Oct 29th, 2005 @ 3:32 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
At last, it is official. Valley City State University has a graduate school. The letter of approval we received last week from our accrediting agency was the last step in a long, long process. It is also the first step on an incredible new institutional journey.

We have experienced a similar change before. Many people do not realize that teachers did not need a four-year degree back in 1890, or for many years thereafter. So VCSU did not offer such degrees. However, when the requirements for a teaching license changed, the university pursued the opportunity to offer a four-year curriculum and a baccalaureate degree.

To get a sense of the magnitude of that change, imagine Bismarck State or any other community college becoming a four-year university. They would not only have to double their curriculum, but they are also expected to bring higher level learning experiences, more theory, and greater skill development to students. The qualifications and backgrounds of faculty members for the new curriculum are different between the two types of institutions.

And so it is with us now. We are all learning together how to make the transition.

Graduate students need just as much service as undergraduates in terms of advising, registering, applying, getting financial aid, billing, and so on, but in many cases, the details are significantly different. So we must develop and implement new pathways and, in some cases, learn new regulations.

A normal part of graduate study is the opportunity to serve as a teaching or research assistant to a senior professor in the field. Our faculty have never before had access to that level of expertise for assistance in their work, and the university has never budgeted for that kind of work.

The faculty must develop the graduate courses, from concept to syllabus to assignments and assessments. We also aim to have all of the courses online within a relatively short time, so several faculty are transitioning from teaching traditional or hybrid classes to fully online. A number of faculty spent weeks last year developing the policies and procedures that will govern the program. We hired an additional education faculty member this year to give senior faculty some released time to accomplish these essential tasks.

A full teaching load for a graduate faculty member is 75 percent of a full teaching load for an undergraduate faculty member. The expectation that each graduate faculty will engage in scholarship and research requires that they have additional non-teaching time. Although several of our education and non-education professors have active research agendas, the expectation of scholarship may be the single largest change in the lives of participating faculty members. We are and remain a predominantly teaching university, but increased scholarship is essential for a quality graduate program.

As we make these exciting changes, we will pause briefly to celebrate what future historians may well see as the most significant event in the university's first 115 years. We invite you to join us at Froemke Auditorium on Friday, November 18 at 3:45 for a brief convocation, followed by a reception at the Presidents House Guest Inn. Then continue the celebration at the music department's Holiday Dinner – tickets for this part of the day must be purchased by November 10 by calling 845-7272. See you on the 18th!