Brand Story - Southern Oregon University equips adult learners for a fast-changing future.
Nontraditional learners—college students aged 25 years and older—constitute a growing percentage of Ashland-based Southern Oregon University’s population. These learners often return to university throughout their careers— either for retooling their resume, obtaining a degree for a job promotion, or acquiring professional skills to meet a shifting job market. With families or full-time jobs, they need an education model that provides the most relevant information in the shortest time possible.
These needs were the basis of Southern Oregon University’s recently reformed overall strategic vision—a “new school” model designed to deliver education most efficiently and to best prepare students for an evolving future.
“With changes in technology and non-linear career paths, we realize that learning will be lifelong and continuous,” said Katie Pittman, Director of the Division of Business, Communication and the Environment. “The future is a moving target, so we as a university can’t do the same thing over and over. As the world changes, we need to change with it.”
One demand is the increasing need for “T-shaped professionals”—employees with deep skills and expertise in their field who can also collaborate with experts across various disciplines. In response, SOU launched its Innovation and Leadership program (INL), an interdisciplinary, undergraduate degree that combines business, emerging media, communications, and psychology.
SOU develops programs targeting nontraditional learners.
Offered at night, the INL program is a cohort-based learning model where students must have at least five years’ working experience to enroll. “Having this real world experience provides for richer conversations in the classroom,” said Pittman. “These interactions ensure students learn from each other just as much as from the professors.” Available courses are Group Dynamics, Emotional Intelligence, Creative Thinking, and Applied Business Research, among many others.
Though the INL is currently offered on SOU’s Medford campus, the university plans to develop an online version shortly.
SOU also launched its online MBA program last April, which serves learners from all over Oregon, as well as other states and countries. Designed to be offered in an accelerated format, learners can obtain degrees within 18 months (and shorter, in some cases). Five different start dates each year allow for flexible enrollment options, and terms last only seven weeks. “We found working adults do best when taking one or two classes at a time, so they can really immerse themselves,” said Pittman. Faculty developed the course websites collaboratively in the hopes that consistent formats would reduce a student’s cognitive load as much as possible, thereby easing the transition from one course to the next and keeping the students focused on the curriculum.
In addition, the university offers post-baccalaureate certificates, which help learners retool or jumpstart a new career without having to start degrees from scratch.
A renewed energy abounds at SOU, said Pittman, as the university’s strategic vision is coming into form. With redesigned classrooms, remodeled lecture formats, and accessible online degree options, SOU is revamping its infrastructure to meet the needs of modern learners. “We’re rethinking what students need and how we can best deliver,” said Pittman. “We’re learning from them just as much as they learn from us. This is the closest way to hit a moving target.”
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