WHEELING - Local colleges and universities continue to develop and expand their graduate degree programs, demonstrating a recognition of the need to prepare students for an intensely competitive job market.
More than 170 years after Alexander Campbell founded Bethany College among the hills surrounding Buffalo Creek in Brooke County, the school broke new ground during this past May's commencement ceremony, conferring graduate degrees for the first time. Darin Fields, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Bethany, said the college was proud to graduate seven students from the program's inaugural class, which began course offerings when the program launched in the fall semester of 2010.
Because many graduate students find themselves working to earn a living while completing their studies, courses in Bethany's masters program are offered primarily during evenings and on weekends to provide flexibility. Classes in educational psychology, teaching students with disabilities and preparing to meet the needs of multicultural classrooms are just a few of the courses in which students may enroll.
Ashley Kanotz receives her diploma from Bethany College President Scott Miller during the college’s commencement ceremony in May. Kanotz was one of the first seven students to earn a master’s degree in teaching from Bethany, which launched it’s first-ever graduate program in 2010.
"As an advanced preparation program, the Bethany College MAT program provides an excellent pathway for area teachers with bachelor's degrees to earn an advanced degree in pedagogy in a flexible, very cost-effective format," a statement from the college indicated.
A few miles away at West Liberty University, officials are excited about the launch this summer of its new physician assistant program, the first of its kind at a state-funded institution in West Virginia. It joins an already established masters in education program at WLU that was instrumental in allowing the school to transition from college to university status.
Dean of Teacher Education Keely Camden said the program appeals to working teachers who need continuing education credits for recertification as well as those seeking an edge over their peers by going beyond the traditional four-year degree.
"For teachers, especially those in West Virginia ... the higher level of education you have, the higher you are on the pay scale," said Camden.
WLU offers five specialized tracks within the masters in education program, including technology, special education, sports leadership and coaching, leadership studies and advanced teaching, according to Camden. She noted two other tracks, in community education and advanced special education, could be added this fall, pending university approval.
Classes in the program meet in the evenings and during the summer at WLU's The Highlands Center.
In 2010, Wheeling Jesuit University added a master's in education leadership program to its existing graduate curriculum, including programs in business administration, accounting, nursing, and organizational leadership. It is also the only local institution with a doctoral program, offering one in physical therapy.
The new education leadership master's program is entirely online, allowing busy adults to set their own schedule. And the masters in nursing program also offers opportunities for specialization, including nursing administration, nursing education and family nurse practitioner tracks.
At Franciscan University in Steubenville, graduate programs are offered in theology, philosophy, counseling, business, education, educational administration and nursing. In the fall of 2011, Franciscan launched its first graduate program that is entirely online - a master's in education with a concentration in online instruction.