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Central Penn bucks trends in master's programs

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Like many other colleges, as Central Penn College in Cumberland County has grown over the years, it's added programs, student groups and areas of study. However, unlike most of its peers in the for-profit career school arena, Central Penn has expanded its offerings to include degrees above the associate level.

Central Penn College's most recent addition was its first master's degree programs in organizational leadership. In June, the college in East Pennsboro Township received final clearances for the programs from the state and federal education departments, as well as accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

"It's practical to almost anyone who's looking to move into a leadership position in their company," Barbara Maroney, Central Penn College's dean of graduate and professional studies, said about the two master's degree offerings under organizational leadership.

Students can earn a master's degree in organizational development or information systems management.

The new graduate degree programs already have applicants, Maroney said. There are nine applicants to the master's program, but just three are Central Penn College alums.

That's a good sign for the college if at least part of its mission is to bring in new students and remain profitable in the higher education sector.

"It's just another option for those people who choose our institution, and if they do that it also helps our business," said Janice Moore, the college's provost.

Leadership has long been a common theme and focus of programs at the college, she said, plus organizational leadership was added as an undergraduate degree in 2012.

"It's been evolving slowly and quietly here at the college," she said.

Graduate-level education has had quiet, but definitely not slow, growth over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In January, it reported that more than 16.5 million people held master's degrees in the U.S., a 43 percent increase from 2002. There were 3.2 million doctoral-degree holders in the U.S., or a 45 percent growth over the decade.

Most career colleges don't add bachelor's and graduate degree programs, said Richard Dumaresq, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Private School Administrators, which represents career schools.

About 80 percent of the association's membership remains committed solely to the associate degree and professional education, which keeps most schools at a two-year program, he said.

"They look for programs that are tightly connected to the workforce," Dumaresq said.

That other 20 percent are still focused on that career-oriented, hands-on approach but have found it beneficial to broaden their academic-level offerings, he said.

"The thing behind the four-year degree and the master's is that you'll hold onto those students for more years," Dumaresq said.

Whether a school is for-profit or nonprofit, that can be a successful business model, he said.

Central Penn College looks at its expanded offerings as a another way to provide opportunities to continuing education students, administrators said.

Someone might have a bachelor's degree but is contemplating a move to management, so seeking a leadership degree can help them be ready for that role and advance their career in a competitive job market, Maroney said.

Central Penn College could expand its graduate-level offerings in coming years, but that will depend on a needs analysis, Moore said. Of course, direction and insight from the college's new president, Karen Scolforo, will factor into those decisions as well, she said.

Scolforo had not yet started her job at the college when Moore was interviewed.

"We take into consideration what our industry advisers say is needed in the workforce and balance that with what students are demanding," Moore said.

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