A Graduate Degree Program Remodel for Academic Success, Differentiation and Access
AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleA Graduate Degree Program Remodel for Academic Success, Differentiation and Access
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Problem/Issue and Context: The Master of Health Administration at USI was initiated in 2001 as a 39 credit-hour hybrid leadership program. The intended student base is adults working in healthcare. All facets of the program, including its curriculum, delivery method, admission standards and goals, remained largely unchanged until 2019. While a steady stream of students graduated, the program lacked innovation and breath. A program remodel was needed.
Grounding: Transformation to an accelerated format is a rapidly growing change in graduate education. Literature shows that online accelerated programs are associated with high student satisfaction and retention rates (Gazza & Matthias 2016). Additionally, instructional design and interactive teaching tools play a critical role in the success of accelerated graduate courses (Gardner et al., 2019).
Additionally, project-based learning increases student’s interests in a subject by creating connections to authentic, meaningful and real-world learning, and ensures deeper learning outcomes (Lathram, Lenz & Ark, 2016). Project-based learning pedagogical methods are growing in their use throughout education Helle, Tynjala & Oikinuoua (2006). Project-based learning, as defined by Mills & Treagust (2003), involve projects that focus on application and integration of previous knowledge within the learning environment. Additionally, Mills & Treagust state that project-based learning focuses on several key concepts: the application of knowledge [gained in the course], projects that align with professional reality, and are usually “self-directed” (p. 8-9).
Approach/Methods: Three overall methods were incorporated to remodel the MHA program: (a) use of Quality Matters (QM) framework to revise all online courses, (b) addition of project-based learning thread to all courses, and (c) creation of a differentiation strategy to allow additional concentrations and certificates. All MHA courses will be revised and restructured into 7-week online courses through the USI Online Course Development Program using the QM framework. This moved the program to an online- accelerated format with multiple entry points. Prior to the remodel, the program required an exiting Capstone project course which has now been replaced with an emphasis on project-based learning as a curricular thread through all courses. This allowed the program to be converted to a 36 credit hour option. A differentiation strategy was initiated allowing a new Post-Acute Care concentration to be developed along with two adjacent post-baccalaureate certificate programs. The latter allows non- degree seeking students exposure to the facets of the MHA program. The methodology for program evaluation is currently evolving. Metrics used in the outcomes analysis of the remodeled program will include enrollment, retention, graduation, salaries, and job placement rates.
Discussion/Lessons Learned: The remodeled program was partially launched in August 2020 with full implementation in August 2021. The QM framework allows for an organized structure and consistent expectations in all MHA courses which enhances student success. The project-based learning component of each course allows for real-world analysis related to the content. The differentiation strategy increases access to the program though new channels – a Post-Acute Care concentration and two new certificate learning opportunities. From an outcomes perspective, we immediately experienced an enrollment increase once the redesigned program was launched. Additionally, we will track job placement, alumni and employer satisfaction and salaries of our graduates for a more comprehensive outcomes analysis of the program as it matures.
Gardner, J., Barclay, M., Kong, Y., & LeVally, C. (2019). Designing an accelerated graduate evaluation course using the first principles of instruction and interactive media. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 48(4), 493-517. DOI: 10.1177/0047239519893049
Gazza, E. A., & Matthias, A. (2016). Using student satisfaction data to evaluate a new online accelerated nursing education program. Evaluation and Program Planning, 58, 171-175. DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.06.008
Helle, L., Tynjala, Paivi, & Olkinura, E. (2006). Project-Based Learning in Post-Secondary Education – Theory, Practice and Rubber Sling Shots. Higher Education. 51, 287-314.
Lathram, B., Lenz, B., & Ark, T.V. (2016) Preparing students for a project-based world. Getting Smart/Buck Institute for Education.
Mills, J.E, & Treagust, D.F. (2003). Engineering education—is problem-based or project-based learning the answer? Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 3(2), 2-16