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Reorganization emphasizes quality of distance education

The Center for Distance and Professional Education (CDPE) is now the name of the former Extended University Services (EUS). The new name better reflects and distinguishes the quality of the programs and the range of programs offered, said Dean Muriel Oaks.

But the changes at CDPE go much deeper than the name. They are the culmination of more than two years of assessment, refocusing and planning. And they are the starting point for continuing improvement to strengthen WSU’s distance learning and professional programs and reputation.

One of the first distance-learning degree programs in the country, WSU’s began in 1992. It grew rapidly in the 1990s with the university’s outward focus. That also was the time of the establishment and expansion of WSU’s regional campuses.

But with the new millennium, WSU’s focus shifted to building up the core elements of research excellence and education quality.

“EUS needed to redefine its value to the university to emphasize the quality of the distance programs and their relevance to the university’s strategic plan” Oaks said. “I wanted a consultant to help us redefine how we fit.”

Assessment and results
In January 2005, Oaks began working with the Educational Marketing Group, the same consultants who helped WSU establish its strategic plan and goals and branding and marketing campaigns four years earlier.

Oaks’ goals were to align her unit with WSU’s strategic plan, focus on program quality and put in place a marketing communications plan and campaign.

The team gathered feedback and found that, while outside perceptions were good of WSU’s performance in distance learning and conference/professional education, the perception of people within WSU was lacking.

The process also looked at what competing institutions offered.

Outcomes included realigning the unit’s strategic plan and goals with WSU’s. Traditional programs that are not WSU’s best are being phased out. There is a renewed focus on offering WSU’s best programs, taught by top faculty via cutting-edge interactive technology.

The need was recognized for adding graduate education courses and degrees.

The importance of support services was emphasized. This includes support for students/clients in all aspects, helpful contact with alumni, and support services in pedagogical design and technology for faculty who teach for the various distance and professional programs.

Vision for the future
Another outcome was the name change. Extended University Services frequently was confused with University Extension, Oaks said. Additionally, it was so generic that it didn’t explain clearly what the unit’s programs offer.

She said the term “center” was chosen to emphasize CDPE’s central role in administering WSU’s distance degree, professional and continuing education programs. She expects the name and other changes to benefit CDPE in recruiting top students, fund raising and enhancing its reputation and visibility.

Going forward with the knowledge gained from its reassessment, CDPE intends to work with WSU academic units to add more and better academic programs and graduate programs. Approval for a new graduate degree — a masters of liberal studies in the College of Liberal Arts — is under consideration by the Faculty Senate.

The two major programs in CDPE — Distance Degree Programs and Professional Education (formerly Conferences and Professional Programs) — are working together to share support services such as marketing, client support and creation of instructional materials.

CDPE also is gearing up marketing efforts to become more competitive among distance and professional education providers. Those efforts include creating a variety of materials that showcase WSU’s ability to deliver world-class educational opportunities all over the state and even the world.

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