Episode 96 - Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned: The Southwest Tech Dual Enrollment Partnership

President Scott Wyatt and Steve Meredith meet with two leaders from Southwest Technical College, Tessa Douglas, director of Dual Enrollment and Placement Services, and Will Pierce, Vice President of Instruction. They discuss the innovative partnership between SUU and Southwest Tech and how the two entities have developed multiple pathways for students to take courses at both institutions.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for 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 today in-studio by President Wyatt. Scott, it's good to see you again.

Scott Wyatt: It's good to see you, Steve. Beautiful fall day.

Meredith: It is a beautiful fall day, and we always love to have people on the show to talk about new and innovative projects and the one we're going to talk about today is near and dear to our hearts. This one is…this is part of our ongoing year effort to look back at some of the innovative things that we have tried to be involved in and to really go back and hold ourselves accountable for what has been successful and what has been maybe less successful than we'd hoped, and in every case to look at the highs and the lows and to really help ourselves understand that innovation, while wonderful, is disruptive. And so, we wanted to go back and see just how successful and/or how disruptive they've been. And as I mentioned, this particular program we're going to talk about today and these two people that have joined us are near and dear to my heart. So, why don't you introduce our guests?

Wyatt: Yeah, thank you Steve. So, we're really happy to have with us today Tessa Douglas, who is the director of Dual Enrollment and Placement Services at Southwest Tech and also Vice President of Instruction, Will. Thanks, Will and Tess, for joining us.

Tessa Douglas: Thanks for having us.

Will Pierce: Thanks.

Wyatt: You are the sausage makers. [All laugh] So, when this whole project started, Steve…and I should introduce you Steve, too, right?

Meredith: Well, that's right.

Wyatt: I'm you were the…

Meredith: I spearheaded it on our side, yeah.

Wyatt: On the Southern Utah University side. But when we first started this, Tess, you were working at Southern Utah University.

Douglas: I was, yep. 17 years.

Wyatt: 17 years.

Douglas: Yep.

Wyatt: And then switch over, which has been a great benefit to us because you know both schools so well. I think for our listeners, it might be helpful to say one thing at the beginning, and that is Southwest Tech and Southern Utah University are both in a reasonably small community, less than a mile apart from each other.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, as long as I've got maybe 15 minutes, then I can walk if I need to walk over there.

Meredith: That's actually…we recently had a meeting with someone else, because when things are successful, people will try to replicate it and it really is that sincerest form of flattery. But Will and I had to say in that meeting one of the reasons that this worked so well is because we are in a small community and we are very close together and we have to see each other at Walmart, we have to see each other at church, we have to see each other at ball games, and nobody wants to be the jerk that cheesed the whole deal, right? [All laugh] So, yeah. There is actually something to be said about the geography of this whole thing and the closeness and the close-knit aspect of our community just generally really had a positive impact. And we'll talk a little bit more about that, but we shouldn't discount the fact that this might actually be hard for people in larger metropolitan areas to do because you're not nearly as close to one another as we are here.

Pierce: That's right.

Wyatt: Will, why don't you give us just a little summary of your life story? [Laughs] How did you…you're the Vice President of Instruction at Southwest Technical College. That wasn't your first job.

Pierce: No, no. So, I grew up in Boston or surrounding areas…Massachusetts, a long, long ways away from here. And I joined the Marine Corp right out of high school and I was in the Marines for eight years active duty.

Wyatt: You're from Boston, that explains the red hair.

Pierce: It probably explains a lot of things. [All laugh] So, the Marine Corp brought me to California. I was there for a long time and different places, but I always came back to California. And after my time in the military, I moved to Mesquite, Nevada and I was in Mesquite for about 12 years and I worked as a journeyman and a master electrician and electrical contractor and then in that time, I got a undergraduate degree at UNLV in workforce education…and I don't know that they have that program anymore, but I wish they did. And I got a job at Salt Lake Community College as a Director of Apprenticeship Programs. And in that department at that time, we had about 32 or 33 and we had about 1,800 students, so it was a pretty decent sized program. So, I did that for about five years and really fell in love with the technical education piece of it, and so I moved to Davis Technical College in Kaysville and I was there about seven years as a Director of Programs and then was promoted to Vice President of Quality and Development and had a strange, weird grouping of things, including student services and marketing and data, institutional research areas and have always wanted to be in Cedar City. My family kind of wanted to be in Cedar City. I had two children who had committed to SUU and a position came open at SUU…or, at Southwest Tech, and so I made an application and convinced President Wood to hire me. So, I ended up here. So, I hope that's brief enough.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's good.

Meredith: Your life has been almost as weird like mine. You've really bounced around.

Pierce: That's right, that's right.

Wyatt: Well, and Will, I'm not even sure your hair is red. It just popped out.

Pierce: It used to be red. When I was a kid, my hair color was about as red as SUU's banner. So… [All laugh]

Wyatt: Steve and I have the same color of hair. It's called "arctic blonde." [All laugh]

Meredith: Is that what it is?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Pierce: Arctic blonde.

Wyatt: Yeah, when I buy my hair color at the salon, it's "arctic blonde."

Meredith: Yeah. President, I would be really pleased to watch you get your hair colored. And I think we could actually sell tickets to that if, in fact, that actually occurred, which I think it doesn't.

Wyatt: The older I get, you know, I have to color my hair to match my age.

Meredith: Is that what it is?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: My…rather than arctic blonde, I have always imagined mine to be "salt and pepper," but now almost entirely salt. [Laughter] Very little pepper remaining in the mix here.

