Wiley University Services sat down with Dr. Steve Szydlowski from The University of Scranton to talk about his insights, opinions, and experiences with online learning and program planning. He explains how Wiley’s approach has helped the University successfully and efficiently expand its programming by building on its unique strengths as well as taking market needs into account. The interdisciplinary nature of this approach also benefits students by preparing them for today’s collaborative and integrated workplace.
Szydlowski is a distinguished member of the Wiley Fellows initiative, which aims to foster a community of practice among Wiley’s institutional partners focused on innovative online teaching and learning. In addition to serving as the Program Director of the University of Scranton’s Master of Health Administration, he is a recognized authority on global health issues, health care management, and community health.
Dr. Szydlowski’s Experience with Online Program Development
Wiley University Services: What is your role at The University of Scranton?
Steve Szydlowski: I am a faculty member and the Program Director for the Master of Health Administration (MHA) at The University of Scranton.
When selecting programs to launch online, often times institutions default to their most popular on-campus programs, however your team took a different approach. Can you please walk us through it?
Steve Szydlowski: When determining which programs to bring online, Scranton uses a more market-centric program planning approach that identifies our most strategic and scalable “core” programs. These programs typically play to our unique strengths or fill in market needs. We also look to cross-reference courses to create efficiencies between programs. This allows us to create certificates and specializations within our core online programs without the need to create additional courses.
This approach, which Wiley helps us implement, is called Strategic Portfolio Development™ (SPD). SPD reduces inefficiencies by breaking down the silos of program-specific content and curriculum, and developing an interdisciplinary approach to a specific degree. Essentially, it expands our market offerings and grows our market share without significantly impacting our faculty or resources. This multidisciplinary approach to online program planning allows us to attract more students because we can respond quickly to emerging market needs from students and employers. By strategically organizing our programs and resources, we avoid saturating the market and ensure sustainable growth.
Can you provide an example of what this interdisciplinary program planning approach looks like?
Steve Szydlowski: For example, at The University of Scranton, our Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs share a Hospital Administration course. The course is an elective for interested students in the MHA, but a requirement for MBA students specializing in healthcare management. This means that we have MBA students and MHA students taking the same course offered out of one program, thus saving us the effort of developing brand new, siloed courses. Another example is in our MBA program where students have the option to obtain a specialization in Human Resources, which is derived from our full degree offering in Human Resource Management.
Using the SPD approach, we were also recently able to offer a combined MBA/MHA program, which is a 70 credit program, by cross referencing content and competencies of courses that are similar in the MBA and MHA programs. This has allowed us to increase marginal revenue without needing to add any additional courses.
How has this method of program planning specifically benefited your students and impacted their learning experiences?
Steve Szydlowski: Because the SPD approach is built on course sharing between programs, it allows students to educate themselves in a more holistic, multi-disciplinary way. It enables us as a university to offer more concentrations and options, which is attractive to students who want to be educated at a deeper level.
As I mentioned earlier, our online MHA program shares courses with the MBA program in the healthcare management concentration. In the MBA program, almost half of the students specialize in healthcare management. These students want to be in business and learn quantitative analytical skills, but they also want to understand the landscape of the U.S. healthcare system. To students, the attraction is the opportunity to get that specialization without also needing to get the full MHA degree.
Why do you believe this program planning approach is essential to The University of Scranton’s future success?
Steve Szydlowski: From a market positioning and differentiation standpoint, SPD allows The University of Scranton to offer students a wider variety of courses so they can better adapt their skill sets to the real world. Everything is changing so quickly and students can no longer afford to learn in silos. Today’s learning has to be more interdependent and SPD provides us with the framework to make that happen.
In addition, it opens doors for strategic partnerships and alliances outside of our university. In our case, there is a Jesuit MBA network where students can take 10 courses at St. Louis University and then transfer those courses into The University of Scranton without being bound by credit transfer limitations. Our strategic portfolio allows us to maximize our fixed class structure by reaching markets that we otherwise would not be able to access.
Have you run into any challenges implementing this approach at your institution?
Steve Szydlowski: The biggest challenges we have experienced revolve around several faculty members’ concerns that part of their curriculum is being given to another college within The University of Scranton. To get faculty buy-in for the approach, we provide assurances that the faculties among different departments or colleges are here to work together to achieve the desired learning outcomes. We emphasize that there needs to be an intentional effort to promote interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and its benefits.
Why would you recommend another institution use SPD as a program planning strategy?
Steve Szydlowski: With SPD, schools have the opportunity to increase faculty productivity, fill more seats in courses, and provide students with a unique interdisciplinary education. SPD gives colleges and universities – especially small, regional ones – a competitive differentiator in the market. I believe that schools must implement this program planning strategy within the next five years, otherwise their enrollments and market presence will decline and the competition will take over.
Thoughtful program planning helps higher education institutions position themselves effectively in a competitive market, use teaching and curriculum resources efficiently, and educate students in a way that aligns with the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of work. Wiley University Services can help your college or university create a strategy for program expansion that will increase enrollments and support growth at scale. For more information about Strategic Portfolio Development™ and how it works, click here.
To learn more about the Wiley Fellows program and its members, click here or read another Faculty Fellow Q&A interview with Dr. Helen Dawson of the University of Birmingham, Dr. Polly Smith of Utica College, or Ray Klump of Lewis University.