Pairing Two Academic Programs to Strengthen Both
As anyone who works in higher education knows, budgets aren’t what they used to be. Tuition seems to be on an ever-increasing upward spiral, yet money is somehow still tight. To compound institutional financial and planning woes in the Harrisburg-Bethlehem-Philadelphia triangle, we have many schools with stressed budgets competing for a seemingly finite and perhaps dwindling number of students.
Department budgets and enrollments are not immune to economic downturns. In the mid-2000s, enrollment in both the instructional technology department and library science department programs at Kutztown University had contracted and a merger of the two departments was implemented as a means of cost saving through resource sharing. While the combined faculties helped ease the burden of representing the department at the multitude of college-level and university committees, the academic offerings in the new department remained largely separate and distinct.
Over time, the professors in both programs began to see potential in a substantive integration of the respective degree tracks. The first step in actualizing this synergy was allowing courses from one program to be used as electives in the other. This worked very well for all concerned, and it gave the students a way to customize their LIB (library) or ITC (instructional technology) degrees with courses from outside their core discipline.
After a brutal and protracted downturn in the economy, another look at cost saving was needed in 2014. To ensure the survival of the library science program and to stabilize the instructional technology, something more daring than shared administrative resources and elective course cross-pollination was necessary. Fortunately, an excellent academic reason for further synergies was found in the evolving nature of librarianship. School libraries had evolved from traditional book center repositories into library media centers, information commons, and Makerspaces. These updated library environments were more technologically-infused than ever, far removed from the quiet static spaces we recall from our youth.
Because so much of what was happening in the library space had a technological underpinning, the faculty in the library science and instructional technology programs decided to make a radical program change. Out went the LIB and ITC prefixes. They were replaced by LLT, the course identifier for the new library and learning technologies department. Moving to this newly integrated model was more than a cosmetic makeover. Given the emphasis on accreditation in higher education and the technological evolution occurring in libraries, the faculty took the opportunity to align the library science courses to International Society for Technology in Education – National Educational Technology Standards (ISTE-NETS). Each course was rethought, reworked, and double-checked through a curricular review process that started in the department, moved to the College of Education, and then on to the University Curriculum Committee for final approval. Once in place, this new suite of offerings resulted in more course options for students and more diversified teaching opportunities for department facilities. Former “ITC only” faculty were teaching courses with a librarianship bent and former LIB faculty were dabbling in more and more technology-based courses.
One of the curious “in-fighting” situations that happens in academia is deciding in which department a new course or novel degree-track concept belongs. With our combined department, that territorial concern was muted. Was the new “Coding in the Classroom” course LIB or ITC? It didn’t matter, because under the new LLT prefix, the course fit beautifully in several of our degree plans.
Should you consider a program pairing of this nature at your institution? Quite possibility, but do be prepared for many hours in planning sessions looking at syllabi, and refining and rewriting the curriculum. This approach requires a coherent vision for the whole of the department’s offerings. Also recognize that a formal curricular revision and review process will likely take a year or more to move from department concept to codified program in the university’s course catalog.
Keeping students in the loop is key to such a radical change. As we made the LLT conversion, students needed guidance on which of the new courses correlated to the old prefixes on their degree plan grid sheets. This required some handholding, and in the beginning, the department faculties referred to the cross-reference sheets as much as students and administrators did in order to see the correlation between old grid sheet codes and the new “universal” ones.
Was the journey worth it? We think so. What started out as concessionary, small cost-saving steps and then evolved into an out-and-out fight for program survival, resulted in a stronger, more vibrant program with more diverse options for students and faculties—not a bad result for a directional change that was originally grounded in budget and enrollment factors.
William Jefferson, MLS, MEd, worked in public libraries for approximately 11 years and has been a member of the faculty at Kutztown University since 2003. He is the department of library and learning technologies’ instructional technology graduate program coordinator.
Roseanne Perkins, MLS, MEd, worked in public libraries for 12 years before joining the faculty at Kutztown University in 2011. She is currently pursuing her PhD in teaching, learning, and technologies at Lehigh University.