Wyatt: Between the two, I'm a real fan of pepper, so I'll just go with arctic blonde. Tess…

Douglas: Yes.

Wyatt: Give us your story?

Douglas: OK. It's not quite as exciting and varied as Will's. So, I moved here from the tiny town of Panaca, Nevada, about 800 people in 2000 to attend SUU as a student. And my second semester here, I got a student job on campus in Continuing Education and I really, really enjoyed it and while I was working in Continuing Ed, SUU decided to start its Study Abroad program. And students were bringing in applications to be the very first student worker in that office and I was accepting these applications because I was at the front desk, and I kept thinking, "Gosh, what a cool job that would be. That would be so neat, I want that job." And then I thought, "Duh, just go talk to the woman in charge." At the time it was a Russian woman. I don't know if you knew her, it was Alla Paroiatnikova.

Wyatt: No, that was before me.

Douglas: Yeah, she started it and her husband was a dean here. And so, I just went to her office and said, "Hey, could I be your student worker?" And she said, "Yeah, that'd be great" because we already knew each other. And so, she talked to my boss at the time and my boss was like, "Yeah, that'd be fine." And that's kind of how I got started. So, I was the very first student worker in the Study Abroad program right when it began and I just loved it so much once I started doing that job and helping to build that program. It was just so much fun and I began meeting people from all over the world and I was helping students go to other countries and I studied abroad…and so at that point, I decided, "This will be my career." And it was because I left SUU…it was just two years ago, so I guess 2018, and for that whole time I worked in Study Abroad and just loved it, loved it, loved it. And the only reason I left is because I just started getting a little bit unchallenged by it. I'd been doing it for so long, but it was really fun to see that program grow from zero students in the first year as we were developing it into 500 students the year I left. And one of the reasons I went over to Southwest Tech when I saw this job opening was I thought, "Gosh, that would be really cool because it's building a program again from scratch a little bit, and I know a lot about working with different institutions" because I had had been working with international universities who vary widely depending on the country and how they structure things. And I'd worked a lot with course articulations for students who were doing semesters abroad and so I thought, "OK, I could bring that." And it just seemed like a really, really neat challenge and a good learning opportunity to try something new in a different system of higher ed right within my state. And so, I was really fortunate to get hired and now I've been there two years.

Wyatt: That's great. And for our audience that hasn't met you and can't see, there is no arctic blonde.

Douglas: Not quite yet.

Meredith: No. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, let's frame this just a little bit, and the framing is that Southern Utah University is a regional university that grants credit and awards degrees from certificates, associates, all the way up to masters and it looks like we'll have our first doctorate in a year.

Meredith: I'm knocking on wood over here.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Southwest Tech…and we've been around for almost 125 years. Southwest Tech is a spectacular technical college granting certificates, career based certificates, plus retraining in a variety of ways and formats and has been around…how long?

Pierce: We started in 1994.

Wyatt: 1994.

Pierce: Yeah, we branched off from the Iron County School district and then through a bunch of different governance changes that happened, we bounced around, but the school has been in operation since 1994.

Wyatt: Beautiful facilities.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: A lot of really wonderful programs. And in the state system, they cannot award any kind of college credit.

Meredith: They're clock hour based.

Wyatt: Clock hour certificates.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: So, this project started out as—and there's a lot of ways to describe it—but the simplest way to describe it is, "How do we create a seamless pathway from SUU to Southwest Tech, from Southwest Tech to SUU and find a way that all of the students at Southwest Tech working in these career programs can get college credit so that they can take those to SUU or take them to any other university and not just credit, but credit that transfers…"

Meredith: That counts.

Wyatt: "Seamlessly into a degree."

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: So anyway, I think that's the…is that a good brief summary?

Douglas: Yeah, it's a great one.

Pierce: Yeah. Good job, President.

Wyatt: And why don't we start talking about…well, this kind of began in a whole bunch of ways, but I think it's helpful to point out that as we were early on in this, Steve, we went and met with our accreditors.

Meredith: Yeah, actually I think they were a little surprised by that. In subsequent conversations I've had with them, they said, "Universities don't usually come talk to us." It's not that they were taken back, but they were impressed by the fact that we all flew up to Seattle to the Northwest Commission for Colleges and Universities and we said, "We are planning to do this thing that we think no one else has done nationally." And we all around the table still think nobody has done it. Tess is in the middle of doing her doctoral dissertation that has something to do with this, and as she's been doing searching, we still think this is a unique program in the United States. In our visit to the Northwest Commission, I think…Will, you were there and President, you and I were there, we went there with a little bit of trepidation because there's a sense sometimes that accrediting bodies are there to keep you from doing something, right? [All laugh] And I think we all can agree that…

Wyatt: And let's be honest, there's an arrogance from universities to non-degree granting technical colleges.

Meredith: Oh my gosh, yes.

Wyatt: So, we were worried about how she would respond.

Meredith: Yes, absolutely. And in fact, every conversation that we had with them, both in person and then subsequently afterwards, was delightful and positive and they not only said, "We think you should do it" but they said, "And when you do it, write articles about it and let's talk about it because this will be something that…" They could see this coming, I guess is what I'm saying, that others would want to join in with this and they were very interested from the very beginning. So…

Wyatt: Yeah, it's such a creative, innovative program in terms of the scope of it. But it all began with the accreditors…the process.

