Growing SPGS offers advantage in professional world

Already the largest and most lucrative of Baker University's four educational programs, the School of Professional and Graduate Studies looks forward to the greatest changes in the coming years.

Opened in 1988, Baker's first SPGS location in Kansas City, Mo., began a new era of innovation and success for the university through the 1990s. For many students on the College of Arts and Sciences campus, the other campuses are an entirely separate world.

"I know that (the school) is in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita, but I only know one teacher here that has gone there," sophomore Ari Penner said.

Penner said she heard about how important the separate school's enrollment numbers are to Baker, but confessed she feels a disconnect from anything happening outside Baldwin City's campus.

"What they do doesn't really mean anything to me," Penner said. "They don't do much here, and we don't do much there."

Similarly, senior Cole Ridley couldn't think of a campus connection to the SPGS. However, his mother had taken a few classes from the Topeka campus to keep up in her field.

"She kept telling me how (the classes) were nothing like any other classes she'd taken," Ridley said. "Her classmates were mostly non-traditional students working toward a master's or just keeping up with their kids."

Though she works as the advising and tutoring coordinator on the Baldwin City campus, Sandy Davidson also teaches night classes at the SPGS Overland Park campus. This position allows her to compare each school's classrooms directly.

"I think that learners are learners, regardless of age. It is a different atmosphere up there, though - very fast-paced," Davidson said. "Adult learners teach me an awful lot. They've been around. It's natural that they would have accumulated a lot more experiences and insights."

When former University President Dan Lambert met with SPGS Executive Vice President Dean Don Clardy in the late '80s, it was because of Clardy's work with Tusculum College's similar off-campus programs in Greeneville, Tenn. Looking back, Clardy was very aware from their first meeting that each man understood what kind of vision it would take to make Baker's new school a success.

"When I came, they only offered (courses) in Kansas City. A few years later we opened Topeka, then Wichita and finally Overland Park and Lee's Summit," Clardy said. "The programs we offered would not have been so well received if it weren't because of the Baldwin campus' academic reputation."

Reinvigorated by the inauguration of University President Pat Long, the next five years offer some interesting new challenges and goals for Clardy and his associates at the SPGS, he said.

"I think we'll get to see enrollment go from 2,500 to 3,500. We would expect to see two to four new degree programs, and one is a master of arts in dispute resolution and conflict management," Clardy said. "That one should be approved in May and be ready for the summer. It alone will attract 100 to 200 students (initially) and another 200 in the next two years."

Clardy hopes each additional degree offered will bring more educational opportunities to potential students wherever they are.

"We must respond to the need in northern Kansas City. There is a huge population increase in north K.C., and we should set up a new classroom location available to them," Clardy said.

Additionally, SPGS Chair of Liberal Arts Ann Daugherty looks forward to more expansion in another Missouri location.

"We have another group looking into St. Louis," Daugherty said. "The existing wing of the School of Education program is run independently in St. Louis, and that opens up many opportunities for us."

Finally, an expanded line of online courses will soon be available to accommodate the students who manage so much else in their lives. Director of Records and Registration Ruth Miller said she recently graduated from the SPGS with an associate of arts in business, bachelor of science in management and master of business administration degrees after beginning class work in the fall of 1998.

"It's very good for the adult learner," Miller said. "If you're disciplined, it's do-able. It's something you can accomplish."

Master's market

2126 students enrolled across the four campuses for Fall 2006

Baker's first SPGS location in Kansas City, Mo. opened in 1988

Enrollment is projected to grow 40% over the next five years

New classrooms locations are being scouted in north Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.

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