winter” they don’t get behind in their studies and they get to go when it costs less. I mean, just keep adding up these little nice opportunities that it makes.

Meredith: You’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We’ve been joined in-studio by our guest Daniel Bishoff. Daniel is an Assistant to the President for Strategic Innovation. Dan, thanks for joining us, and thank you, our devoted listeners, for listening to us. We’ll be back again with another podcast soon, bye-bye.