Meredith: And we came home almost immediately and you and President Wood from Southwest Tech signed a memorandum of understanding and we had a little signing ceremony and I think we all looked at each other and said, "OK, so…now what?" [All laugh]

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: "Now that we've got this paper that tells us that we can, how does this actually work?" And so, we put together a team on our side and Will put together a group from Southwest Tech and we began to meet regularly on a number of different fronts. I think I saw Will almost as often as I saw my wife there for about six months. [All laugh]

Pierce: I'm sorry. [Laughs]

Meredith: Yeah. Yeah, because there are so many moving pieces, but anyway, I'm jumping ahead of myself, but the curricular part was the one I think we were all the most worried about.

Pierce: That's right.

Meredith: And President, you already made allusion to…I think our greatest fear was that there would be…that the group from the university would show up and say, "Ah, your stuff is not as good as ours." And so, we created a series of days, articulation days, where we invited people to come and Will, I should let you jump in here and talk about it. We hosted them, actually, at Southwest Tech, very…it was so wonderful to meet in your beautiful facilities and have beautiful catered lunches by your folks in your culinary…

Pierce: By our culinary program.

Meredith: Yeah. Anyway, go ahead. Let's chat about it from your perspective, that circular part.

Pierce: Yeah, so what we did was we gathered faculty and administrations at Southwest Tech and we said, "Let's take a look at your curriculum. Let's pull together your syllabi, let's pull together your…what textbooks you're using, let's get some examples of some of your assignments, some of your tests, both the didactic tests, like handwritten tests, essay questions, those kinds of things, as well as your hands-on tests we're required to do." And we got all of that together, it was a monumental task. Just that alone is monumental with 20 programs or so, and then we invited the counterparts at SUU to come over, the faculty from SUU, and we shared with them, "This is what we do" and we fed them lunch, we talked to them, we…I say, "we," but really, President Wyatt, you and your staff, your Provost and Associate Provost gave them permission to review and look at what it is we're doing. And the advice we gave faculty members was, "Primarily, we're focused on competencies. If a student at a Southwest Tech program is learning certain skills or certain knowledge and that knowledge is also being learned at SUU, then those two courses ought to articulate one with another." In general, we try to keep a 30 clock-hour to one credit hour ratio.

Meredith: Right.

Pierce: But it was more focused on those competencies. Those competencies were important. If they're learning and they're demonstrating that they're understanding and they know and they can apply that and that is what they're learning at SUU, then we want that to articulate. I think that was the first step in the process.

Meredith: And to the everlasting credit of our faculty, there was no sense of superiority or anything. They came to the table with all of those same things, they came with their syllabi and everything else and we just started to go down…" On one side of the table, here's this, on the other side, here's that. What are our common competencies?" And we broke out into small groups by discipline and very quickly…what, 11 or 12 of these things? And we need to be clear about these. These are not just program articulations, these are course-by-course articulations so that students who are taking a class at Southwest Tech would automatically get credit for that class at Southern Utah University. They didn't have to do anything, they didn't have to pay a transfer fee, nothing. All they had to do was sign up, participate in the dual-enrollment program. So, those two elements, the fact that it's a really deep course by-course articulation and the fact that the student doesn't have to do anything to earn that credit aside from taking and passing the class at your institution I think is what really makes this thing unique. And really ideal, actually, for our two institutions because we weren't getting a lot of your students, and our students couldn't come your direction and take a course for credit over there and then bring it back into their bachelor's degrees. So, students on both sides were being maybe less well-served than they could have been. And that kind of drove all of our thinking from the very beginning. Faculty and administrators on both sides, "How can we make this better for the students?" We often talk about that on the show, President, but I don't know that I've worked with a group of people that was more singular in focus than the group that we got together in terms of, "Look, we know there are going to be problems, but we can overcome these problems in the best interest of students."

Wyatt: Tess, you came in after the whole thing had been started and then helping lead the program.

Douglas: Mhmm.

Wyatt: Talk to us about what you're seeing.

Douglas: Gosh, it's been so fun to be a part of and to see how students are utilizing it. So, my understanding is the original interest was to help Southwest Tech students have a pathway to the university if they decided they wanted to continue their education, right? So, the course-by-course articulations. And I've certainly seen that, we're seeing that right now. I know several students who are currently attending SUU who finished some of our programs last year, so that's really exciting to work with them. And then we're also seeing a lot of students from SUU who are supplementing their degrees by taking classes at Southwest Tech. we've had a couple of students just already since the program has been implemented who have graduated a semester before they expected because they were supplementing their full-time load at SUU with hands-on courses at Southwest Tech. Specifically, the ones I know of are welding and computer science so far. Just yesterday, we had a student come in who is doing an agri-business major, and he wants to take welding and he's got electives he can use so he'll probably fill those up with welding classes to help him finish his degree as well. And so, we're seeing a lot of SUU students utilize this partnership, as well as the Southwest Tech students, to further their education and to learn the things and gain the skills they want to for their future careers.

Wyatt: Tess, you bring up a really important point about welding, as an example. So, Southern Utah University has a variety of programs where welding would be helpful.

Douglas: Mhmm.

Wyatt: But it makes no sense for Southern Utah University to build a welding shop and hire a welding faculty member and worry about all of the aspects of that, when less than a mile away sits incredibly welding faculty and facilities. And in fact, it costs less, right?

Pierce: Right.

Wyatt: Your tuition is a lot less than ours.

Meredith: Yeah, pennies on the dollar to go over there.

Pierce: That's exactly right, yeah.

Wyatt: So, part of the goal here was is to find the best efficiencies that we can.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And in fact, find ways that the students at SUU can benefit from taking programs at Southwest Tech that apply to their majors and help them be better prepared for their future careers. And we're seeing that, as you're describing.

