How this university crafts degrees to give Tennessee employers what they need

How this university crafts degrees to give Tennessee employers what they need

Sep 27, 2016, 2:19pm CDT

By Eleanor Kennedy, Staff Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

In his days as a technology executive, Scott Pulsipher felt some frustration with the way higher education providers were — or, in his estimation, weren't — incorporating businesses' workforce needs into curriculum development.

That's something he sees as a key difference with Western Governors University, the online nonprofit university that he joined as president in April, and the way it decides which programs to add.

Scott Pulsipher “We do that in a way that has not been done traditionally in higher education,” Pulsipher said, pointing to the business advisory councils and similar groups that drive the creation of new degree options for the school's students, who are primarily adult learners and nontraditional students.

Pulsipher was in town last week for graduation at WGU Tennessee, one of six state affiliates of the school. Launched as part of Gov. Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees, WGU Tennessee has quadrupled enrollment in its three-year history, and now has 1,500 graduates across the state, according to Chancellor Kimberly Estep.

As for those degrees programs Pulsipher mentioned, many of the recent additions are in areas that likely appeal to Nashville's employers, especially those hungry for a greater supply of technology talent.

"As you think about technology it sounds to be very true for Nashville the way it is across the nation, it’s that we need more and more credentialed, degree-holding individuals in the technology sector overall," said Pulsipher, who led a variety of technology-based businesses throughout his career prior to joining WGU. "We in particular see certain areas that we are investing and developing our programs in."

Those investments are largely focused on software development, cyber security and data analytics, Pulsipher said. That third bucket crosses over into health care, one of the four colleges within WGU and, of course, the $40 billion industry at the core of Nashville's economy.

"We’ve already introduced a bachelor’s in data analytics, we also have a bachelor’s and master’s in health informatics … But we’re introducing a master’s in data analytics, [which] will launch later this year," Pulsipher said. "We also have a nursing informatics one that we’re developing."

The school is also adding programs centered around "integrated care," one of health care's hottest trends. As hospitals learn how to manage bundled payments — wherein a patient gets one bill for a procedure, like a knee replacement, and then the hospital divides that payment among all the providers involved — WGU is building degree programs that train graduates how to manage that shift, along with other examples of integrated care in health care today.

"We introduced a master’s of integrated health care management, that’s specifically identifying those competencies with the workforce needs. That’s probably one of the best examples of how our degree programs directly align with workforce development," Pulsipher said. "We’re not an internally focused research university that’s just deciding what they want to teach. We’re developing curriculum and programs that directly align with workforce competencies."

Eleanor Kennedy covers Nashville's health care and technology industries.

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