Audit says UM-Western needs to bridge gap with Experience One'

By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard

DILLON A marketing audit released this week by the University of Montanan-Western says the Dillon college needs to work harder at bridging a divide between those who believe in the benefits of Experience One and those who don't.

Western officials recently announced the school would begin implementation of Experience One with next year's freshman class. By the following year the entire campus would be under the program.

Experience One changes the way students are offered classes. Rather than taking a number of classes at the same time, students take one course at a time for three hours daily over an 18-day period.

The proposal for the dramatic change has created concern both on campus and in the community. Only three other schools in the country, all of which are private, use the one-class-at-a-time system.

The $5,000 audit completed by George Dehne Associates Integrated Services' senior consultant John Ross said that "actively communicating the benefit of Experience One will increase enrollment and retention of students from high schools in Montana and neighboring states."

Ross' report said the school needs to develop materials to use in recruiting the 2004 freshman class. Its focus should be on letting students know:

They can complete their general education requirements in a single year.

That they'll have an opportunity to focus on a single course at a time.

That there will be ample opportunities at hands-on learning.

That there is a high degree of student success and satisfaction using the one-class-at-a-time model.

Western's Interim Chancellor Karl Ulrich presented the draft report to the school's local
executive board this week.

"The report shows us where we're at, where we want to be and how to get there," said Ulrich.

School officials plan to study the recommendations offered in the report.

"We probably will adapt most of the recommendations. We also have other things that we want to do to market the program this year," Ulrich said.

The report also said the school needs to do a better job of communicating facts about Experience One both on campus and throughout Dillon.

On campus, the report said people worry about the school's ability to implement the new program, how it might change their jobs, and what affect it could have on the future for Western. It suggested that the school form a communication task team, hold all-campus meetings, develop a web-based chat room and survey its employees.

Off campus, the report said "the level of misunderstanding" about the effects of Experience One on the college's future is high among opinion leaders.

"Yet trust and good will toward the university are also very strong."

The report said Western officials need to meet with community leaders and the community at large to air out those concerns.

Western should use Experience One to build on its reputation, the report said.

"For more than a century UM-Western has enjoyed a stellar reputation as the source of Montana's finest teachers," the report stated. "For various reasons, and in spite of the introduction of a number of new academic programs, the market share of the university seems to be eroding."

"Implementation of Experience One, and documentation of its role in increasing graduation rates, offers the university an opportunity to seize and occupy the niche in Montana as the public university that offers the most effective student-centered baccalaureate education."