Yale lags in adult education

Yale is working to increase its offerings in adult education with programs like Open Yale and Directed Studies for Life.
Yale is working to increase its offerings in adult education with programs like Open Yale and Directed Studies for Life. Photo by Emily Foxhall.

Last month, Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced the University’s newest community education initiative for alumni and parents: Directed Studies for Life.

For $6,500, up to 36 Yale-affiliated adults can spend two weeks this summer revisiting the Greek classics studied in the opening weeks of the freshman Directed Studies humanities program. As of Monday, 16 had signed up for the program. Many administrators point to programs such as this as an example of Yale’s community education efforts. But compared to other Ivies and even local colleges and universities, Yale’s course offerings in adult continuing and pre-professional education are scant.

About 15 students take courses in Yale’s Non-Degree Students Program each semester, according to Dean of Summer Sessions and Special Programs William Whobrey, and in the past few years, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel, no more than eight students enroll each year to study on a part-time or full-time basis in the Eli Whitney Students Program. Typically, Whobrey said, Eli Whitney students are older adults who had to postpone their college educations.

“We seek among the applicants to this program for what we always seek: evidence of extraordinary achievement and extraordinary potential,” Brenzel said in an e-mail Monday.

Yale’s selectivity extends to its continuing education offerings: Brenzel said the Eli Whitney admissions rate “is not significantly different” from Yale’s regular freshman admit rate, which was 7.5 percent last year. The Eli Whitney website encourages prospective students also to apply to similar programs at Trinity College and Columbia University.

In Yale’s own backyard, Gateway Community College, Albertus Magnus College and others offer far larger continuing education programs, with some enrolling as many as 800 students in programs designed to fit job training into a working adult’s schedule. These schools say their programs fill New Haven’s need for career training and lifelong learning — a need that Yale may not meet as it expands offerings for its alumni network and a global community of online learners.

BALANCING LOCAL AND GLOBAL

To supplement the small size of Yale’s Non-Degree Students and Eli Whitney Students programs, Miller said, the University addresses demand for continuing education with its Open Yale Courses, which include recorded lectures and digital course materials such as problem set answer keys. Principal investigator Diana Kleiner said 10 more courses will be added this semester after being filmed this fall, while three others are currently being recorded.

“The way that Yale has addressed so much interest in being in classes with Yale professors is to put them online and make them free,” Miller said. “The University has committed to make itself available not just locally but globally.”

Kleiner said the project is intended to target learners worldwide, not just from within the New Haven community. Since Open Yale Courses launched in 2007, Kleiner said, the site has logged 7 million visits. The program’s success comes after an earlier attempt to launch a paid version of Open Yale Courses in conjunction with Stanford and Oxford universities about 10 years ago. Unable to establish a business plan, the universities abandoned the project, Kleiner said.

Since the newest iteration of the program launched, Kleiner said, each course has developed a following. Organizers have worked to make the program more collaborative in recent months, adding an OpenStudy component which links users in a virtual chat room to study together in real time. Despite the new addition, which operates for four courses on a pilot basis, the program will remain cost-free.

But Norma Thompson, a senior lector in the Humanities and a Directed Studies for Life instructor, said one benefits more from taking a course in person, such as in the Directed Studies for Life program. Thompson said she personally finds online lectures difficult to engage with at times.

“It will be interesting to see if there is something out there to tap into,” Thompson said of the Directed Studies program she will help teach this summer. “Online courses don’t seem to work very well. There is a demand to be back in the classrooms.”

THE NEED FOR NIGHT SCHOOL?

Some Ivies have harnessed such demand in their own communities: Harvard and Columbia both operate schools of continuing education. The general post-baccalaureate program alone hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate college currently has about 1,500 enrolled students, said Vice Dean of Continuing Education Nora Lewis.

“They’re all types of people taking different courses for different types of reasons,” she said, adding that students in Penn’s continuing education courses range in age from 20 to 80.

Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies offers degree and non-degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate and post-baccalaureate levels. Among the roughly 450 students in Penn’s B.A. degree program for continuing students, Lewis said, many completed associate’s degrees at community college and then decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree elsewhere. There are also many whose professions do not allow them to attend school full time, she added, including ballet dancers and professional ice skaters.

Harvard’s Extension School offers 650 courses on campus and online to over 13,000 students, according to the program’s website. Whobrey said he doubts Yale will ever create anything similar to Harvard’s Extension School because “there are so many other educational opportunities available to the New Haven community.”

“The student body of Harvard Extension School is local,” University President Richard Levin said. “It serves the city of Boston, which is five times [the size of] the city of New Haven.”

Levin said Yale has not seriously considered adding an extension school since former University President Bartlett Giamatti expressed support for the idea, but found there was insufficient demand in the community.

Yale historian and professor Gaddis Smith recalled that several Yale professors considered adding a night school for adult education in the 1970s. They ultimately decided against it to avoid drawing students away from surrounding community colleges and universities that already filled that niche, he said — and in this regard, little has changed since.

“I don’t think that there is a need that cannot be filled elsewhere in the greater New Haven community and probably better,” Smith said.

‘PICK AND CHOOSE’

At Gateway, students can take a series of non-credit Workforce Development Institute courses to prepare for work in specific positions, such as pharmacy technician. Local employers also partner with the school to create business and industry classes designed to educate their own employees. In addition, Dean of the Continuing Education and Workforce Development Division Vicki Bozzutto explained, the school offers continuing education courses in subjects such as Spanish and computer technology for “everyone and anyone.”

Over 800 students are currently enrolled in Albertus Magnus College’s programs for working adults at the central campus as well as at satellite campuses around the region, said Irene Rios, dean of the New Dimensions continuing education program.

“We are very proud of the access that we now offer to a number of communities,” Rios said.

In some cases, Yale has partnered with these colleges: Gateway students annually attend the Yale College course “New Haven & the American City,” and Bozzuto said Gateway worked with the Yale School of Public Health to develop a credit program to train potential research assistants from SPH and the New Haven community. Rios said Yale has helped Albertus Magnus simply by inviting the school to participate in career fairs for Yale employees.

Both Gateway and Albertus Magnus representatives said the schools are content with their relationships with Yale and with Yale’s contribution to New Haven. Bozzuto said Yale is instrumental in helping to educate New Haven youth, adding that the University “fill[s] gaps that we couldn’t.”

As Yale’s “New Haven & the American City” professor Elihu Rubin said, Yale is not an institution that seeks to educate everyone.

“At a certain point, Yale maintains its distinction because it’s an enclave. Not everyone gets into Yale — that’s the whole point,” he said. “We know that the administration is aware and conscious of its relationships with the city around us. In all fairness, Yale does do a lot to nurture those relationships … You have to pick and choose what kind of things you offer. I don’t think that is a particular slap in the face to community.”

While a Yale extension school seems an unlikely addition to New Haven for now, the University still attracts Yale affiliates to campus to take advantage of the few programs it offers in person.

For the last 15 years, Kem Edwards ’49 has taken over 100 Yale courses as an alumni auditor at $500 per credit. Despite the abundance of other local options, Edwards has continued his education at Yale, and said he thinks he understands why the University has refrained from opening its classroom doors to the New Haven community.

“There’s Southern Connecticut State [University], there’s Gateway, there’s Albertus Magnus and Quinnipiac [University], and they all have programs that can attract people to do adult education,” Edwards said last month. “[But] if anybody could have the time to spend in a Yale classroom or Southern Connecticut, where do you think they’re going to go?”

Clarification: March 2, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly represented the Eli Whitney Program as a form of continuing education. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel, the program does not classify as continuing education because enrolled students are working to complete a full Yale undergraduate degree.

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