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SPS offers innovative master’s programs, seeks to expand

SPS generates new revenue stream, grows alumni base, creates online courses

Since the first executive master’s program was launched six years ago, the School of Professional Studies has grown in resources and contributed significantly to the University budget, said Karen Sibley, dean of the SPS and vice president for strategic initiatives.

The SPS, which is currently located at 200 Dyer St., will eventually move into a new 50,000 square foot space under development by Wexford Science and Technology in the Jewelry District, said Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy. The SPS only offers blended-learning programs based predominantly online with occasional intensive in-person sessions, Sibley said. Unlike traditional master’s programs, they occur over a period of sixteen months without summer breaks, usually beginning in August and finishing in December of the next year, she added.

Growth of the SPS

Master’s students are a fairly new population for the University compared to peer institutions, Sibley said.

The executive master’s programs currently include executive master’s degrees in science and technology leadership, healthcare leadership and cybersecurity, in addition to the IE Brown Executive MBA program, which is a partnership with the IE Business School in Spain, Sibley said.

The “four current programs are still in their early years, and we’ve intentionally made sure that they are relatively small so we can pay careful attention to quality,” Sibley said. The SPS plans to create at least two more executive master’s programs in the coming years and also grow current class sizes, she added. About 170 executive master’s students are currently enrolled, she said, adding that she would like to see that number grow to 400 over the next few years.

The executive master’s programs are consistent in duration, quality and hours with traditional master’s programs, Sibley said. The SPS targets older students, typically those with families and full-time jobs, she said, adding that the SPS will continue to capitalize on attracting non-traditional students.

Dale Knecht, senior vice president of global information technology at TTM Technologies and a current student in the executive master’s program for cybersecurity, said the most appealing aspect of the program was the combination of a flexible online schedule and in-house sessions spread throughout the sixteen months.

Katelyn Tambellini, a security client executive at IBM and a student in the executive master’s program in cybersecurity, believes her degree might give her the opportunity to become a chief security officer or begin her own consulting business.

The SPS will continue to create programs in areas of particular strength for the University, Sibley said, adding that future programs may take advantage of Brown’s expertise in the fields of economics and neuroscience.

Executive master’s programs are born from a “combination of decision-making based on evidence” and “faculty capacity and interest,” Sibley said. The SPS attracts University “faculty who have an interest in working with executive master’s students and who have expertise that aligns with the program design.”

For example, the creation of the executive master’s in cybersecurity program began with the computer science department’s strength in cybersecurity, Sibley said. Additionally, the program made use of faculty from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs , she said.

The SPS hopes to expand on the types of programs offered, Sibley said, including shorter certificate programs and intensive conference programs that offer certificates rather than credit.

In collaboration with Provost Richard Locke and the Provost’s Steering Committee on Digital Teaching and Learning, the SPS plans to partner with edX, an online course platform started by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sibley said. In a few months, the University will announce a BrownX set of course offerings, some of which will be free and some of which will offer certification or credit for a fee, Sibley said.

New revenue stream

By increasing the population of graduate students, the University hopes to create revenue from SPS tuition without adding costs, Sibley said.

“The SPS is a completely self-supporting enterprise; we do not get any funding from the University to run these programs,” she added. “We generate enough marginal revenue from all of our programming that we can invest in compensation for faculty to design new programs.” She added that creating a new program can take up to two years and be costly.

Despite that cost, for the last several years, SPS contributed a significant amount to the Education and General Budget, the central budget that subsidizes University academic growth and programming, Sibley said.

In fiscal year 2016, the SPS contributed $6.5 million to the operating budget. The projected contribution for fiscal year 2017 is $8 million, according preliminary estimates provided to The Herald by the University.

The SPS learning experience

Students and professors alike spoke of the two-way collaboration and learning environment; students learned from each other as well as the professors, while professors learned from students.

Jim Austin, a professor in management and marketing for healthcare transformation at the SPS, said that after his experience with the online learning environment, he will bring media and increased interaction into his face-to-face class planning.

Incentives for SPS faculty include the opportunity to interact with mid-career professionals, which enhances faculty research and understanding of current practice, Sibley said.

The diversity of the cohort’s backgrounds, industries and geographies contributes to the dynamic environment, Knecht said.

Jay Flanagan EMHL’15, a senior operator and general manager of the Flanagan Group, said he would often cover a topic in coursework and then apply it in his work environment the following week. “I have found a greatly expanded personal and professional network that I have been able to leverage,” he added.

Patrick McHugh, executive director of the IE Brown Executive MBA Program and professor of the practice in the School of Engineering, has taught undergraduates, traditional graduate students and executive master’s students. He has found the key differences between the three student groups to be age and method of delivery. In spite of these differences, McHugh said the University attracts the same types of engaged students across its graduate and undergraduate programs.

But undergraduates and SPS students rarely interact. Interaction and collaboration with SPS students and undergrads is “one of the areas that could be improved … There may be opportunities for lunch and learning, panel discussions and career development,” he said.

Unlike Austin, McHugh has experienced several instances of engagement with undergraduates. McHugh also works to coordinate summer internships for undergraduates in Madrid with the IE marketing team that partners with the IE Brown Executive MBA program.

“We haven’t had any interaction with undergraduates,” Tambellini said of the cybersecurity executive master’s program. “We have a dearth of talent in the field of cybersecurity … I would absolutely encourage involvement with undergraduates,” she added.

Engaging SPS alums

The SPS wishes to ensure continuous learning opportunities for alums and extend the University’s alumni network, Sibley said.

“I want that network to serve the undergraduates and the doctorates at Brown,” she added.

Flanagan has donated to Brown in the past and will continue to do so in the future. He has noticed that the University’s alumni communications often fail to connect with the executive master’s alums who may have progressed far into their careers and possibly have college age children themselves. The University’s messaging tends to target 25- to 30-year-old alums, he noted.

The University needs to use “a different approach” in order to raise more funds from SPS alums by recognizing the difference between alums of the SPS and the College, Flanagan said.

Ivon Rodriguez ’00 EMBA ’16 has been active in alumni organizations since she was an undergraduate. As a former president of her Miami alumni association, Rodriguez said “there’s opportunity to engage more mindfully with the alumni of the SPS,” which would benefit both alums and the University.

Tambellini noted that she also intends to donate to the University, given her experience in the cybersecurity executive master’s program.


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