The Bachelor of Liberal Studies (BLS) program, which passed a faculty vote for implementation in March 2019, will graduate its first student this May. The BLS degree allows students to complete a bachelor’s degree in more than eight full-time semesters without fulfilling a residency requirement.
Though the degree was originally proposed due to a desire to help students in the CPE program attain a four-year bachelor’s degree, the University is currently awaiting approval from the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE) before the BLS degree can accept students from that population.
“We are not technically allowed to admit anyone to that degree yet because we have to go through a substantive change process with our accrediting agency…because the entire program would be hosted in a different location where we’re not currently authorized to offer degrees,” Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Sheryl Culotta said.
Culotta hopes that following NECHE’s upcoming commission meeting in March, the University will be able to admit students in the CPE program who have already completed their associate’s degree starting this fall.
Interim Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal believes the progress that has been made so far with the BLS degree represents the culmination of a major goal for the University.
“I mean…how to arrange it so people in CPE could get an undergraduate degree, that was a struggle of I don’t know how long, probably a decade, maybe it’s longer,” Rosenthal said. “So that was a gigantic goal and to have actually reached it was terrific.”
Rosenthal commented on how the BLS program has developed since the degree’s initial proposal, and how the intended student population will include four student demographics: the Center for Prison Education (CPE); partners of faculty or staff without a bachelor’s degree; “amnesty,” or former Wesleyan students who did not complete the bachelor’s degree; and a smaller cohort of up to 10 students per year from outside the University’s community.
“It really grew out of our work with the Center for Prison Education and figuring out how we could arrange it so people in that program could receive a degree, a four-year college degree,” Rosenthal said. “But along the line, we realized that there were other people who might also take advantage of this, including past students who had almost gotten their degree but not quite, staff and their families, and to a whole group of people. And so it broadened, and now we’re ready to go.”
Currently, the BLS program has one amnesty student and one student from the staff partners’ group enrolled, and expects one former CPE program student who has been released to enroll in Fall 2020, according to Culotta.
Culotta, who has been involved with the BLS degree since its inception, spoke about the slowly expanding number of enrolled students.
“It’s a slow, intentionally slow rollout,” Culotta said. “…Certainly I think everybody’s really pleased that we can offer something to the amnesty population, you know, students who may have really wanted to earn their degree at Wesleyan, that we can now give them a more flexible alternative to be able to do that. For the faculty and staff spouses and partners, I think it’s fantastic that people who are already in this community can really have easy access to what Wesleyan offers…and then everybody’s excited that once we have approval, we’ll be able to offer a Wesleyan bachelor’s degree for people in the Center for Prison Education.”
Culotta, who is currently working with the BLS Faculty Governing Board to implement the program, describes the board as the main oversight committee for the degree.
“They’re making a lot of policy decisions, and helping us think through from the faculty side, you know, all of the different questions that are coming up as we’re running through a program for the first time,” Culotta said.
For Culotta, who has been at Wesleyan for 15 years and previously worked for the Office of Continuing Studies to launch programs like Summer Session, Winter Session, and the University’s Coursera initiative, the BLS degree offers another way to be involved with developing new programs at the University.
“I just think it’s really exciting to be a part of,” Culotta said. “I mean, this is really the biggest new program Wesleyan has offered in the time I’ve been here…. I’ve done a lot of kind of program launches, and this one’s the biggest and most complicated of all of them. So it’s a fun challenge for me.”
Jiyu Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.