The idea of Fort Lewis College, Colorado’s only public liberal arts college, instituting a master’s degree program had been bandied about for more than a decade.
Now, after years of planning, discussions and focus groups, the dream is coming true, with the college Board of Trustees unanimously voting to offer a master’s of arts in education starting in 2013.
“I’m very excited about it. FLC offering a master’s degree in education will serve the whole region,” said FLC President Dene Kay Thomas.
College spokesman Mitch Davis said the program will focus on leadership and “be aimed at teachers who want to take on a leadership role in their schools – principal, department chair, whatever within the leadership structure of their institutions.”
FLC expects about 22 students to enroll in the program’s first year. Davis said the board was anticipating the program to be revenue-neutral off the bat.
“Year one, we’re expecting expenses of about $123,000, and if we can attract the number of students we’re projecting, we should be able to bring in $125,000,” he said.
The program will require 30 credits (and likely two years) to complete. Each credit hour will cost $300.
There are more than 2,400 teachers within a 100-mile radius of the college, and at least 140 are FLC graduates. Davis said research showed only about half of those teachers have master’s degrees, “though the majority would like a master’s and would likely come to FLC if it offered a master’s program.”
Thomas said, “We did the strategic planning, we set the goal, and we said we wanted to grow by targeting very carefully selected programs. Number one on that list was master of arts in teaching. The need was there, and the expertise in our faculty was here.”
John Wells, vice chairman of FLC’s Board of Trustees, said the decision to offer the program was precipitated by “a very interesting discussion over the last several months over doing a master’s because the liberal arts is FLC’s primary foundation.”
“But the entire staff, especially Richard Fulton (FLC’s director of teacher education), did a wonderful job of analyzing the need and calculating what the cost-and-benefit ratio was going to be,” Wells said. “He convinced us it’s going to be a wonderful program that benefits both the college and K-12 education in the entire region – west of here, New Mexico, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Cortez and beyond – by helping students secure master’s degrees in education.”
Thomas said a healthy sense of collegial rivalry also factored into the decision.
“Part of this is that our graduates were going to Adams State to get their education master’s. That was hard to watch. They were advertising here. And obviously, the need for this program was there, as our graduates would much rather get their master’s from us than Adams State,” Thomas said.
Fulton said, “I think it’s going to be a whole new dimension that we’re going to be able to offer the whole Southwest community.”
Thomas also said Fulton had been critical in persuading the board to opt for a master of arts in education over only a master’s in education.
“He’s particularly proud because we’re not looking at a master’s in education, which are often just overblown bachelor’s degrees that institutions call ‘master’s,’” she said.
Thomas said the board was hoping to offer other master’s programs in the future.
“Number one on my list is an MBA program, which is another regional need that we can feel. But we’re hardly even in the discussion stage. Right now, our goal is the master of arts in education,” she said.
With FLC poised to offer graduate programs, will it cease being a “college” and start being a “university”?
“There’s no name change associated directly with this new program, but a name change is something the college has talked about in the past,” Davis said. “And in the college’s strategic plan, it’s a goal to have that discussion in a very serious way over the next few years about whether a name change for FLC would be something beneficial.
“I personally don’t think it makes sense to change our name from FLC to Fort Lewis University – then we’d be FLU. But that’s a discussion the campus will be having in the next few years,” he said.