Expanding access to graduate programs

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St. John Fisher College has a plan to expand access to graduate programs. The college’s Community Education Partner Program aims to work with select Rochester businesses and nonprofits, inviting their employees to further their education. 

Starting next spring, employees of the partner organizations who enroll in graduate programs in St. John Fisher’s schools of arts and sciences, business and education will be eligible for a 20 percent tuition discount.

“At the heart of our mission is making a Fisher education accessible,” says Jose Perales, vice president for enrollment management. “The Community Education Partner Program creates an opportunity for individuals to earn a graduate degree at Fisher and in turn, strengthen their skills, add value to their workplace, and achieve personal career goals.”

So far, Monroe Community College and Finger Lakes Community College have signed up as partners. FLCC officials say they joined the program as a way to offer the college’s more than 350 employees an avenue for career advancement.

“The strategic partnership between our two institutions expands opportunities for FLCC employees to further their professional development and hone their leadership practice through the program’s social justice foundation and curriculum,” says Carol Urbaitis, vice president of enrollment management at FLCC, a graduate of St. John Fisher’s Ed.D. in executive leadership program.

St. John Fisher is in talks with other area employers. The terms of the partnership call for three or more employees from an organization to enroll in any combination of masters or doctoral programs, during the same term, offered by the schools identified by St. John Fisher.

The goal of opening access to graduate degrees aligns with St. John Fisher’s 2018-2023 strategic plan titled “Renewing our purpose. Broadening our impact.”

For example, the plan calls for the college to grow programming to engaged targeted student populations. St. John Fisher hopes to “increase access to existing programs by targeting new populations and maintain our access mission to attract a wide array of students.”

Graduate education plays a key role in the success of the U.S. workforce and the economy. Legislators and educational institutions like St. John Fisher are working on ways to expand access to graduate programs. 

In June, a bipartisan bill, the Expanding Access to Graduate Education Act, was introduced in Congress. It would allow students who received a Pell grant during their undergraduate education to use their remaining Pell eligibility towards their first graduate degree.

The Council of Graduate Schools applauded the bill, which has bipartisan support.

“This legislation upholds the primary mission of the Pell Grant program, which is to help ensure that individuals with exceptional financial need are able to pursue higher levels of education,” said Suzanne Ortega, CGS president, when the bill was introduced. “Our nation is becoming increasingly diverse, and it is imperative that our graduate student population reflects that diversity by including more students from low-income and underrepresented communities.”

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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