Jul. 23—Do you want the benefits of an education from Dakota Wesleyan University but your life situation prohibits you from moving to Mitchell to attend the school? Or perhaps you don't perform well in online environments, making remote-learning a poor option for your educational needs.
There may be an answer.
Come August, Dakota Wesleyan University will bring its resources to remote students in Pierre and Sioux Falls, providing a path to associate and bachelor degrees and paid internships while maintaining a live, hands-on classroom environment.
The program, known as Learn & Earn, is billed as an affordable and efficient 16-month path to a professional career and associate degree.
"Dakota Wesleyan University has always been very proactive and forward-looking in developing and designing courses, integrating courses and technology and delivering coursework where students need it," Julie Brookbank, associate director of communications for the school, told the Mitchell Republic recently.
The program has been in development since before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life and business around the world, but is now set to launch in Pierre and Sioux Falls next month.
The curriculum is designed to prepare students to fill professional roles in the Pierre and Sioux Falls areas while earning professional certifications. The program integrates learning with professional work experience, and students enrolled are eligible to participate in a year-long, part-time paid internship while completing those certificates.
Students enroll in courses that focus on the foundations of organizations and business. After four months of professional readiness courses, the program is designed so students will be in the classroom three days per week while working in their paid internship two days per week. After eight months, students will switch to three days per week on the job and two days per week in the classroom.
"The program was envisioned as one where students who want to remain in the Pierre area would be able to do so, and the model that the designers came up with was one where they spend a portion of their time in a classroom environment and a portion of their time on paid internships with Pierre-area businesses and industries that are relevant to what they're learning."
— Julie Brookbank, associate director of communications for Dakota Wesleyan University
Brookbank said the school developed the program with an emphasis on bringing educational opportunities to areas that may be underserved in the realm of higher education, such as Pierre, while offering a chance to both obtain a degree and earn some income while doing so.
"When DWU was coming up with this idea, they thought that a good model would be to start something that was connected to the workforce, but in a little bit of a different way. This would be a program that would help individuals start in an entry-level type of job," Brookbank said.
Dakota Wesleyan has secured the use of facilities in Pierre and Sioux Falls where local area students who may not perform well in a remote online classroom environment or who may not be able to move to Mitchell to attend DWU because of personal or family reasons can converge and learn.
Students would begin with classroom instruction and other foundational studies during their first semester before combining in the paid internship portion of the program in the second semester, she said.
Fredel Thomas, vice president of admissions and marketing for Dakota Wesleyan University, said the new program will help expand the reach of the school while providing opportunities for new students in the field of education and income, as well as bringing in new employees to area businesses who are looking to hire.
"Learn & Earn came from the premise of taking a step back and looking at traditional education and seeing in what ways we could meet some students where they are," Thomas said. "We know there are barriers to traditional education for some. For some the cost can be prohibitive, or where the college is can be prohibitive."
With Learn & Earn, Dakota Wesleyan brings the instruction closer to the student while allowing that student to offset costs by earning money in a paid internship that also builds students' professional experience with valuable on-the-job training.
"We were very broad in reaching out to the community. High school grads. People a year out of high school. People who have tried traditional education. Non-traditional students who want to move up. Fortunately we've gotten interest from all those avenues."
— Fredel Thomas, vice president for admissions and marketing for Dakota Wesleyan University
The inaugural program is mostly filled for the first semester, with students already appearing to embrace the new idea, Thomas said. It's a program that should draw interest from a wide range of potential students.
"We were very broad in reaching out to the community. High school grads. People a year out of high school. People who have tried traditional education. Non-traditional students who want to move up. Fortunately we've gotten interest from all those avenues," Thomas said.
Thomas said the partnership between DWU and the two host communities has been strong in the lead up to the program's launch. In March, the program got a boost when the Pierre Economic Development Corporation approved offering $500 scholarships to the first 10 students who enrolled in the program. It was a great way to support both local education and the local business community, said Andy Hubbart, chairman of the Pierre Economic Development Corporation.
"The ability to partner with Dakota Wesleyan and to offer scholarships to students in the Pierre area was attractive to us," Hubbart said in a statement. "We are always looking for ways to assist companies who need well-qualified employees. Students who complete the Learn & Earn program will be ready for their first professional level job. We are very pleased to invest in their future success."
Brookbank said the program will continue to develop as it is rolled out in both locations, but the end goal will remain the same: provide students with an opportunity to earn while they learn and navigate their way toward bigger goals, be that a higher degree or a new career with a local employer.
"It's going to be a really interesting way for people to have an experience they haven't had a chance to have. And they're in and out in 16 months," Brookbank said.
Fast Track: The Learn & Earn program is billed as an affordable and efficient 16-month path to a professional career and associate degree with the opportunity to complete a bachelor degree.
Hands-On: The Learn & Earn program is full of hands-on, real-work simulations and individual and group projects paired with specialized speakers. There are no tests, papers or traditional grades.
Affordable: At $18,000, the program is more affordable than most two-year degrees.
Professional Career Coach: A professional career coach will help and guide students through the duration of the program.
Earn Money, Certifications: After the first four months, students will have the opportunity to work in a paid internship two days per week while earring professional credentials that matter to businesses and industry. After eight months, the student will switch to working at a paid internship for three days per week while spending the other two days at the Learn & Earn learning site.
Examples of customized certifications include Business Administration I and II, Social Media Marketing I and II, Project Management I and II, Foundations of Social and Human Services I and II, Data Analytics I and II and Insurance and Banking I and II.
Those interested in the program can request more information at email@example.com.