The problem, says Kristine Billmyer GrEd’90, executive director of the newly christened College of Liberal and Professional Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, was that the old name—that is, the College of General Studies—didn’t really reflect the school any longer.
“The image was that it was a school for non-traditional adult students who were going back to get their undergraduate degree,” she explains. But when Billmyer, who assumed the helm three and a half years ago after heading the English-language programs at Penn, took a look at the actual enrollment figures, they told a different story. The majority were students “who had already received their undergraduate degree and were returning for post-baccalaureate and graduate degrees.” That was the area of greatest growth as well, a trend reinforced by a string of faculty members who were soon approaching her with ideas for new programs.
“We had an opportunity to meet the needs of a global economy and a U.S. economy that was really going to be built around knowledge,” Billmyer says. “And the fields of expertise that we had, especially in the School of Arts and Sciences, were fitting very, very nicely in emerging professions and new fields of endeavor that were becoming increasingly important to society.”
A vision began to take shape in which some version of CGS “could really be the conduit of unique knowledge that was founded here at the University, that was created here at Penn,” she says. “We would be a great place to develop professional programs, professional master’s degrees, graduate certificates—forms of advanced learning that could make that knowledge available to a much broader audience.”
And so, after about 18 months of discussion and planning, early this fall CGS officially became LPS—which is actually its fourth acronym since being founded more than a century ago. First came the CCT (College Courses for Teachers), then the CCC (College Collateral Courses), before CGS held sway from 1958 until this year. The new name, says Billmyer, “describes what we do and what our focus is, and we’re very pleased with that. And so are all our constituents. We’ve had quite a bounce, quite a lot of interest from people, and we’re moving forward on lots of new fronts right now.”
In pursuit of its new mission, the school leadership is working with faculty, staff, and outside consultants to identify promising fields of study and develop appropriate curricula. “It’s a collaborative effort. If a faculty member comes to us with an idea, we have a concept-vetting process,” Billmyer says. “Is it appropriate for us to be doing it? In other words, does it align with Arts and Sciences’ focus? Do we have enough expertise on campus to provide the core instruction? And is there a sustainable audience out there, in terms of can we select highly qualified students and are there jobs out there for them after they graduate? And will we rise to the top?”
LPS’s current offerings include master’s programs in applied positive psychology, environmental studies, medical physics, and urban spatial analysis, among others. (For more information, visit the school’s website at www.sas.upenn.edu/lps.) The school has beefed up its recruitment efforts, as well, to attract high-quality students nationally and internationally.
“We’re also using technology in a very innovative way that allows students to study full-time even though they aren’t here, residentially, full-time,” Billmyer says. For example, students earning the master of applied positive psychology degree take four courses per semester, but the program is set up so that they spend four or five intensive three-day sessions on campus with positive psychology founder and Penn professor Martin E.P. Seligman Gr’67 and the rest of the program faculty. “Between those face-to-face moments, we have a fully developed, highly interactive, distance-education program—so the threads are constant, the interaction is constantly maintained.”
While the trend is for LPS students to study full-time—even, increasingly, in the school’s undergraduate program—CGS’s traditional audience of learners is still more than welcome, Billmyer says, from programs for high schoolers to the senior auditing program. “Our doors are open.” —J.P.
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