How John Brown University Developed Three New Majors Through Course Sharing

At John Brown University, a private university in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, we saw the potential that course sharing had to help us achieve several strategic goals immediately. We were one of the first members of Acadeum’s network to access and share courses on the course sharing platform within the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

When we joined, wTed Songe looked forward to trying out course sharing, gathering learnings about how it might help our students, and offering open seats in our courses as a teaching institution.

As we considered all the ways we could use course sharing to support students and be better stewards of the institution’s resources, we asked ourselves, could we meet our goals by creating an entirely new major using shared courses? Two years and three new majors later, the answer is a resounding yes.

The Problem Statement

JBU leadership was looking for ways to expand academic programs, but we preferred a solution that could test out an idea without significant budget implications.

Course sharing through Acadeum allowed us to affordably fill gaps with online courses without immediately hiring new faculty. Building out an entirely in-person major poses certain risks (what if it doesn’t take off?). But a “soft launch” with shared online courses gave us a low-risk option to test the waters and gauge success.

If these new hybrid programs were successful in driving interest and enrollments, we’d have initial evidence to expand the program by hiring new faculty to meet that demand.

The Plan: Cybersecurity and Criminal Justice 

Working with Dr. Edward Ericson III, Vice President for Academic Affairs at JBU, we identified two disciplines, Cybersecurity and Criminal Justice, that met our criteria for a new program, helping us:

  1. Meet demand from prospective students to stay market competitive
  2. Delight existing undeclared first-years and sophomores
  3. Prepare students for in-demand industry careers

Number one was particularly top-of-mind: high school students had asked us for Cybersecurity and Criminal Justice majors consistently and often stopped short of applying to JBU when they learned these majors were unavailable.

Professor Dan Bennet, Department Chair of Political Science, and I did some investigations—given the eligible courses we already offered, we’d need to add eight courses to complete the Cybersecurity major, and six to complete Criminal Justice to offer a full degree program.

Getting the Majors off the Ground

Dr. Ericson had a strong existing relationship with our sister institution Bluefield University, a forward-thinking CCCU institution. We worked with Dr. Marshall Flowers, Provost and Chief Academic Offer at Bluefield, to secure the remaining courses needed, vetting the course description and the student learning outcomes. The process is a bit like building a house: you have the foundation but need the materials to fill in the walls and floors.

There’s a critical learning in all of this: building a major through course sharing is not just about sharing classes. You have to ensure that a partner institution, like Bluefield University, can guarantee a certain number of open seats in those courses for the next five to six years. It’s a relationship based on trust.

We moved forward with an MOU signed by Bluefield’s provost and sailed into the approval stage at JBU. We wrote a proposal and completed the approval process, receiving final confirmation from the cabinet and trustees in Spring 2020, a few months before we began offering the majors in Fall 2020.

We’re now pleased to have established the Cybersecurity and Criminal Justice programs and have hired a new half-time faculty member. Currently, we have 14 students enrolled across both programs for Fall 2021.

The Next Challenge: A New Major for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief

Greg Robinson

Launching two majors put us in a great position to meet the next challenge: creating a new, unique and topical major that met student demand and helped modernize our offerings. For this part of the story, Professor Greg Robinson took the reins.

Professor Robinson saw that we had the bones for a Humanitarian and Disaster Relief major, a program that would combine cross-cultural learnings with the tactical skill of emergency medicine. In his previous role at Wheaton College, Robinson had seen first-hand how a new master’s degree in Disaster Relief rose in popularity: in just two years, 50 Wheaton students had enrolled. Robinson was also encouraged by the projected job forecast in emergency and relief services.

JBU’s Outdoor Leadership degree already featured courses in Incident Command Systems (ICS) and cultural studies, so Robinson connected with the provost at Columbia International University to discuss sharing courses from their robust Emergency Management course catalog. Using nine hours of CIU courses, Robinson successfully launched this new major in July 2021, with three students enrolled.

 

Employment in Emergency and Other Relief Services

Since JBU had already gone through the process of launching two new majors through course sharing, the process of launching Humanitarian and Disaster Relief was fairly seamless. Robinson attributes this success to a few best practices:

  • Do your homework: When developing your argument for a new, unique major, write a prospectus that demonstrates need and opportunity for students.
  • Use the courses you have first, and then fill in gaps. Find a partner (like CIU) that is an expert in the offerings you need.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the process: There’s very little risk in getting a new major, built through course sharing, off the ground. Once we had an approved prospectus, the process moved forward quickly--we were set up in Acadeum’s network within a week. Partnering with other leaders on campus for support can streamline approvals.

In the coming months, we’ll focus on growing these majors, raising awareness on campus and among prospective students. It’s rewarding to open up opportunities for new populations of students—and we’re particularly excited to see these new and in-demand majors come to life.