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Dr Lorie Cook-Benjamin Dean of the College of Professional Studies

Meeting of the Minds: The College of Professional Studies' leads Doane's nontraditional educational programs

Lorie Cook-Benjamin watched the world of education grow smaller in front of her very eyes. 

Of all places, it happened in the middle of nowhere: Western Kansas.

It took some time and dedication, but she witnessed a strategic education plan pay off. Suddenly, Hays, Kansas—an oasis on the barren stretch of Interstate 70 between Kansas City and Denver—wasn’t so far removed from the rest of the world.

The future of nontraditional education had arrived, putting degrees within reach for anyone with an internet connection. Distance from campus was no longer an obstacle, and with that barrier removed, students enrolled from all over the state, the region, and even out of the country.

Fort Hays State University’s Virtual College, an online platform years in the making, proved well worth the hard work and persistence.

Cook-Benjamin spent the past decade as a cog in the machine that built it and taught its courses, and the former executive director of FHSU’s faculty affairs and Virtual College is ready to replicate it in Nebraska as the new dean of Doane University’s College of Professional Studies.

“There were a lot of people that dug in and did the work,” says Cook-Benjamin, also an associate professor of education. “I see that same work ethic here.”

Greatness can be had on the Great Plains, and that’s exactly what the new leadership in Doane’s Academic Affairs aims to build with CPS expanding the university’s patented liberal arts 170607_1118-web-edit.jpgcurriculum and ushering in a new era for the adult learner college with both on-ground and online programs.

Much like Cook-Benjamin and the FHSU faculty, staff and administration realized, the road to building online programs can be an exercise in patience. The reward, though, is increased enrollment—the lifeblood of any school—and access for students regardless of ZIP code.

It may be a new mode of delivering the Doane experience, but adding online programs aligns with CPS’ legacy of meeting students’ need for flexibility.

“That’s what Doane University and CPS has been doing: Providing excellent educational programs responsive to students’ needs,” says Andrea Butler, associate vice president of academic affairs for online and adult operations. “We were innovative back in the ’80s when we offered the advanced, accelerated programs—eight-week courses during the day or night, one time a week—because that’s what the nontraditional students needed. Now, students want the flexibility to choose online or on-ground and receive a quality education. That is consistent with CPS’ mission.”

During the past few years, Doane has laid the groundwork to put itself in a position to succeed in adult and distance education. A greater investment has resulted in added support staff, based on the Lincoln campus, to build the infrastructure necessary to bring Doane into the online education realm. CPS now has a dedicated enrollment management team, marketing staff, and directors for new degree programs.

Butler was hired a year ago and oversees Doane’s instructional design team. She’s assembled a group that works with faculty to replicate the Doane core curriculum and other courses for the university’s online platform.

“We have expert designers that know online pedagogy,” Butler says. “Then we brought in instructional technologists to help us put the courses on the learning platform so the faculty isn’t burdened with the mechanics of building an online course. Faculty can concentrate on the content and subject matter.”

Cook-Benjamin and Butler will work closely with Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Savory, hired away from Union Pacific, to revisit and fine tune the strategic plan for CPS.

“The unique thing about the College of Professional Studies is it’s amazing what’s been developed there,” says Savory, who also brings higher education experience from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s distance education division and Nebraska Methodist College. “The key thing to think about in the future is that attitude of how do we run this more entrepreneurial in the sense of where our best opportunities are.”

How those chances for growth reveal themselves will come from an emphasis on continual assessment. Instead of offering the same programs in all formats or on all campuses, Doane’s new strategy will weigh factors like labor statistics and market indicators to determine the best kind of programs to offer at the Grand Island, Lincoln, and Omaha campuses, as well as which programs should be strictly online, on-ground, or a mix of both.

“You don’t want to rest on your laurels,” Cook-Benjamin says. “You want to make sure that you consistently look at what you have and continually plan for the future. We’re just in that exploration of that right now.”

Part of their evaluation will be to find what’s working and what’s not. Each program offered in CPS will be revisited to see whether formats are functioning correctly and meeting the needs of nontraditional learners in their respective markets. On-ground and online programs will coexist in CPS, but Savory says he believes expansion in online offerings is an immediate priority and can help boost enrollment.

“I’d like to see 50 percent growth in terms of programs and student volume,” he says of his five-year plan. “The way we’re going to get that is online, but there are some on-ground programs we can grow. I think the way we help facilitate that is, as we move forward, we need to start adding more full-time faculty.”

Doane is still in its online infancy but already boasts five offerings:

Future healthcare professionals can complete foundational, pre-graduate coursework through the Prerequisites for the Health Professions program.

At the undergraduate level, nursing students can pursue the RN to BSN degree.

Graduate students can choose from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, the recently launched Master of Business Administration, or CPS’ trademark Master of Arts in Management program.

CPS students can pursue 12 different undergraduate degrees and a handful of masters’ programs through Doane in Grand Island, Lincoln, and Omaha. The college will continue to have an on-ground presence, Cook-Benjamin says, but leadership is taking data-driven analysis to each of those programs to see if they need to be enhanced, removed, or remain as is.

The university’s popular College of Education has options for the nontraditional learner, too, with programs ranging from a specialist degree to a doctorate.

Regardless of the different formats and locations for Doane’s programs (including the College of Arts and Sciences for traditional, residential learners in Crete), one thing will remain the same university wide: a singular liberal arts core that meets the level of rigor Doane is known for—and delivering it to students no matter where they are.

“We want everyone to find out about the best-kept secret called Doane University,” Butler says. “It’s a small liberal arts and sciences university, but it’s got a big heart. We have great faculty, and it’s great to have a team that wants to take Doane to a greater audience.”

