Under new leadership, change leads to mounting growth, numbers
Christopher Lebeau, ’21, always intended to pursue an MBA. He graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s in business administration, and when it came time to choose a graduate school, Southern appealed to him for all the same reasons it had before — reputation, proximity, and sense of community — but this time flexibility played a key role, too.
Like so many others, Lebeau balances graduate school with outside commitments like family, community, and work (according to The Atlantic, almost 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week).
“I knew a graduate degree would help advance my career,” Lebeau said. “But I work, and I compete in cross country and track. Because of online and night-time classes, Southern’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS) was a convenient option for me.”
It’s multi-tasking adults like Lebeau that Manohar Singh, dean of SGPS, had in mind when he took the helm at the SGPS in 2019 and helped craft its Strategic Plan, 2021-2026, which cites “students’ academic and professional success and personal well-being” as one of its seven goals.
“Research suggests graduate school can be isolating,” Singh said. “You’re juggling responsibilities, financial aid can be more costly, work pressures interfere with education, maybe you have children now. Disruptions are competing with your experience, and grad education is much more demanding. But it isn’t a single-person journey. We’ve created a family at our graduate school. We’re engaging students and their circles.”
Support isn’t just personal. SGPS — which offers more than 100 programs, 25 of which are new, and professional doctorates in four fields — has solidified academic support in the way of online and hybrid courses; professional development and career support services; accessibility to IT services; faculty collaboration; writing and statistical research support; tutoring; and advising.
“We’re transforming the graduate experience into one that’s agile, responsive, dynamic, and equitable,” Singh said.
To that end, Singh created the SGPS Advisory Board, which includes eminent members like Connecticut State Representatives Devin Carney and Patricia Dillon; WNPR executive producer Lucy Nalpathanchil; and Andrea Lobo, chief human resources officer, Cornell Scott-Hill Health. The board’s efforts — to support a shared mission of student success — align with the goals of the Strategic Plan.
“Southern may look small but we are not,” Singh said. “Our contribution is enormous. We are more interdisciplinary than ever. We are wedding liberal arts and professional skills learning. We’re also hiring faculty who have multi-disciplinary expertise.”
In alignment with another goal, “program innovation for accessibility, inclusivity, equity, and academic excellence,” Singh said, “We want to create a society that is made up of humans first. How do we do that? We make education and graduate admissions more accessible, affordable, and inclusive. That means a fair, just society, not just for one ethnic group. Southern is not the have-nots and haves. We want to make the tent bigger.”
Financial aid has been reconfigured to assist more students in the way of scholarships, aid, campus employment, and stipends. Innovative Accelerated Pathway programs, known as 4+1s, enable undergraduate students to complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a combined five years, instead of six.
“The 4+1 programs really offer everything,” said Jonathan Wharton, associate dean, SGPS. “Students save money — an entire year of tuition and expenses — and enter the job market a year sooner. That’s significant.”
Right now, the SGPS offers close to 20 4+1 programs, including athletic training, psychology, sport and entertainment management. A slate of new 4+1 programs is in the pipeline, based on faculty and space availability, job market potential, and industry demand.
Beyond 4+1s, industry-responsive demand also is fueling the growth of certification programs like SGPS’s new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC).
“We are one of the few chosen schools to offer training to corporations and businesses to help them be compliant in cyber security,” Singh said. “We are leading the way, engaging faculty and experts from the field, then training business people in cyber security best practices.”
Southern’s new certificate in Spanish and Latino Cultures for Health Professionals prepares future professionals to serve Spanish speaking clients in a clinical setting. Knowledge of Spanish has become a necessity in the health and human services workplace as Latinos, Connecticut’s largest minority group, comprise almost 15 percent of the state population.
Continuing Education, which operates under SGPS, is expanding its industry-driven offerings too, with programs like Drone Academy, a non-credit program for people interested in drone operation, aerial photography and videography, FAA-certification exam preparation, and computational photography and 3D mapping.
The current growth in enrollment and retention numbers are a strong indication that the SGPS’s strategic, multi-prong efforts are paying off. According to Lisa Galvin, associate dean of Graduate Enrollment Management, SGPS, fall 2020 enrollment was up by 5.9 percent (over the previous fall) and up 5.2 percent for fall 2021 over fall 2020. Spring 2021 enrollment was up 7.5 percent over the previous spring.
“Southern is now the largest graduate school in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system,” Singh said. “All of these pieces have led us here.”
The growth is not a siloed experience: nearby communities, New Haven, and the state at large feel the rippling effects of an expanding, responsive educational system.
“Eighty-five percent of our students stay in Connecticut,” Singh said. “We provide skilled labor in the way of training and internship placements, faculty advisement and consulting, and in return we are seeking to build bridges by collaborating with corporations. We also give to the health of the community in the way of highly trained nurses, teachers, social workers, social entrepreneurs, and small business.”
He continued: “Ours is a conscientious rigor. A union of customized, inclusive, emerging fields, and dynamic offerings. Southern is a high caliber brand — this has been the journey. We are a legacy and now we are building upon that.”