Douglas: Yep, we are. And I know the academic advisors, I meet with them every semester so that they're aware so that they can advise their students about their programs. And I know some are coming from the advisor, but I think it's also word of mouth. They're just hearing about the partnership and looking into it and asking us questions or reaching out to me and then they're like, "Yeah, this is amazing. I can't believe we can do this!"

Wyatt: And we started this out by saying that the students need to choose. We're not going to just say, "You're at Southwest Tech, so you're automatically getting credit." There needs to be some election on their part. Why don't we talk about the numbers? The overall successes?

Pierce: Yeah. Yeah, we can do that. I think Steve has those numbers, but…

Meredith: I actually do. So, this is as of the end of summer semester. We don't know about fall, and I should say as I'm reporting these numbers that one…so, we have said, President, that in this years' worth of podcasts that we will speak openly about challenges, and one of the challenges is, is that we have this dumb word called "semester" and that Southwest Tech doesn't use that word at all. They don't have that, and so we…what would be the end of SUU's summer semester, which doesn't mean anything to Southwest Tech, we've had 905 students participate so far, and we've granted almost 3,200 credit hours to those students. So far as we're aware, all of the qualified students…all of the students in qualified programs that have been enrolling at Southwest Tech, when given the option to participate or not, 100% of them have participated in the dual-enrollment program. And so, these are…we set ourselves lofty goals. We wanted a higher than 90% participation rate, we were hoping I think to have 500 students in the first year, and we've had 100% participation and nearly 1,000 students. And so, it's going kind of gang busters over there, and we just couldn't be happier with it. I'm not involved with it in the day-to-day operation of this anymore, but I consider the time that we spent together looking at all of this to be a really great education for me about the different ways that institutions do things. The thing that always comes to my mind is student services. So, along with the articulation days, Will, that we were having with faculty, we began to hold regular meetings and we invited the Presidents of both institutions to be in the room because you and I both said, "It will be important to have both presidents there to say, ‘No, no this is what we're doing, and let's make it work.'"

Pierce: That's right.

Meredith: And all of those things that make this thing unique, many of them presented great challenges. One is that credit hour to clock hour thing. One is how do you report student completion? How do we set up a safe, digitally secure way when we use Banner and you use a different program, how do we report? How do we report to IPEDS? All of these things that are just moving parts that nobody outside of higher ed would know about or care about, but in our world are quite important and challenging, right? And so, I actually loved those meetings too, because…I mean, a great example is financial aid.

Pierce: That's true.

Meredith: Our financial aid is really different than yours, and I think when we first go together, we all kind of shrugged our shoulders and said, "Man, I don't know if we're going to be able to make that work." And as it turned out, with some due diligence on both your part and our part, we figured out a solution that actually works great.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: For all of our students.

Wyatt: I think one of the keys was two naïve presidents who sat in these meetings and said, "Oh come on, it can't be that hard." [All laugh] "We're confident you can figure this out." And then whenever there was a question about something, it was, "Well, what's in the best interest of the students?" And, "You guys figure it out." And I think with that encouragement, everybody did. It did require some major paradigm shifting.

Meredith: It did.

Wyatt: Tess, what are you hearing from the students?

Douglas: Mostly good stuff so far. The SUU students who come all seem to have really positive feedback about their programs. They're really excited that they have an option to do hands-on type learning in addition to their academic learning at SUU. A lot of the Southwest Tech students who have moved on to SUU, they've been really, really grateful because they don't necessarily think they would have gone to SUU otherwise but they already had this easy pathway and these credits earned, and so that got them interested in coming to SUU or they wouldn't have otherwise, or may not have otherwise. So, the student feedback to me at least has been really positive so far overall.

Wyatt: There's a philosophical issue here that I think is helpful to explain, and that is that Southwest Tech has some amazing things that higher ed doesn't have. Higher ed meaning colleges and universities—we're all higher ed—the academic colleges and universities. You can start, Will, you can start any Monday of the year, right?

Pierce: Yeah.

Wyatt: And you move through as fast as you want to move through. And the tuition is really quite inexpensive. It's highly subsidized, much more highly subsidized from the state.

Pierce: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And the university starts three times a year, and in some programs, six if we're in the certain kind of things. And we, at the time, we had two completely independent governing boards, and so we started out by saying, "We do not want to merge. We do not want to affect our governance. We want Southwest to keep everything great about it and we want the university to keep everything great about it. We don't want to pretend that the university can deliver these courses. We don't want to make this so that we make money off of somebody. We want students at SUU who came to the university not certain of their majors and then they become confused to feel like they can transfer or mostly change their major. That's kind of the way we wanted them to feel, that they're just changing their major, they're not dropping out looking for something else. So, it feels…we've tried to make it feel like one organization in two very different organizations. And when someone says, for example, in computer science, "What happens if a student discovers that she can take this class at SUU or at Southwest and Southwest charged very low tuition and the university charges higher…what do we do when someone discovers that? Because that's going to hurt the finances at the university. And our answer was, "Hooray for the student! She figured it out." [All laugh] We're trying to train bright people.

Douglas: Yeah, and you know, honestly we've seen in mostly summer though, not during the regular semester, but what they're doing in computer science is they're saying, "Oh, these are open-entry, self-paced. If I already understand programming, I can knock these courses out quickly and then my prerequisites are done so I can actually be at a higher level when I return to SUU in the fall." That's what I've been seeing with them is they're taking advantage of it during the summer to get ahead for the fall with their prerequisites.

Wyatt: That is a beautiful success story.

Douglas: Yeah. More than one. I've had several that I know of.

