Building Bridges: Combining Credit and Noncredit Entrepreneurship Classes Meets Customer Service Goals at JCCC
To learn how such a program can be made to work, we interviewed Donna Duffey, a professor and career program facilitator at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, KS. JCCC has merged its credit and noncredit classes in entrepreneurship.
Editor: What promoted JCCC to merge its credit and noncredit entrepreneurship courses?
Duffey: The primary thing driving schools to try this new approach is customer service. At JCCC, we wanted to reduce the confusion on the customer’s part regarding credit or noncredit courses in entrepreneurship. When you take a number of phone calls from people that ask, "Why should I take this credit course or why should I take this noncredit course?” you realize you probably have been confusing people.
Another significant motivation was the desire to use our resources more efficiently. We have been challenged numerous times to be sure we’re maximizing the use of our facilities and other resources. Sometimes you don’t really pay attention to those sorts of messages until you can’t have something that you want. What we ended up realizing was that we were seeing increased demand for additional curriculum in both the credit and noncredit areas. With both sides wanting to respond to that demand, we found we couldn’t always get the necessary space. But we learned that if we combined our initiatives, we drew more people and made more effective use of resources.
Editor: When did your program begin and how has it worked?
Duffey: We started in 2003 and it has worked very well for us. We think of it as a cross-marketing initiative. What is advertised on the credit side is also advertised on the promotional material for the noncredit side. One of the major advantages has been that the noncredit side has been able to expand their offerings of workshops and the credit side has expanded its offerings of credit courses.
We actually were more fearful initially than it turns out we needed to be. Things went far more smoothly than we ever thought they would.
Editor: So you had concerns at the start about potential problems that never actually arose?
Duffey: Yes. The first thing we worried about was the cost of courses. Costs for credit courses were based upon a credit hour rate of $68 multiplied by the number of credit hours in the course. On the other hand, noncredit workshops were always priced individually, with no particular pattern from workshop to workshop.
Now, what credit and noncredit people pay is based on the traditional credit hour multiplied by the credit hour rate basis, and both groups pay the same amount. We anticipated this might be a problem, but it hasn’t been.
Secondly, we thought we might have some challenges on who we hired to teach these courses. But the reality is that everybody at our institution wants quality instruction, so what we have done is to follow the guidelines of our institutional and department accrediting source. If a person has to have an MBA or higher to teach a credited entrepreneurship course, then those same criteria are followed when that course is also being marketed as a noncredit option.
Another thing we worried about was whether there would be resistance on the noncredit students’ part to having assignments given or to taking tests or quizzes. That also has not been a problem for two reasons. First, the majority of what we do in entrepreneurship courses is activity or process related. You get a grade as a result of project or activity assignments. The noncredit students are very interested in completing those assignments–that’s why they are there–so the fact that those assignments happen to add up to a grade is fine with them.
Secondly, our courses in financial management and legal issues involve quizzes and exams. We had anticipated that noncredit students would not wish to take those exams or would be argumentative about the quizzes. But it turns out they want to know that they have captured the information in the course, and the quizzes and tests help them identify whether they did. So there has been no problem there either.
Editor: It sounds like the response from the students has been very positive. How have the administration and the faculty reacted?
Duffey: We thought we were going to have more resistance administratively because the credit side reports through one division and the noncredit side reports through another division; budgets are allocated accordingly. However, both sides have been very supportive of this initiative, primarily because we’re serving our constituencies better than before.
We also were concerned that we might have some resistance from professors–mainly because it’s just a little bit more tedious to have to start the course with two rosters–one they receive from credit division and one from the noncredit division. The reality is that’s where the differences end. It’s one audience in front of you and just because the class roster started on two lists is not at all the way the class moves forward.
Editor: So have you had any problems at all with the new system?
Duffey: Occasionally after a course is completed, someone will say, "Maybe I should have done this for credit. Can I change that now?” We tell them they can’t make this change after the fact, because, frankly, we haven’t figured out how to do that. But we also point out that we have a number of other entrepreneurship offerings and they might go ahead and take those for credit. And they seem satisfied with that answer.