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Tools for Lifelong Learning

Concentrated programs of study build bridges to new aspirations

By Laura Ferguson

Visit our accompanying sidebars on Assistive Technology, Museum Studies, Program Evaluation, and Post Baccalaureate Pre Medical Studies

rends in the workplace have upended the notion of a single career. According to the University Continuing Education Association, the average person changes careers—not jobs—five times. Seventy-five percent of the workforce will need training in the next decade to meet new job demands. More than 90 percent of companies offer continuing education as an employee benefit. Add to that scenario the financial realities of meeting the cost of education and the pressures of family responsibilities.

Such flux has forced colleges and universities to think beyond the conventional undergraduate student. Part-time students looking for career enhancement skills, or new careers, are the fastest-growing population in higher education: between 1970 and 1995, part-time enrollments increased by 139 percent, compared with 44 percent for full-time enrollments.

At Tufts, the Office of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS) anticipates the needs of part-time students through a dozen professional certificate programs and a Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program. The 13 certificate programs, a unified set of four to five advanced courses, reflect the needs of emerging or rapidly evolving fields. Roughly equivalent to a one-half master's degree program, the certificate is geared to people who choose not to commit to a degree program but who may want to retrain quickly or refocus their career. (See sidebars on Museum Studies, Adaptive Technologies, Program Evaluation, and the Post-Bac Pre-MedProgram.)

"I'm enthusiastic about the certificate programs as a way to serve the education needs of working people and people who are shifting gears professionally, individuals who are looking for something more than a single course or one-shot institute but one that represents a shorter time commitment than a full master's degree,” says Rob Hollister, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Research and Professional Studies. "Certificate programs play a key role in our continuum of educational services that serve the broad array of educational needs."

Carol Baffi-Dugan, pre-health advisor at Tufts, has been with the Post-Bac program since its inception in 1988 and has seen it grow from four to 40 students.

"We reflect a phenomenon that has exploded across the country, of nontraditional students becoming interested in health sciences," she says. "When we started there were only a half-dozen formal programs in the country; now there are 100 or so. It’s competitive, but we get a good group each year. The students that come here are mature, focused and disciplined; professional schools know this. They bring rich life experiences and nonscience skills, and their broad understanding of life and of people will ultimately benefit their patients.

"We're proud of the program that we've built over the past dozen years, especially the level of support we provide our students and the community that exists among them," she adds. "We keep the enrollment at an absolute maximum of 40 because personal advising is so critical to a student's success. They come in extremely motivated but with little idea of what's necessary to prepare for a professional program."

Indeed, going back to school part-time is not a snap. Certificate program curricula may be flexible—many courses are offered in the evening—and short-term. But the work is intensely focused on developing demonstrable skills.

Students earning the certificate for Biotechnology Engineering, for example, work side by side with graduate students and get hands-on experience in biotechnology processing and in modern biochemical separation techniques. Students in the Museum Studies program are encouraged to complete a 200-hour internship and to bring their coursework to bear on an actual exhibit they plan and install in the Tufts Art Gallery.

Jayne Gordon, a museum consultant and Museum Studies internship supervisor, sees students at the point "where they are applying what they have learned in coursework to actual museum settings and talks not only with students but their mentors at the site. What comes across clearly is that all the way through, the emphasis is not only on giving great exposure to work, but on having practical aspects in the forefront. Most people in the program are working, so there's a tremendously active and lively interchange going on all the time."

Students admitted to the Post-Bac Pre-Med Program know that they will have to work hard, perhaps harder than they did in college, says Baffi-Dugan. Basic requirements include at least three semesters of science, such as biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics.

"I get a lot of positive feedback from our graduates that they feel well prepared because of the rigor of Tufts courses," says Baffi-Dugan. "When they do get to medical school, they are prepared."

Both certificate and the Post-Bac courses are also distinguished by the fact that they combine the talents of full-time core faculty and adjunct faculty with special expertise. "A&S continuing education programs rely on both tenured professors and on adjunct faculty from the world of professional practice,” says Hollister. "Our commitment is to fashioning the right blend."

The interdisciplinary nature of the certificates nurtures new ways of thinking as well. The Museum Studies certificate draws on Tufts faculty teaching in the Departments of Art History, History and Education; Program Evaluation integrates work from the Departments of Child Development, and Urban and Environmental Policy, the School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the School of Medicine.

"We're fortunate to have such a wealth of talented faculty," says Hollister. "Tufts' ability to develop and administer these programs is helped by their support for interdisciplinary activity. Such collaborations provide a base for new and expanded curriculum offerings. At the same time the invention they bring to bear on programs also supports growth in master's programs. They've helped us think more broadly and provide the financial resources to create new courses we otherwise could not offer."
Continuing education is by nature an ongoing venture, and PCS is constantly looking for new options. A new program in epidemiology, for instance, is now being considered.

Such explorations put Tufts just ahead of an industry trend, says Edie Wieder, director of marketing. "We are a little like the Wild West of higher education. As administrators we try to find content areas in flux in industry and the professional sphere. Often they are in emerging fields and represent areas that nobody owns yet, that have no academic department requirements, and so on. The certificates provide credentials that will get the student going until the frontier settles down. Our programs are in constant motion, mirroring what's happening outside these walls. But that's a good thing. Our students keep asking questions and learning new things, so we're obliged to do the same."

The Office of Professional and Continuing Studies offers certificates in the following areas:

• Biotechnology
• Biotechnology Engineering
• Community Environmental Studies
• Design for Humans: Assistive Technology
• Design for Humans: Human- Computer Interaction
• Electro-Optics Technology
• Environmental Management
• Management of Community Organizations
• Manufacturing Engineering
• Microwave and Wireless Engineering
• Museum Studies
• Occupational Therapy (Advanced Professional Study)
• Program Evaluation
 
For more information on the certificates or the Post-Bac Program, call (617) 627-3562, or e-mail pcs@infonet.tufts.edu

   

 

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