Evolving curricula meet the shifting needs of the higher education, employment market
Monday, May 13, 2019

Creating a dental mold is always a time-consuming and uncomfortable process for patients who need a cap or a crown, and the gooey substance used to make the impression tastes bad.

“Patients don’t like the impression material,” Erica Teixeira, associate professor of operative dentistry in the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, says of the alginate used to create the mold.

nick deister
Nick Deister, a dental technician, demonstrates technology in the College of Dentistry that simplifies making crowns for patients. Photo by Tim Schoon.

But digital technology has come to the rescue. Now, dentists can use a scanner to create a three-dimensional image of a patient’s teeth, which then is used to create the onlay, crown, dentures, or other needed restoration using a milling machine. Patients prefer the process, as shooting the image takes only 10 or 20 seconds. There’s also no mess or bad taste, so more and more dentists are using the tool in their practices.

Colleges at the University of Iowa are adapting programming and curriculum to meet the demands of students and potential employers. These changes help the university provide students with a quality education that translates to high job and graduate school placement rates within six months of graduation. The UI’s overall placement rate is 95%, which is among the highest in the country.

The breakdown by college:
Tippie College of Business: 97%
Dentistry: 100%
Education: 92%
Engineering: 94%
Graduate College: 77%
Law: 98%
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: 94%
Carver College of Medicine: 100%
Nursing: 99%
Pharmacy: 97%
Public Health: 98%

To meet this increased demand, the College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics created a digital designer staff position six years ago and added five oral scanners and a mill to make the restoration devices. Ivan Medin uses his skills as a digital designer to teach dental students how to use the technology so they can meet the needs of their future patients. He also works with students to make digital recreations of patients’ teeth in the College of Dentistry’s public clinic.

“We can design and build the restoration right here, while the patient waits, and they can watch it being made without having to come back for a second visit to finish the procedure,” says Medin, a lab technician.

Medin’s position is one example of the UI’s curriculum evolving to meet the demands of students and employers by adding new programs and adapting existing programs. For instance, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), the Department of Computer Science started a new informatics major and the Department of Sociology added a criminology, law, and justice degree. CLAS also partnered with the Tippie College of Business and the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center to roll out the Enterprise Leadership major five years ago, which is now one of the largest majors on campus, with 750 students. The College of Nursing added an online education program, and the College of Pharmacy is adding a new Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy technology. The university has also been implementing 2+2 programs with community colleges across Iowa so students can seamlessly transfer to the UI.

Ivan Medin, a dental technician, demonstrates technology in the College of Dentistry that simplifies making crowns for patients. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Sue Curry, interim provost and executive vice president, says the university is successfully striking a balance between responding to the market while maintaining a solid liberal arts foundation that focuses on developing critical-thinking and communication skills.

“We need to prepare students to be life-long learners because we know most students will experience multiple job and career changes during their lives, and those skills will be needed to adapt and adjust,” she says. “At the same time, we have to be aware of what students want and what’s going on in the world so we stay current. We don’t want to fall behind the curve and have to catch up.”

The Tippie College of Business has shifted in this direction recently by moving away from its full-time MBA degree to offer a broader array of programs and adapt its curriculum to better reflect student and employer demand.

“Adapting to the market is key for growth in any organization, and we’re seeing clear shifts in what students and businesses need,” says Dean Sarah Gardial. In May 2019, the college’s final class of full-time MBA students will graduate, completing a two-year phase-out of the program. In its place, the college now offers new specialized master’s programs in finance and business analytics, both of which began in fall 2018 with enrollments that exceeded expectations.

Other changes are positioning the college to provide business education in formats that students want. A part-time online MBA program will begin in fall 2019, and the undergraduate curriculum in two departments has been adapted to provide analytics and entrepreneurial-management education that students are demanding.

Gardial says the changes also position the college to be more flexible and responsive in the future, as the market continues to evolve. During a recent site visit, she says accreditors from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) praised changes in the college, calling them innovative and agile.

The College of Education also has adapted its curriculum to support students, who face a hugely competitive job market with applicants from thousands of teacher training programs across the country—32 of them in Iowa alone. To give them a leg up in their job search, the college started the Teacher Leadership Certificate (TLC), a series of workshops, classroom volunteering, and an online certification program that students must complete before they can receive a student-teaching assignment.

“We have to help them look different and be different from their competition,” says Kari Vogelgesang, clinical assistant professor in the College of Education. “This sets them apart and helps them get that first job interview.”

laura williams with students
UI Educational Leadership Program student Laura Williams meets with administrators and students in Danville, Iowa as part of her program. Pictured with Williams are fifth grade teacher Ross Allsup, elementary school principal Steve Ita, and John Lawrence (checkered shirt), the junior/senior high school principal. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Vogelgesang says the workshops are short, generally 60- to 90-minute sessions that provide introduction to issues students will face in the classroom. Topics consider issues such as working with students who are English-language learners, identify as having a disability, or who identify as LGBTQ. Others offer practical lessons in using classroom technology, how the school library can help improve teaching, and basic first aid. More than 100 are offered each semester, and students must complete in at least six to receive the certificate.

