Written by Wesley L. Face and Nelva G. Runnalls
Approved by UW System Administration 6/83


Specializations: A New Academic Approach

Over the years, higher education has developed a number of traditions on how educational experiences are packaged and delivered. Though rather limited in number, these ways of looking at educational programming have been appropriate and useful, since the student body has tended to follow a rather expected form, both in the sense of age of the student and their recency to an educational program. Now, as we continue to expand our ways of assisting adult learners, we must also review various ways by which we can meet their goals through new and different delivery systems as well as different programmatic approaches. This paper attempts to develop a new way of thinking about the implementation of alternative educational programming at Stout. It proposes an approach which is intended to more likely meet a varied student body with differing interests, experiences and backgrounds.

What is a specialization?

A specialization would be a new series of curricular offerings for UW-Stout and perhaps for higher education in general. They would be different from degree programs, major concentrations, and minors in several ways. Specializations are seen as a new way of "packaging" educational experiences aimed primarily at a more mature student population, although they may well prove useful to our regular students as well. Societal changes are likely to alter the nature of the population to be educated in the near future; we are fortunate at Stout that our mission, which encourages us to experiment with new educational strategies, will permit us to adapt our offerings to this changing student body. As the student body changes, we will need to also carefully consider new areas of study that coincide with their interests and new societal problems. Of course, these new areas would need to be within our mission areas. The following three conditions seem to best define specializations:

  1. Specializations are "stand alone" programs: they will be intended for use without specific university prerequisites and without the presumption that additional coursework will follow. Many students may prefer to pursue only the specialization. However, where a student does take coursework as part of the specialization, those courses may also be applied to a variety of our existing graduate or undergraduate degree programs, as far as the curricula of these programs permits. Some degree programs might eventually choose to revise their curriculum to let their students take advantage of particular specialization, if they choose to do so. Completion of a specialization would be recorded on the student's transcript, and a certificate of completion would be issued as well.
  2. A specialization is designed to achieve defined outcomes. This does not mean that a specialization is necessarily employment oriented, although this is one, but not the only possible outcome of a specialization. Designing a specialization would begin by identifying a significant area of study, by setting forth the outcomes intended, by identifying the learning experiences offered to students and the evaluation procedures to be used. Curricular design for specializations need not be constrained to traditional academic patterns. Primary consideration will be given to clarity in defining intended outcomes, effectiveness in promoting learning, and appropriateness to the targeted student population. Learning experiences for specializations may include non-credit experiences, internships, mentor-fellow interactions, evaluations of specified capabilities achieved outside of the university setting, successful completion of proficiency evaluations or external certification or licensing examinations. Of course, most specializations will include traditional university coursework as well. It is likely that a specialization will include courses from several departments or curricular areas, and will involve faculty from several disciplines.
  3. A specialization will not be defined primarily in terms of numbers of credits accrued. Instead, the program will specify the completion of prescribed learning experiences and/or achievement of specified capabilities. The student's time commitment will be consistent with achieving the desired outcomes. Specializations will be highly focused; that is, they will not address secondary or concomitant outcomes. They will probably be without electives, and with limited opportunity (if any) for students to select among comparable courses. They will be designed to focus on specific, designated purposes, rather than being intended for individualization for each student. Specializations will not be "blank checks"; in contrast, they will be carefully faculty redesigned, specified programs to achieve desired outcomes, with designated evaluation procedures.

How would specializations be initiated?

One consistent theme of comments has been that we should avoid cumbersome, bureaucratic procedures and extensive administrative overload as we develop the specializations. We will invite groups among our faculty who are interested in pursuing a "specialization" to feel free to suggest a block of intended outcomes and specified requirements for their proposed specialization. It is assumed that many specializations will utilize faculty from different colleges and departments.

Specializations would be new not only to Stout, but new to Wisconsin. Great care will be exercised in making sure that a specialization does not duplicate an existing major either at UW-Stout or some other UW institution or program in the WTCS, and that is within our mission area. Proposals for the new specialization will be reviewed by AAAT. This group will supervise the preparation of proposals. These proposals will then proceed through the usual levels of curriculum approval, beginning with the appropriate college and the Curriculum and Instruction Committee. They will be submitted to the West Central Wisconsin Consortium and the UW System. They will be reviewed by the JACAP as well, where the nature of the specialization makes such review appropriate.

How would specializations be implemented?

The faculty of the specialization would advise the students, and meet periodically to make any necessary decisions. Day-to-day administrative services for a given specialization would be conducted from the office of one of the college deans. AAAT would coordinate and maintain an overview of the specialization.

If the chancellor approves of the idea of a specialization, we would immediately identify faculty interest in a variety of areas. Once faculty were identified, they would be encouraged to develop proposals which could then be approved for implementation.

All announcements concerning specializations should exercise great care in describing what they are and what they are not. Special publicity will be required and the university bulletin will need to stress these new academic approaches.

Should a specialization ever become a major?

The initial intent in creating a specialization should not be viewed as a simple or necessary method for developing a major. As emphasized before, these are different than majors and other academic programs.

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