How Eastern Washington University Spins Up New Programs in Record Time

Higher ed is often criticized as stubbornly sitting in its ideological ivory tower, refusing to change as business and industry requires.

Sometimes, though, that stubbornness is born less from lofty ideologies and more from poor communication and missed collaborations.

While new classes and programs can create an exciting new draw for your institution, by the time you can get department heads, faculty, curriculum all aligned, the program’s hot demand in the market may have already passed.

Our guest this week on the Enrollment Growth University was Dr. Scott Gordon, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Eastern Washington University (EWU).

Dr. Gordon and his team recently partnered with Microsoft to develop and launch a new program at the university aimed at producing graduates with data analytics experience–graduates Microsoft are eager to hire in large numbers.

What started as a simple conversation between Microsoft and Dr. Gordon in 2016, was quickly spun up into a full program offering at EWU in less than a year–it was that quick turnaround, and smooth integration, that drew us to his story.

Here are the highlights from our interview.

From Idea To Enrolling Students

Following that conversation between Dr. Gordon and Microsoft in summer of 2016, Dr. Gordon found himself asking, “How could we build a win-win situation where we can offer data science as part of a degree program or a degree program in and of itself and utilize that curriculum that Microsoft has developed?”

It was from there that the collaboration began as he invited a few Microsoft staff to meet and interact with a number of EWU faculty to find ways where they could connect and develop something different.

From that meeting, they created a framework for starting, the basis of which was weekly phone calls as both sides reviewed the relationship between the Microsoft professional program and EWU’s course management program, all the while developing curriculum that met the needs of both sides.

Within a year, EWU had begun trialling select students through the program and is now geared up to roll out the program with a slew of new students starting fall of 2018, barely two years later.

So what does Dr. Gordon attribute to getting the EWU faculty to jump on board so quickly for this new program–a program that has tight connections to a business and the potential to compromise educational integrity?

Getting Faculty Buy-In

First of all, Dr. Gordon spent time discussing the philosophy behind the partnership with the affected faculty–the potential for students to be well-prepared for high-demand roles with a locally based, but world renown company, who have a strong desire to hire students with this specialized education.

Secondly, faculty were given complete ownership and control of their curriculum, rather than having Microsoft dictate course content. They were allowed to decide how much (or how little) of Microsoft’s exiting program they wanted to incorporate.

Dr. Gordon made sure the faculty knew from the start that his objective was to create the opportunity for potential partnerships and collaborations, rather than forcing both sides to change or conform, which allowed relationships between EWU and Microsoft to form more naturally.

In his experience, Dr. Gordon has found that both sides are always open to dialogue that ensures everyone walks away getting what they want.

The Value of Higher Ed & Business Collaboration

The key to both sides getting what they want is continued collaboration.

On a bigger scale, Dr. Gordon has seen that the business industry and higher ed are not so different–both sides seek critical thinkers, individuals with the ability to work in teams, and those with exceptional written and verbal communication skills–so it makes sense to collaborate.

The Microsoft-EWU collaboration looked like each side showing all their cards–Microsoft handing over their program syllabus and modules for analysis and EWU handing over their full curriculum with courses and syllabi.

Dr. Gordon and his team worked with both sides to compare and map how the two curriculums lined up, giving the EWU faculty a comprehensive view of where they could integrate the Microsoft curriculum into their own (or not).

Even now, there are sessions scheduled with both sides to review where things are working and where they aren’t.

The continued communication and collaboration is ultimately what led to the quick formation and launch of a brand new program, benefiting EWU, its students, and Microsoft.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Scott Gordon from Eastern Washington University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.