Lorie Cook-Benjamin watched the world of education grow smaller in front of her very eyes.

Of all places, it happened in the middle of nowhere: Western Kansas.

It took some time and dedication, but she witnessed a strategic education plan pay off. Suddenly, Hays, Kansas—an oasis on the barren stretch of Interstate 70 between Kansas City and Denver—wasn’t so far removed from the rest of the world.

The future of nontraditional education had arrived, putting degrees within reach for anyone with an internet connection. Distance from campus was no longer an obstacle, and with that barrier removed, students enrolled from all over the state, the region, and even out of the country.

Fort Hays State University’s Virtual College, an online platform years in the making, proved well worth the hard work and persistence.

Cook-Benjamin spent the past decade as a cog in the machine that built it and taught its courses, and the former executive director of FHSU’s faculty affairs and Virtual College is ready to replicate it in Nebraska as the new dean of Doane University’s College of Professional Studies.

“There were a lot of people that dug in and did the work,” says Cook-Benjamin, also an associate professor of education. “I see that same work ethic here.”

Greatness can be had on the Great Plains, and that’s exactly what the new leadership in Doane’s Academic Affairs aims to build with CPS expanding the university’s patented liberal arts curriculum and ushering in a new era for the adult learner college with both on-ground and online programs.

Much like Cook-Benjamin and the FHSU faculty, staff and administration realized, the road to building online programs can be an exercise in patience. The reward, though, is increased enrollment—the lifeblood of any school—and access for students regardless of ZIP code.

It may be a new mode of delivering the Doane experience, but adding online programs aligns with CPS’ legacy of meeting students’ need for flexibility.

“That’s what Doane University and CPS has been doing: Providing excellent educational programs responsive to students’ needs,” says Andrea Butler, associate vice president of academic affairs for online and adult operations. “We were innovative back in the ’80s when we offered the advanced, accelerated programs—eight-week courses during the day or night, one time a week—because that’s what the nontraditional students needed. Now, students want the flexibility to choose online or on-ground and receive a quality education. That is consistent with CPS’ mission.”

During the past few years, Doane has laid the groundwork to put itself in a position to succeed in adult and distance education. A greater investment has resulted in added support staff, based on the Lincoln campus, to build the infrastructure necessary to bring Doane into the online education realm. CPS now has a dedicated enrollment management team, marketing staff, and directors for new degree programs.

Butler was hired a year ago and oversees Doane’s instructional design team. She’s assembled a group that works with faculty to replicate the Doane core curriculum and other courses for the university’s online platform.

“We have expert designers that know online pedagogy,” Butler says. “Then we brought in instructional technologists to help us put the courses on the learning platform so the faculty isn’t burdened with the mechanics of building an online course. Faculty can concentrate on the content and subject matter.”

Cook-Benjamin and Butler will work closely with Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Savory, hired away from Union Pacific, to revisit and fine tune the strategic plan for CPS.

“The unique thing about the College of Professional Studies is it’s amazing what’s been developed there,” says Savory, who also brings higher education experience from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s distance education division and Nebraska Methodist College. “The key thing to think about in the future is that attitude of how do we run this more entrepreneurial in the sense of where our best opportunities are.”

How those chances for growth reveal themselves will come from an emphasis on continual assessment. Instead of offering the same programs in all formats or on all campuses, Doane’s new strategy will weigh factors like labor statistics and market indicators to determine the best kind of programs to offer at the Grand Island, Lincoln, and Omaha campuses, as well as which programs should be strictly online, on-ground, or a mix of both.

“You don’t want to rest on your laurels,” Cook-Benjamin says. “You want to make sure that you consistently look at what you have and continually plan for the future. We’re just in that exploration of that right now.”

Part of their evaluation will be to find what’s working and what’s not. Each program offered in CPS will be revisited to see whether formats are functioning correctly and meeting the needs of nontraditional learners in their respective markets. On-ground and online programs will coexist in CPS, but Savory says he believes expansion in online offerings is an immediate priority and can help boost enrollment.

“I’d like to see 50 percent growth in terms of programs and student volume,” he says of his five-year plan. “The way we’re going to get that is online, but there are some on-ground programs we can grow. I think the way we help facilitate that is, as we move forward, we need to start adding more full-time faculty.”

Doane is still in its online infancy but already boasts five offerings:

Future healthcare professionals can complete foundational, pre-graduate coursework through the Prerequisites for the Health Professions program.

At the undergraduate level, nursing students can pursue the RN to BSN degree.

Graduate students can choose from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, the recently launched Master of Business Administration, or CPS’ trademark Master of Arts in Management program.

CPS students can pursue 12 different undergraduate degrees and a handful of masters’ programs through Doane in Grand Island, Lincoln, and Omaha. The college will continue to have an on-ground presence, Cook-Benjamin says, but leadership is taking data-driven analysis to each of those programs to see if they need to be enhanced, removed, or remain as is.

The university’s popular College of Education has options for the nontraditional learner, too, with programs ranging from a specialist degree to a doctorate.

Regardless of the different formats and locations for Doane’s programs (including the College of Arts and Sciences for traditional, residential learners in Crete), one thing will remain the same university wide: a singular liberal arts core that meets the level of rigor Doane is known for—and delivering it to students no matter where they are.

“We want everyone to find out about the best-kept secret called Doane University,” Butler says. “It’s a small liberal arts and sciences university, but it’s got a big heart. We have great faculty, and it’s great to have a team that wants to take Doane to a greater audience.”