Wyatt: We had…at some point, Chris Cox was the governor's budget director and she called me and said, "How are you going to measure success?" And I said, "Well, Chris, let's see. If this program is completely successful, that means that some of our students will take classes at Southwest Tech, which means that our revenue might dip just a teeny bit and it might mean that our enrollments dip just a little bit. And if a student comes to SUU and then has second thoughts about her or his career path, that student might change her major, so to speak, and go to Southwest Tech. So, let me see: I think that most of the outcomes are negative for us." [All laugh] In terms of reporting.

Meredith: Right.

Douglas: Yeah.

Wyatt: You're never going to be able to assess the success of this program if you look at the two schools totally independent of each other. You're going to have to look at them jointly and it's going to have to force us…I think this is a good example of where assessment is really, really, really hard, right?

Meredith: Right.

Douglas: Mhmm.

Wyatt: You're going to have to just look at almost anecdotal evidence of all the student's experiences to say, "It's working for this person, and it's working for this person and this person and this person. And the university doesn't have to hire a welding instructor for their various programs." But…what are you hearing from your faculty, Will?

Pierce: Our faculty love it. I think they're more connected with their counterparts at SUU than they have been in the past. I know our welding teachers are having the engineering faculty over frequently. We bring the engineering students over and we have a night of welding, we suit them up and put them in boots and have them strike an arc on some metal and make some metal hot and they love it because they don't necessarily get to do that in their engineering program, but it's important for them to know what happens when that rod hits that metal. And so, they see that. We've had some of the engineering faculty who have come over and actually taken a class because they have an engineering degree, an advanced degree in engineering, but might not have any industry level experience, and so this provides them some hands-on experience that they like. We have the same situation in computer science. We have culinary students; we have automotive students that are just…and faculty who are connecting with each other like they haven't had before. And I think that that's a benefit for them because they're all faculty and they all have similar experiences, and now that they can collaborate, not only just on curriculum but also on some experiences, that, I think, is helpful for as they go back to their individual institutions and talk to their students, they now have a broader perspective of education and their industry.

Wyatt: There's…I'm just thinking about how much time it would take us to talk about this program. We could go on for a week.

Meredith: Yeah, we could do a series of podcasts for sure about it.

Wyatt: I'd like to mention something else, and then let's jump to another topic here. But we also made this decision, didn't we? That we wanted to make sure that the program lasted a long time and didn't change when the personalities changed. And so, one of the tactics that we used among many was, "Why don't the two institutions give each other's institution the same benefits as if they were employees?" And so, if you're a SUU employee, then that means that you can get a discount on your tuition.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: Free. Your dependents, discount. And there's a variety of those kinds of benefits, and also at Southwest Tech, and so we said, "Let's really act as if we're different departments of the same school even though we are not the same school." And so, we extended all of those benefits to each other and there were moments when we thought, "Could this totally overwhelm Southwest?"

Pierce: That's right, yeah.

Wyatt: And I'd love to get your reaction to that, but the point was is that if we can get the employees invested and the employee's students taking advantage of…employee's children taking advantage of the different programs that we could create a culture where no one would want this to go away…

Meredith: Right. Right.

Wyatt: It's not that there's a benefit to the employees, it's that the employees now have a personal and vested interest to make sure that this is a success, because there is actually something in it for them. I'm a political science professor, and the greatest good from a political science standpoint comes when the personal interest aligns with the public interest. [All laugh]

Pierce: That's right.

Wyatt: Anyway, how has that worked, Will and Tessa? In terms of what you see?

Douglas: You go first.

Pierce: OK, yeah. So, I think it's been great. I know that we hear it a lot in our school where we have employees who have children. I personally have two children who are going to school at SUU this semester, this year.

Wyatt: Under an employee benefit.

Pierce: Under an employee benefit, they get half tuition at SUU because I'm an employee at Southwest Tech. So that's, it's been hugely beneficial that way. And I think it draws allegiance to SUU. I think we all have an allegiance to our school that we work for, we wear apparel that matches that. It's not uncommon to walk the halls of Southwest Tech and see Southwest Tech employees wearing SUU apparel. And at times, you're like, "Well, hold on a second." [All laugh] No, we're OK right that one, right? And so, that's important I think, and our employees' part of that…I think you alluded to perhaps we might have felt a little overwhelmed. We have about 45 full-time employees at Southwest Tech.

Wyatt: And we have about 1,000.

Pierce: [Laughs] That's right. And so, when we start talking about extending benefits, yes, our tuition is much smaller and lower, but to extend that to 1,000 people and their dependents versus 45 people. [All laugh]

Meredith: Now you're talking real money.

Pierce: So, it felt like it had the potential to be overwhelming, but even though we see a lot of crossover with employees and employee dependents, I don't know that it's been overwhelming. It's actually been really good. It's been good to talk to students and say, "Well, my dad or my mom is a professor over at SUU and this is what they teach" and it allows us an opportunity to connect with additional faculty members and additional staff members at SUU.

Wyatt: This has always been one of the difficult challenges between organizations so different is that the cultures are so different.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: I mean, there's almost nothing about the cultures that's the same.

