The program at the Milwaukee women's college will accelerate learning for students with an 18-month course of study divided into nine eight-week classes. Students, who will navigate their way through all nine terms in contained cohorts of about 20, will explore critical disciplines through a hybrid approach with both online and classroom components.
The associate to bachelor's in business program will prepare students to immediately fill positions in fields such as marketing, human resources and business analysis.
The program will also equip students with the skillsets needed to meet the demands of what Alverno describes as a "rapidly changing world."
"Disciplined knowledge changes so quickly that we have to be lifelong learners, and this is just another pathway we believe to help students reach additional knowledge through this new program," said Dan Horton, dean of Alverno's School of Business.
This particular pathway of learning will serve a niche group of female students, those with associate degrees who are likely working full time or part time. Alverno emphasizes the flexibility of this program, anticipating that many of its participants will be older than the traditional student with perhaps more commitments.
By implementing a cohort model, which mirrors Alverno's Master of Business Administration Program, Alverno faculty members will not only be able to devote more individualized attention to students but they will also foster a collaborative environment in which students get to know each other as colleagues.
"We were mindful in our design because by being part of a cohort, we feel it will be helpful for students to be working with other students on a consistent basis," said program director Rebecca Toledo. "That way they become partners not only in the learning process but also outside the classroom."
And with cohorts comprised of only women, parallel to all undergraduate programs at Alverno, the associate to bachelor program will construct a "safe environment" for students in which they won't have to confront the formally held misconception that men outperform women, particularly in quantitative areas of learning, Toledo said.
"We provide an environment where women compete only against themselves, and I think that is very helpful in promoting their confidence in learning as well as confidence in demonstrating their knowledge (and) their ability to apply what they've learned," said Toledo, who also serves as an assistant professor and director of Alverno's business and management program.
As each cohort progresses through the associate to bachelor program, members will be limited to one weekly class per term to narrow the scope of their studying.
"It allows (students) to focus on that class solely as opposed to juggling multiple classes at the same time," Horton said.
All nine classes, which break down into six management courses and three liberal arts courses, will follow the hybrid approach with students meeting face to face one evening a week and completing supplementary material online on their own to add to the flexibility. Each class will also incorporate a cross-function of business disciplines, such as marketing, accounting, human resources, finance, information technology, ethics, business law, innovation and creativity.
"By integrating those across in each course, we believe that that's a more real world approach potentially for our students," Horton said.
Another real world approach involves Alverno's eight self-defined core abilities, which the college sees as the foundation of its distinct abilities-based education model.
The core abilities cover communication, analysis, problem solving, valuing, social interaction, developing a global perspective, effective citizenship and aesthetic engagement.
Instructors will weave varying degrees of these abilities into their curriculum and will require students to demonstrate mastery of them under Alverno's education philosophy. For example, in the program's first management course (quantitative methods and technology application), students will have to demonstrate their understanding of beginning and intermediate levels of abilities like problem solving. By the third management course (financial analysis and decision-making), they will have to demonstrate their understanding of problem solving at the advanced level.
"We basically mapped the various levels of the ability across the courses in the program," Toledo said.
These abilities will remain applicable to the real world as knowledge continues to change, according to Horton.
In developing the curriculum for the program, Alverno is incorporating parts of its integrated MBA curriculum as well as content from its traditional undergraduate business courses.
The college also analyzed the learning concepts of business programs at other schools, and Horton made a concerted effort to invest in the input of deans at area technical schools where many prospective program students have completed or are in the process of completing their associate degrees.
At Waukesha County Technical College, where about half the technical school's business students are female, Horton sat down with Brad Piazza, dean of the School of Business, to show him the layout of the program and ask how interested he thought his students would be.
"I think it's a good strategy for Dan to attract more students to Alverno, especially given our population," Piazza said. "Most of (our students) are working at least part time, aren't necessarily going to school full time (and) have a lot of outside commitments."
Many business students at Waukesha County Technical College are also first-generation college students, according to Piazza. So simplifying the transfer process is key.
The technical school plans to establish an articulation agreement with Alverno so that credits acquired in its associate programs will transfer seamlessly into Alverno's accelerated associate to bachelor program.
Looking into the broader landscape of business throughout southeastern Wisconsin, Alverno hopes the accelerated, flexible approach it's taking with this program can begin to help women have a stronger presence in boardrooms and in executive positions.
While Horton won't guarantee the new program will automatically produce a new wave of presidents and chief executive officers, he said it will support education for a group that continues to be underrepresented in leadership roles.
"Certainly we know from publications like Milwaukee Women Inc. there hasn't been (equal) representation in boardrooms or executive positions," Horton said.
The women leadership advocacy group, a nonprofit organization composed of professional women, released its latest report on female leadership statistics in April. The report, which compiles figures of female leadership at the state's 50 largest public companies, was stagnant. Only four new women directors of 37 total have been appointed at these companies in the past year and a half.
But the female talent pool for C-Suite positions is thriving in the state, and Alverno's approach to further priming the talent pipeline is smart, said Dr. Phyllis King, chair of Milwaukee Women Inc. and associate vice chancellor at UWM.
"They're helping to prepare these women for these positions," King said.