Higher education is evolving at a rapid pace.
Leaving the workforce to pursue a graduate degree often is not feasible for those supporting families or hoping to continue cultivating a successful career. Meanwhile, industries are asking more from their employees, including skill diversification and higher levels of academic achievement.
Luckily, SFA is meeting those disparate demands head on.
“Of our 39 graduate degrees, 15 are offered fully online,” said Dr. Pauline Sampson, dean of the SFA Office of Research and Graduate Studies. “Faculty members also are currently creating more graduate-level degrees and certifications that incorporate distance learning. In fact, a university-wide committee was formed to address all aspects of the graduate experience and help ensure SFA’s programs are staying current with professional trends in every sector.”
Despite cross-industry changes, online education and other advances in nontraditional learning allow the benefits of master’s and doctoral degrees to remain the same: increased professional competitiveness and a greater chance of making substantially more money over a lifetime.
SFA’s degree offerings are as diverse as the needs of its students. All six of the university’s colleges offer traditional master’s degrees, and two offer doctoral degree options, but faculty members consistently seek new ways to make learning flexible.
One way is to get crafty with stackable certificates.
“Modern students may want to come in for professional skill building, step out, and then come back for more down the road,” Sampson said. “So stackable certificates are becoming more and more important.”
Stackable certificates allow students to pursue separate certificates that, if received within a certain period of time, add up to a full master’s degree. For example, SFA students who successfully complete the Certificate in Homeland Security and return to complete the Certificate in Intelligence Studies will graduate with a Master of Arts in national security.
“The curriculum of SFA’s Post Baccalaureate Initial Certification program, which is an alternative certification program to receive teacher certification and credentials, provided me an opportunity to take an extra 18 hours to complete my master’s degree,” said Dr. Betsy Mijares, principal of Willie Mae and Ecomet Burley Primary in Lufkin. She received a Master of Education in educational leadership with a principal certification from SFA in 2009 before returning to receive her Doctor of Education in educational leadership in 2017.
Mijares said her specific programs were a mix of face-to-face and online with both options providing their own unique benefits.
“The online classes were beneficial for time and travel, but I also gained knowledge and experience in the face-to-face courses. The doctoral program was a cohort model that allowed me to develop a network and to create in-depth conversations and leadership development through educational practices. The cohort model left a lasting impact professionally and personally by providing a wider lens and application of theory to our profession.”
According to the EAB, the top reason individuals opt out of returning to school is concern about the cost. Second is simply a matter of time. SFA is working to address both by reviewing fees, seeking new avenues for financial aid, and increasingly incorporating online and other distance technology.
Distance education, both fully online programs as well as the use of video conferencing, is increasingly important to higher education.
“Many potential graduate students have families and are working professionals, so distance education is not just about convenience,” Sampson said. “For those who can’t or don’t want to give up a job, online programs are truly the only way they’ll be able to pursue a master’s degree or graduate certificate.”
Despite a constantly evolving world, SFA’s dedication to serve diverse populations with complex needs often compels Lumberjacks to return to their alma mater for professional growth opportunities.
“For my master’s degree, I selected SFA because of its strong reputation in education courses and because the program at that time was a hybrid between face-to-face sessions and online sessions, which worked beautifully for me and my young family,” said Dr. Melissa Leigh, director of curriculum and professional learning with the Humble Independent School District. “For my doctoral degree, I researched several other universities, but I came back to SFA because of the quality of the program and the cohort model it follows.”