Meredith: And there were moments when both presidents had to kind of swallow hard, right? I mean, you just said, "Yeah, we're going to probably lose some money on tuition and we might lose people in our IPEDS report and all of the things in our typical report thing that might actually look as though they've been negatively impacted." Which I know…I've worked long enough with you, President, to know that that's one of those moments when a president has to say, "[Swallow hard] This is what's in the best interest of the students, and if it doesn't help us in our reporting, ‘Oh well.' If students figure out that they can take a class at a better time, at a lower rate at our sister institution with whom we have this thing, then good on them and we're fine to forego that tuition." President Wood had to swallow hard on the tuition benefit thing. [All laugh] I was in that meeting and watched that moment transpire when he finally started to realize the scope of what that was going to be. But, to his credit, as to yours, both of you as we've worked through this, even though there have been a few moments of pause, nothing has deviated from that, "Is this in the best interest of students?" And in our particular case, this thing that we're talking about, this tactic of shared benefits, this is in the best interest of the health of the partnership. And I can just say anecdotally, I've said this many times before, but when I get questions about this particular project, it's inevitably, "Now, I have a son or daughter that really wants to take…" [All laugh] "I love that they're going to go here to SUU, but they really are interested in HVAC or they're really interested in welding or they're really interested in something that Southwest Tech does. Tell me more about that tuition benefit." And so, they're…if there was a brilliant stroke of inspiration for that program, President, that stroke of inspiration that you had to help us pursue that I think was the moment at which we all realized how serious and how deep this partnership could run. And again, to everyone's credit.

Douglas: Yeah.

Meredith: It's been very effective.

Douglas: And I think as a result of that, of yours and President Wood's leadership and desire to make it work and build those deep, meaningful relationships between the faculty and staff at both institutions…so, we've got the official benefits, but we've also found other ways to build relationships and collaborate that are not officially a part of the agreement. For example, our community education courses, right?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah.

Douglas: They were duplicating efforts to market and they said, "Well, let's work together on this."

Meredith: Printing separate schedules and all that stuff.

Douglas: Yeah. So, now they've got a joint website, they send out a joint schedule to the community and it's been a great collaboration for them. Our culinary program catered one of your tailgates last year which was a lot of fun for us to get out to football for our faculty and staff, it was amazing, and it was a way to showcase culinary but also feed the people that come to that some really good food. Things like Title IX, I'm also the Title IX Coordinator at Southwest Tech but I've been able to collaborate with your Title IX Coordinator and we've been able to do joint training to meet new federal requirements so that we didn't have to figure them out just on our own. And so, all of these unofficial collaborations that have been really positive for both schools have been really, really neat to see and I think they're a direct result of the support that you and President Wood have given this partnership. And it's been really amazing to see those kind of naturally come into place. People have said, "Yeah, how can we work together for both of our benefits?"

Wyatt: Yeah, and if we have an SUU employee day at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, we try to always remember to invite the Southwest Tech employees.

Douglas: Yeah, and we appreciate it a lot.

Meredith: And you get tickets to sporting events and fine arts events and things.

Wyatt: At our signing agreement, we presented President Wood with a football helmet and said, "You're the only technical college in Utah that has a football team now." [All laugh]

Douglas: I didn't know that, that's awesome.

Pierce: Yeah.

Wyatt: Let's kind of shift into some of the challenges. What I remember is, is when we launched this agreement, the enthusiasm from the system of technical colleges exceeded the enthusiasm from the system of higher education of colleges and universities. Anyway… [All laugh] I'm pausing because I'm thinking, "What's the best thing to say to this?"

Meredith: Do you want to delve further into that, President? [All laugh]

Wyatt: No, I just think that was one of the interesting challenges for it was that I think that President Wood and all of those that worked with him were a little bit more enthusiastic than the people that worked with me. But interestingly enough to fast forward from then to now, the state has changed the governance structure and my immediate boss is the same as President Wood's immediate boss.

Pierce: That's right, yeah.

Wyatt: So, it's still two systems but it's really under one governing board. And that's been beautiful, actually, it's really neat. Well, OK. Tess and Will, what could have gone better?

Douglas: I can say what still could if you want?

Pierce: Yeah.

Wyatt: Or what's in the future?

Douglas: I wasn't there at the start, but…and a lot of these we're working through as they come up. There are some programs still that the course-by-course articulations could be improved because the articulations currently don't really fit into a degree plan. So, although our students are earning credits in those programs, they're not necessarily degree related, so they don't necessarily help them.

Wyatt: So, they get electives but it doesn't apply to the requirements for a degree.

Douglas: Right. And depending on the degree, there might not be a lot of electives that they need.

Meredith: Right.


Douglas: Or those electives that they're getting from us are lower division and they might need all upper division in their electives. It just depends on the degree, but for some students, they'll have these credits that don't necessarily benefit them as they seek to earn a bachelor's. So, that's something that continues to be worked out and I think we'll continue to improve as time goes on and as people come together.

Wyatt: If we look at them program by program, the majority of the programs have beautiful articulation and a few of them don't.

Douglas: Correct.

Wyatt: What's the difference? Why are some better than others?

Pierce: That's a challenging question, President. I think sometimes there's a need or a desire to protect what's yours. There's some historical traditions that we try to hold onto and there's an idea that, "Well, you're a tech college and your pre-baccalaureate and you really should be doing things at the 1000 and 2000 level course level area. And yet the competencies in this course are the same competencies that we have in a 3000 level course or a 4000 level course."

Wyatt: And when you say 1000 and 2000 and 3000 and 4000, we're talking about basically freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.

Pierce: Yeah.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Kind of.

Pierce: Freshman/sophomore level versus a junior/senior level, an upper division level. "And we really shouldn't give you 3000 level credit, we shouldn't give you junior level credit for work that's being conducted at a technical college that primarily serves freshman level, sophomore level college students." And so, working through that, helping people understand. I think what happens as, you're right, you spoke to…there's the great majority of our programs and the great majority of the colleges at SUU, departments at SUU are articulating well, and they ones who are not, it's fairly obvious who is and who is not articulating well. And I know that there was at least one department who, at a meeting to approve some articulation agreements, we learned at that meeting that that was not going to be approved.

