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North country colleges hope to use surveys to bring best programs to Watertown

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WATERTOWN — North country colleges want to see what they can bring to Watertown for bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to meet the needs of the community.

To find out what north country students really want, the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College is conducting a Higher Education Needs Assessment survey on behalf of the SUNY North Country Consortium and the Jefferson Higher Education Center.

“This survey is really going to help us find out what people want to learn about,” said Deidre Keefe, JCC Higher Education Center coordinator.

The purpose of the survey is to hear from residents of Jefferson, northern Lewis, northern Oswego and western St. Lawrence counties about the bachelor’s and master’s degrees they would like to see offered. The survey went online Monday, and Ms. Keefe said it will remain up through May.

“If there’s an overwhelming response for a certain program, we’ll have to look into it,” she said. “We won’t just grab every program under the sun and bring it here, but if we look into it and find there is a need in the area, we want to see what we can do to offer that here.”

Thomas W. Fuhr, SUNY Potsdam director of the Watertown Extension Center at JCC, said that when the last consortium survey was done in 2008, the programs in highest demand were in the health and business fields.

“In this next assessment, I don’t expect a lot of difference. People still want courses in those fields,” Mr. Fuhr said.

What has changed, he said, is the demand by people to receive more than a two-year degree while remaining in the Watertown area.

At SUNY Canton, the most popular degree programs are nursing and health science career studies, criminal justice and investigation, sports management, finance and law enforcement leadership. Lenore VanderZee, SUNY Canton executive director for university relations, said some of the fastest growing programs are veterinary technology, nursing, sports management and homeland security.

Margaret E. Madden, SUNY Potsdam provost and vice president for academic affairs, said that over the past few years the health and education study programs have doubled in size, and in the fall several courses will be offered for the first time.

Ms. Madden said there are a lot of programs beginning in the fall, including a bachelor of science degree in community health, and the college will add an advanced certificate of special education graduate program.

Ms. Madden said as more professionals are learning, the job market in the education field is increasingly fragile. She said many educators are returning to school to learn more and to make themselves more valuable to their employers.

“Clearly, we do try to keep an eye on trends. The surveys help us figure out what will be most beneficial in the Watertown center and will also help at Potsdam to make sure we’re prepared,” Ms. Madden said.

SUNY North Country Consortium participating schools are JCC, SUNY Canton, SUNY Empire State College, SUNY Institute of Technology, Utica, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.

Ms. Keefe said the academic partners provide local opportunities for six program-specific bachelor’s degrees and eight program-specific master’s degrees, along with individualized bachelor’s degree program opportunities in Watertown.

In addition to examining the demand for various fields of study, the survey will assess the best way to present the course work — in the classroom, online, by independent study or by a hybrid of delivery systems. The last few years, most students have had a chance to talk about online degree programs, Mr. Fuhr said. Students know they can get their degrees from home, but at the same time, most of those surveyed want to have face-to-face classroom experience.

The partner schools will use the survey information to develop programs that will meet both the interests of students and the needs of the workforce.

The survey will involve both telephone contact and online questions.

Anyone who would like to participate in the survey can do so using the website at: http://wdt.me/yFp52w.

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