Meanwhile, the volunteer requirement gives students early exposure to the classroom experience and an opportunity early in their education to decide if they want to pursue a career as a teacher after all, Vogelgesang says.

The college is in the midst of assessing the success of the 6-year-old program, but Vogelgesang says anecdotal reports from principals and superintendents who have hired UI graduates have been universally positive.

“They know they’re getting better teachers who are more fully prepared for the classroom,” she says.

The College of Education’s online Master’s of Teaching, Leadership, and Cultural Competency also started as a response to teacher demand. Working with a consulting firm, the college conducted market research and then designed and developed the course based on feedback from working professionals.

“What we know is that teachers are interested in advanced degrees, but many of them weren’t interested in the typical educational administration degree because they didn’t want to go into administration,” says Will Coghill-Behrends, a clinical instructor of education and director of the Baker Teacher Leader Center in the college. “They wanted additional education, but they wanted a program that would provide them with advanced skills in their classroom practice.”

The classes are offered in eight-week semesters so that teachers can complete each class in less time, which makes it easier to fit the program into their schedules while they continue to work. The classes address practical topics that teachers encounter frequently, such as diversity, assessment data analysis, foreign languages, and STEM.

Most students complete the 11 courses in about 18 months. Teachers can use the credits toward their continuing professional education requirements, and some classes lead to endorsements from the state Department of Education. Coghill-Behrends says the program opened in 2017 and already has about 100 students enrolled, including its first 30 graduates, and is ranked as one of the top online education programs in the country by several organizations. Because it’s the only program of its type, he says it’s also attracting students from outside Iowa.

“We hit the nail on the head,” he says.

Curry, who also is the former dean of the College of Public Health, has her own story of starting a program with great market demand. She read a news story shortly after assuming the deanship in 2008 that said public health was one of the five fastest-growing undergraduate majors.

“It occurred to me that if we were to maintain our reputation for excellence, we’d have to start an undergraduate program sometime,” Curry says.

It made sense. Health care is a growth industry, demanding not just providers but scientists and researchers, inspectors, hospital administrators, project managers, wellness counselors, data analytics experts, and other professionals who graduate from public health programs.

And while the College of Public Health had offered only graduate degrees since its founding in 1999, it made sense to expand into the undergraduate field. The college’s focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching exposes students to a variety of aspects of public health, from epidemiology to administration to informatics. That format is unique in public health education and prepares students for many careers.

The first undergraduate class entered in fall 2016 and 144 students are currently enrolled. The first class will graduate in 2020.

“It’s attracted a group of amazing students who want to pursue careers that make the world a better place by improving health and quality of life for people everywhere,” Curry says.

What’s next

As for the future, the scientific, technological, and market forces that have changed university curricula in so many ways will only accelerate, as will changing workplace and student demand.

The College of Nursing, for instance, is wrapping up an $11.8 million renovation of its building that includes state-of-the-art medical and classroom teaching upgrades that can be readily adapted to accommodate future changes. The college also continually reviews its array of degrees to ensure it offers the kind of training students need to land jobs after they graduate. For example, the college recently started an online nurse practitioner degree program so nurses across the state can upgrade their degree without leaving their communities, and a doctor of nursing practice that includes focuses in family medicine, psychiatry, and anesthesiology.

Nursing students practice with a simulation mannequin in the Nursing Clinical Education Center (NCEC). Photo by Tim Schoon.

Changes in health care also will continue to reshape the field of pharmacy, and the College of Pharmacy recently introduced a completely overhauled curriculum designed to not only address those changes, but prepare for the future.

Dean Donald Letendre says the new curriculum has done more than just incorporate changes in the pharmacy and broader health care fields in recent years. It was designed with built-in flexibility that allows future incremental adaptations to incorporate changes that are sure to come. For instance, he says the merger of pharmacy with genomics—or pharmacogenomics—promises countless new directions in drug discovery. The new curriculum, with its focus on basic science, will require only incremental adaptations to accommodate those developments.

Letendre says advances in science and technology have led to new drug discoveries and new drug-delivery systems. Market changes, meanwhile, have rendered the public image of the pharmacist as a white-coated dispenser of medicine at the local drug store wildly out of date. The college’s new curriculum also focuses more on the role of basic science in drug delivery and more soft skills, as the pharmacist’s expanded role requires more careful communication with patients and other health care providers.

The college also has formed partnerships with the Tippie College of Business and College of Public Health that provide education in the business and administrative aspects of the health care field. And, the college is adding an undergraduate pharmacy technology degree.

“The demand for pharmacy services is something I could not have conceived when I was a student in pharmacy school in the 1970s,” says Letendre. “Pharmacists today need to be armed with knowledge and skills that would not have been required of me as a student.”