Meredith: Yeah.

Pierce: Kind of almost surprisingly. I think Tessa was there…

Meredith: That was a shock to us.

Pierce: And Steve was there and…but since that point, faculty from that department have come over to our school, they're taking advantage of our students, our faculty members are enrolled in classes in that department, their faculty are enrolled in classes at our school and I think that that relationship is getting better. There are still some that still need some work and we'll continue to work with them. When a faculty member is ready to make that commitment to the articulation, we'll stand ready to help them move that along. And I'd hate to force it, I'd hate to have a university faculty member or a dean or a department chair to feel like their hand was forced in this, but I think they see that they're kind of the…

Wyatt: Outliers.

Pierce: Outlier, yeah.

Wyatt: Well, Steve, in terms of these articulation meetings, what's the difference between the ones that were articulated very well and the ones that were not quite as well?

Meredith: You know, I think Will alluded to the difference between upper division and lower division. It was interesting from my perspective, Will, to see that on our side, a couple of our academic programs actually revised downward…

Pierce: That's right.

Meredith: Their thing. Their courses that they were teaching at the 3000 and 4000 level that Southwest Tech was teaching at their level and they had identical competencies, and they said, "We shouldn't be awarding upper division credit for this if Southwest Tech is…" And so, they actually revised downward. I think the difference though, President, from my perspective anyway, was some of that lingering sense that the university should drive all of this and that Southwest Tech was fortunate to be participating sort of a thing. And maybe not even having the right people around the table initially from a couple of the academic programs. And again, we were very clear from both presidents on down that we wanted this to be a voluntary participation thing. It continues to be voluntary for our academic programs, and from the very beginning—and I think this is true in almost every human endeavor—from the very beginning, some people got it immediately. They saw the depth that could be achieved. Others kind of went into it a little bit half-heartedly. And, as Will said, that half-heartedness is now becoming wholeheartedness in some places, but there still remains work there to be done in a couple of areas. And I have every reason to believe that the academic folks on our side and the academic folks on Southwest Tech's side will actually make those things come to pass. And there were some things that we almost created out of whole cloth. My favorite thing about this is that we had to create a new prefix at SUU for our swine herd management thing. [All laugh] And it's the PORK. That's my favorite academic prefix, the pork prefix. And so, some of the things that…you know, when we talk about stumbling blocks, some of them were not really stumbling blocks, it's just new ground that we're plowing and no one's ever done it before. So, we honestly don't know if in some cases, "Are we being successful?" Well, one of the ways that you would monitor success is by comparing yourselves to similar programs, and there's really nothing similar. And so, as we continue to be the forerunners, maybe the only runners in this, we'll continue to look inward at what we're doing and try to improve both our processes and the outcomes. But that's, for me, that's one of the challenges is that…I mean, I've…I know Tess is writing this dissertation, I've gotten to write a couple of magazine articles, I know President Wood has gone on a little bit of a speaking junket and other things talking about this and it's the newness and uniqueness that is both an amazing positive, but also leaves us wondering, "Is there more that we could be doing?" And as we look around, no one else is doing it, and so it kind of falls on our shoulders to continue to innovate with this, which in some ways is a little bit of a challenge if you're creating all of the new ideas because no one else is doing it.

Wyatt: So, this is one of the…and when we keep saying, "We're the only program in the country," there's a lot of organizations that have pieces of this.

Meredith: Sure, transfer agreements and other things.

Douglas: Mhmm.

Wyatt: Yeah, what we're talking about being the unique program in the country is a fully comprehensive, completely accredited program between both. And we refer to it as a dual-enrollment, but probably technically it's a transfer program.

Meredith: Yeah. It's as close as you can get to dual-enrollment. I mean, it's not simultaneous, it lags by about two weeks, but that's faster than anywhere in the world. And students don't have to apply to do it.

Wyatt: They don't have to apply; they don't have to pay a dime.

Meredith: And so, that's where it really makes a difference I think.

Douglas: Yeah, their Southwest Tech ID cards have SUU T-numbers on them. I mean they are…

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Douglas: They're students at both.

Wyatt: They're students at both. We count them for IPEDS purposes as being at one place or the other…

Meredith: Right.


Wyatt: For the classes that they take, so we're not getting double counting. So, that's one of the challenges or issues that's still being worked through is that some departments are perfectly articulated, and some a little bit less perfectly. And probably, the more engaged the faculty are in the two departments, probably the higher the articulation is because you've developed that trust and confidence and you have the decision makers more engaged. Another issue moving forward is, is that I think that at SUU, one of our goals is that we not duplicate anything. So, we live in a community of 30,000ish people and we've got these two, one university and one technical college, and hopefully at some point, we will not be offering the same thing at two schools ever. So, if you are offering a class, Will, at the Tech, then SUU would not offer that same course. And we still have some duplication, but it's not a lot. And you can't just turn things on and off.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: But as we move forward, the hope is that we don't have anything that's duplicative.

Meredith: And if there are things that Southwest Tech does better or more efficiently than we do, we want to be the people that get rid of that thing. This has to be a two-way street. In the same way that both institutions have been willing to sacrifice to do that, I think moving forward into phase two of this, there will be more common sacrifices, more things that we look at and say, "You know what, they teach beginning level math better than we do," as just as an example, the 099 kind of math classes, "Maybe we should start to ramp that down over here and just send our students to Southwest Tech."

