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Cultivating Partnerships to Support Student Needs

James Hedges and Ryan Lewis

Westminster fosters corporate education partnerships with adult learners and businesses

by Johanna Snow (MSC ’14)

Over the course of Westminster’s 140-year history, the college has evolved, but its core values and mission have remained the same. The college has long offered high-quality academics rooted in the liberal arts that create critical thinkers who have the skills needed to live lives of learning, accomplishment, and service. In 2006, Westminster began to explore competency-based education (CBE) as a new way to bring those skills to non-traditional learners.

Since 2006, the college has launched four successful degree programs and a leadership certificate program. It is now moving into a new phase by developing corporate education partnerships with both large and small organizations.

At the helm of the Center of Innovative Learning and corporate-partnership initiative are Dr. James Hedges, director of innovative learning, and Ryan Lewis, director of graduate and low-residency student services. James cultivates new partnerships and guides curriculum development. Ryan works to ensure all of Westminster’s adult learners have the support they need as they navigate graduate school and degree completion.

“Adult learners are the fastest-growing demographic in higher education,” James explains: “However, many of these adult learners live busy lives. As a result, adult learners require a different delivery model that allows them to work on their degrees when and where they want.”

The initiative began with the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and expanded to other degree programs to address growing needs, as James explains: “For a number of years, corporations have been concerned that the quality of higher education has become diluted, and students are not graduating with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. As a result, companies have looked to partner with higher education institutions so they can get their employees education that is directly relevant to their needs and allows their employees to maintain their full- or part-time employment.” To address this need, Westminster developed the leadership certificate program and a new, customizable program dubbed “Innovation Lab” to fill individual companies’ specific skill gaps while offering new educational pathways for adult learners.

Corporate partners thus far have included Discover Financial Services, Mountain America Credit Union, Arnold Machinery, and Phillips Edison. Employees of these firms have received a customized educational experience that delivered the competencies determined to be most important to their employers. Discover Financial Services has enrolled many employees in the leadership certificate program in recent years and continues to send students through that program. In spring of 2015, Discover expanded its partnership with Westminster by enrolling a group of 15 students in a custom BBA pilot program. Through this collaboration, selected employees will earn a BBA while continuing to work full-time at Discover.

During the BBA pilot program, Westminster faculty members engaged with students on-site at Discover’s campus for office hours each week. Additionally, all tuition and fees are billed directly to Discover, eliminating any additional steps associated with traditional tuition reimbursement programs.

Discover BBA students began the program with a Prior Learning Assessment to convert their professional experiences into degree program requirements. Lewis explains, “For our students and corporate partners, this has great value when they consider the time and cost it takes to earn a degree.” The students then embarked on a custom learning process that was built from a combination of Westminster LE courses and BBA projects—all either offered online or on location at Discover’s campus. Ryan elaborates, “With each student, we built a customized plan to completion based on his or her educational and professional experiences and interests.”

With these experiences to build on, Westminster is poised to join forces with a wide array of businesses to create educational experiences that will help working professionals reach their goals.

Westminster also recently partnered with Phillips Edison and Company (PECO) to provide an exciting new opportunity to PECO employees. PECO and Westminster faculty worked together to create an Innovation Lab that utilized a project-based learning model and was meant to function as an innovation incubator for PECO. The first Innovation Lab was a huge success and helped to create new initiatives PECO will roll out over the coming months. The program, which is ongoing, helps employees to innovate within the commercial real estate industry and build leadership skills. PECO and Westminster have continued their partnership through two more Innovation Labs.

CBE at Westminster

Master of Strategic Communication (MSC)

Designed to meet the needs of professionals working in communications. Students graduate with expertise in a broad array of skills needed for leadership in the field and a professional portfolio developed through work with real clients.

Number of MSC alumni: 16

Project-Based Master of Business Administration (PMBA)

Offers the same high-quality, rigorous curriculum as Westminster’s traditional MBA program in a unique learning environment. Students build real-world, executive-level business skills needed in today’s competitive landscape.

Number of PMBA alumni: 117

Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)

Builds the real-world business skills that students need to advance in their career path while offering the flexibility and support they need to succeed.

Number of BBA alumni: 130

RN to BS in Nursing

Offers registered nurses with an associate’s degree the opportunities to advance their degrees and their careers.

Number of RN to BS alumni: 22



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.