Alumni discuss future of FSU academics

(Scott Greenberg spoke to Alumni Association members about the continuing education programs offered at FSU. Photo by Amanda Martin.)

Members of FSU’s Alumni Association Board and administration met to discuss recent and future developments in University programs during a bimonthly board meeting on March 22 in the 1839 Room.

Scott Greenberg, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean for continuing education, gave a presentation on the University’s continuing education program, as requested by the Board. It highlighted the importance of the program – especially for full-time working adults, senior citizens and people who speak English as a second language.

Greenberg said one problem the continuing education division faces is that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not make financial contributions from its budget to continuing education programs, making his departmental programs “self-supported,” relying on grants and donations.

He added continuing education is important, as it is designed to be flexible and geared toward an “adult audience.” The program not only offers degree pathways and certificates to boost professional credentials, but also provides non-credit classes aimed at senior citizens.

Greenberg said the classes are “very popular.” They are part of a program called “Adventures in Lifelong Learning,” which was formed almost nine years ago in collaboration with the Framingham Public Library.

According to Greenberg, each class has approximately 80-200 people, depending on the subject.

He added many of the classes are taught by professor emeriti, such as Helen Heineman and Brad Nutting. Classes run for four weeks in both the spring and fall, occur on a weekly basis and span a wide range of subjects – including literature, visual art and film.

According to a registration packet for the program, financial support comes from the Framingham Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Membership is not required, but dues-paying members receive priority consideration for classes.

Greenberg also noted the accessibility of the program. “If somebody cannot afford to come, then they don’t have to pay,” he said. “It is truly an amazing group of people who are engaged in this.”

Other events designed in cooperation with the Framingham Public Library include the “Lifelong Learning Lecture Series,” in which guest speakers – mostly FSU professors and some from colleges in Boston – are invited to give free lectures on various subjects, including art and history.

“We get a very good turnout,” Greenberg said. Approximately 50-60 people attend each lecture.

However, Greenberg said the program faces issues of sustainment. “You have to have the money. You have to have donations coming in. The membership fee does not pay for itself, does not pay the entire cost of the program,” he said.

Greenberg said the program has been successful in beneficially impacting its students – one program participant donated $20,000 to help sustain future classes and events. “She loves the program. That was truly a terrific help,” he added.

The other division of non-credit courses is comprised of the English-language-learning programs, designed to help non-native English speakers improve their skills for the workforce, Greenberg said.

According to a promotional flyer, there are two types of classes. One is an Intensive English Program, which “offers instruction in reading, speaking, grammar, vocabulary building, academic writing, pronunciation, TOEFL [Test of English as Foreign Language] preparation and content areas based on student interest.” The other is a set of Community ESL classes, which meet less often but cover the same material at five different skill levels.

Dennis Alves, class of ‘78, said he understands the importance of English language classes, having taken them before. “These kinds of programs were greatly beneficial to me in the past,” he said.

Greenberg also talked about credit courses, which are tailored toward people of various education levels and prospective career paths – including “people who already have a bachelor’s” and “people who only want a certificate,” Greenberg said.

He added the undergraduate certificates that are offered by the program are “designed for entry-level positions” in fields including accounting, computer programming and software engineering.

Greenberg said his division develops courses and certificates in response to the changing needs of the workforce.

“I’ll talk to faculty about an area we know there’s a need for in terms of jobs. Employers are looking for people,” Greenberg said. “For instance, enterprise systems – that’s working with mainframes – and a lot of the employees [in that field] are retiring. So, a lot of the IT companies came to us and we added the courses. They helped develop the curriculum for these courses.”

Greenberg noted many of these classes are online in order be as flexible as possible so people will be able to fit them into their schedules.

“These areas of online learning – that’s really where we’ve seen the most growth,” Greenberg said. “We started the first online course – I think it was in 1998 – and since then there’s been phenomenal growth, both here and nationally.”

Greenberg added, “There is a new movement now at universities and continuing education – what they call ‘micro-credentials’ or ‘nanodegrees.’ Instead of students having to wait until they graduate to get something to hang on their wall or put on their resume, you might string five courses together along a specific theme.”

Greenberg spoke about a recently developed bachelor’s completion program called FSU@MassBay, which provides students with the opportunity to earn both associate and bachelor’s degrees at MassBay Community College’s Wellesley Hills campus at a lower cost than taking classes at FSU.

According to a program flyer, students enrolled in the program receive a $240 discount for each FSU course taken at MassBay. The offer is available to students pursuing a bachelor of arts with a major in liberal studies or a bachelor of science with a major in management.

“Many students at the community college, when they just finish, are comfortable where they’re going. They’d like to stay there – and they’ve got parking there!” Greenberg said.

Other topics discussed included future events and trips for alumni – including the upcoming trip to Greece next month, organized by Jennifer DeFronzo, director of Alumni Relations.