Accelerating Entrepreneurship Programming: a Model that Works
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Donna Duffey
Professor & Department Chair, Entrepreneurship
Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS
This article traces the evolution of an entrepreneurship initiative that did not start well but has now achieved success after significant (and somewhat painful) analysis, and numerous "do-overs” and re-analysis. Since this program, we believe, is replicable on other campuses, we are happy to share with you the story of how our accelerated Business Plan Certificate program came into being.
As early as 1994, when JCCC’s Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Entrepreneurship degree program was in its early years, the advisory committee recommended that we also obtain approval from the Kansas Board of Regents for a mini-version comprised of our key courses. The title was approved as "The Business Plan Certificate.” In the early years, that mini-certificate was 5 credit hours and was comprised of two courses. In 2000, a certificate modification was approved, making The Business Plan Certificate a 7-credit-hour certificate comprised of three courses: Introduction to Entrepreneurship (2 credit hours), Opportunity Analysis (2 credit hours) and FastTrac™ Business Plan (3 credit hours). This is the composition of the Business Plan Certificate today.
A Slow Start
In the early years, marketing the Business Plan Certificate was a challenge faced by the entrepreneurship faculty team. Naively, we believed the answer was simply to plaster posters all over campus, casually visit a few colleagues across campus and, magically, students in many of our career programs would sign up for the Business Plan Certificate along with their other coursework. To say that no one chose to come to our party would be an understatement! I believe the records might show 10 students in about that many years. Our assessment was that we could certainly improve upon that!
It became abundantly apparent that we needed our entrepreneurship programming vision to work synergistically in a significantly more organized fashion with the larger collegiate community. Our plan was to bring forth a new vision of providing an innovative solution to meet the demands of JCCC’s diverse student population who had aspirations of "being their own boss” after graduation. Thus, JCCC’s 25 Program-Specific Entrepreneurship Certificates were born. Developed in partnership with colleagues around campus who lead career programs, each program-specific entrepreneurship certificate is an additional curriculum "option.” Each of these certificates contained (at a minimum) the three courses included in the Business Plan Certificate.
While we are proud of the 25 certificates that link to other programs, some programs do not yet have an established program-specific entrepreneurship certificate. Additionally, we did not have a strategy to attract students who were "undecided” regarding their degree intent. Of the greatest significance in our assessment analysis was that while we had the mechanism in place (the Business Plan Certificate), we were not using it to attract and serve the growing numbers of persons in our service area who need to "re-invent” their careers. Information we were receiving from the community was that they needed this training now; they were not going to take the required courses over several semesters.
During this time period (fall 2009), the dean’s council on campus was researching and planning several "accelerated” format offerings to answer community demands. Using the Business Plan Certificate marketed as an answer to "So You Need to Reinvent Yourself” combined with the accelerated format seemed to be the answer to the needs of displaced workers, soon-to-be displaced workers, underemployed persons, retirees needing to un-retire, boomers and returning veterans. Additionally, we discovered this format was attractive to alumni of JCCC career programs.
We decided to use the "linked” learning community format and to accelerate the traditional time frames in which the individual courses had been offered. During the spring 2010 semester we offered our first section of the Business Plan Certificate taught in this format. We calculated the number of minutes required for each course and developed an 11-week offering held on consecutive Fridays from 8:00am – 5:00pm. The entire "package” of courses was also scheduled in the same classroom. It was offered (and promoted) to both credit and non-credit students; the cost was the same. The cost of the Business Plan Certificate was 7 credit hours times the credit hour rate (7 X $75/credit hour for in county students) or $525. Therefore, registrants had to commit 11 Fridays and $525. For their commitment, they could exit with the certificate and have enjoyed that learning experience with a single cohort of students who met on the same day, at the same time, and in the same classroom for the duration.
Introduction to Entrepreneurship was taught on the first three Fridays. Prior to the first Friday, the faculty member communicated with each student regarding preparation for the first class. Opportunity Analysis was taught in weeks four through six. During the afternoon of week three, the faculty member for Opportunity Analysis presented to the students the work that would need to be accomplished for the first class of the second course. FastTrac™ Business Plan took up the final five weeks of the program. During the afternoon of week six, the FastTrac™ Business Plan faculty member introduced the students to the work that would need to be accomplished prior to the first class period of the third course.
We chose to staff each course with the Entrepreneurship team expert most familiar with each course as they had taught the course numerous times as stand-alone sections. Each faculty member had the same number of "seat minutes” to deliver the material as they did in their stand-alone sections. Neither course objectives nor assignments were compromised. Each course was graded separately and posted to the students’ transcripts separately.
In the spring of 2010, we were thrilled when 12 credit students enrolled for our first offering of the Accelerated Business Plan Certificate. Unfortunately, I cannot report that all students completed the certificate, but most did. We conducted a student satisfaction survey designed specifically for this offering; included was a question asking how we might improve the program. Our faculty team studied their responses, their academic accomplishments and discussed at length our own observations. This assessment process led us to two significant improvements:
The course has been expanded to cover an overall time frame of 14 weeks, which now includes three "weeks off” during the FastTrac™ Business Plan course. These weeks are strategically placed so as to allow students more time to complete homework in some of the more difficult and time consuming sections of the Business Plan. We had "listened to our customer” and created an accelerated offering; apparently we "accelerated” it a bit too much!
We have designed much more "overt” methods of connecting information and assignments from the first two courses into the specific location in the Business Plan where the information is required. We have always "discussed” or "mentioned” these linkages; now we are making it more visual and more intentional.
While still offering stand-alone sections of the three courses in the Business Plan Certificate, we proceeded to schedule the Business Plan Certificate – Accelerated Format for the fall 2010 semester, offering it on 11 Fridays from 8am-5pm over a 14-week time period. We had a "sell out” on this section offering, with 17 credit students and one non-credit student enrolled. Following JCCC’s assess, analyze, and adapt policy for academic outcomes assessment, we will continue to learn how to improve as we move this initiative forward to future semesters.
Of the greatest significance in our assessment analysis was that while we had the mechanism in place (the Business Plan Certificate), we were not using it to attract and serve the growing numbers of persons in our service area who need to "re-invent” their careers.