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Those kinds of things will…that's phase two, I think, of the project.

Wyatt: Yeah, and it's…if it's less expensive for the students and less expensive for the taxpayers, then that's what we should be doing, and it allows us to reinvest resources. But those are difficult things because we have people teaching in those areas.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Well, that's another issue. Another one that I've thought…well, when this happens then it will be a massive success in my mind, and that is that in certain degrees at SUU, you can't complete the degree without taking a class from Southwest Tech.

Meredith: This is also part of phase two.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: That will show that we really are integrated, and it will show that we really are maximizing our resources for the students' benefit.

Meredith: Because we have some entrepreneurial students that we have already mentioned that are over there and doing that. They're seeing, "OK, I can get this done at Southwest Tech, I can bring it back because it automatically transfers back, and it will count toward my degree program." But actually, changing our curriculum to include Southwest Tech classes. That's going to be the next big step on the university's part for sure.

Wyatt: And we've, Tess, we just had last spring our first SUU graduate who, as part of her degree program, had a Southwest Tech class. It's a Theater Technology Bachelor's Degree student who had a welding class from Southwest Tech and you know, if your job is to make sets and all of these kinds of things, that makes so much sense.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: So, hypothetically…and she took that, it was a super exciting moment for all of us I think. But it will be a triple exciting moment when we say, "In order to graduate with, hypothetically, with Theater Technology, you have to take this welding class because you're going to need it to build sets." That's when we really say, "We trust you." [All laugh] And I use that hypothetically because that may or may not be the program, but anyway…what else is there? Anything else that's the next grouping?

Douglas: One of the other challenges that I think is important for people to know about is information sharing and the technology to do so because it's got to be…you know, you've got to be sharing data between the two schools if the students are dually enrolled and sharing their course records and things like that and you've got to do it securely. And the way that we shared the records initially we found out in the registrar's office at SUU, they were spending a good chunk of their week, the person in charge of actually recording those classes, just like half of his week was spent just filtering through the records we were sending because we weren't doing it in a way that was easy for him to get all the new data. And also during COVID as he was working from home, our records, the secure records weren't making it through the VPN and he was also making updates that weren't making it back to us through the VPN and so, these are just really interesting challenges that, until you start communicating and saying, "Hey, we're not seeing these certain things" or he's saying, "Hey, this is taking me forever. Is there a better way to do this?" Those were big challenges and sometimes continue to be so. Just last week, we talked about some issues with data transfer and information that wasn't coming through to figure those out, but that's something that I think because of the security and things that you need to have with that that people should be aware of that it might take some time to work through the record sharing and things like that.

Wyatt: Ultimately, the ideal world, we would be on some of the same computer systems and that would add to the efficiency between the two schools if we had a common one. And then we could have employees that are managing the same systems for both schools. So, there may be in the long run some staffing side efficiencies that we haven't explored yet that would allow us to move resources to teaching. The more efficient we are on the staff side, the more resources we have left for teaching. Anything else, Will?

Pierce: You know, I think we've hit practically everything that we've done. It's been a great, exciting partnership. I look forward to what that looks like in the future. I think it's going to be great. What's interesting is I go and meet with the other instructional officers at the tech colleges and that's how that…

Meredith: Yeah.

Pierce: We had a conversation earlier this week or last week with another tech college and that's how it gets out. It's, "Well, how are you doing this? I think we understand philosophically how that works, but how are you really doing this?"

Meredith: Yeah.

Pierce: And, "Is it really working? Or is this just a press ploy that you're doing?" And it's, "No, it's really working. We have 900 students who are receiving credit while they're attending Southwest Tech." And then you get, "Well, you need to come here and help us understand how and why and let's bring our local university together" and there's just a lot that goes into it. And it's not easy, and though we might have carved a path forward, I don't know that it's that much easier for those that are coming behind us. That path still is difficult.

Wyatt: There isn't really…my impression is there isn't really a system that you can put in place that makes this work. It just requires an absolute commitment of the leadership at both places, and everybody has to give something away.

Pierce: That's right.

Wyatt: I think I've had other university presidents tell me, "Well, we're not going to do that because we'd have to give something away and we'd have to give more away than the other school gives away and so it's not a fair partnership."

Meredith: And who cares?

Wyatt: And who cares. Right.

Meredith: I mean, ultimately, it's, "Are we running these things for ourselves or for the students?"

Wyatt: Well, and Steve, I don't know, if we were to add up how much the university may or may have given up to make this partnership work, whatever that amount is that we've never sat down and tried to sit through, I'm sure that we have far more gained in good will.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: And in the satisfaction of knowing that the students are the ones that are ultimately benefiting. But the legislature, the governor's office, our boards, they're grateful and I think that's accrued to our benefit.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: What's your last words, Tessa?

Douglas: I guess just that I mean, this partnership has only really been in action for a year and it's done incredible things so far, so I can't wait to see what it will continue to do for students in the future. It's exciting.

Wyatt: We'll be back in this show in a couple of years to say, "Well, OK, now where are we at?"

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: And hopefully by then, we will have discovered a whole bunch of new challenges. [All laugh] That can keep us busy.

Pierce: That's right, yeah.

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 had as our guests today Tessa Douglas and Will Pierce from Southwest Technical College, who we are very proud to count as partners in our dual-enrollment project, and we love working with the folks at S-Tech and thank you for coming to visit with us today. This is a very fun thing to talk about. And thank you, our listeners, for tuning in. We'll be back again with another podcast soon. Bye bye.