Challenges in Teaching Short Courses by an Academic Department: The University of Florida Experience

Article excerpt


During the past decade many academic departments have faced serious fiscal challenges due to budget cutbacks. The Department of Statistics at the University of Florida (UF) is no exception. Faculty salaries, travel budgets, money for equipment and supplies, as well as support for graduate students have all been victims of reduced state funding for education. During these times it has been necessary to come up with external sources of funding in order to survive.

Five years ago the Department of Statistics at UF recognized that its faculty was a valuable resource that could be tapped to generate much needed additional revenues, not only for the department but for the individual faculty members as well. Through the graduate curriculum courses we recognized that we have a "product" (short courses) that we could market and sell. We further realized that if we were successful in selling our product, we might also benefit by improving the name recognition as well as the prestige of our department in the process.

When a "Week of Short Courses" was conceived in the fall of 1989, our department was in a rather unique position to start this venture. Among the faculty was a core group of individuals who were very experienced in teaching short courses. Several of these individuals were authors of well-known books in their specialty areas, and had taught the material from their books in short courses for the American Statistical Association (ASA), the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), or other organizations. We felt that the name recognition of the authors of the well-known books would help sell these courses to the public. Quite surprisingly, several of the individual faculty members were better known than the department itself, as we were to discover later.

One other factor in our favor was our location in the south. If we could offer these courses in March, where in mid-Florida March means spring, we might be successful in attracting attendees from the midwest and northern part of the country, where in March, winter is still in force. The early part of March, during our spring break from classes, seemed to be a prime time for us.


2.1 First Year

In the spring of 1990 a short course task force was formed consisting of seven faculty members. The task force met to propose questions that needed to be addressed before plans for the week of short courses could be finalized. One of the members, Geoff Vining, who was instrumental in initiating the idea of the short courses, agreed to serve as coordinator for the short courses. Questions proposed by the task force were:

1. What course topics are we prepared to offer? How many such topics should we offer?

2. How many days should a course last? Can certain topics (courses) be offered in sequence?

3. Who are the targeted audiences for our courses?

4. How shall we publicize or advertise our courses?

5. What are the costs associated with offering the courses? Does the department have the necessary funds to cover such costs?

6. Should the courses be presented on campus during spring break or off campus? If off campus, where?

7. Can we utilize the Division of Continuing Education (DOCE) at the University of Florida for handling the registrations and for publicizing the short courses?

8. How much should we charge as a registration fee for each course? Should the fee be the same for all courses?

9. What other risks to the department are there besides the financial risk?


From our discussions we concluded that we could readily develop four courses within the given time frame: "Categorical Data Analysis" by Alan Agresti; "Experiments With Mixtures" by John Cornell, joined by Greg Piepel; "Analysis of Unbalanced Data" by Ramon Littell and Dennis Wackerly; and "Industrial Experimentation" by John Cornell, Andre Khuri, and Geoff Vining (see Table 1). …