Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

`Reality-Based Education': Webster University's Aggressive Marketing and Flexible Scheduling Lead to a Large Enrollment, but Accreditation Questions Persist. (Special Report: Careers)(Cover Story)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

`Reality-Based Education': Webster University's Aggressive Marketing and Flexible Scheduling Lead to a Large Enrollment, but Accreditation Questions Persist. (Special Report: Careers)(Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Twenty-one years ago Brenda Newberry had just given birth to her first child, a girl, in a St. Louis hospital. The next day, she had a visitor, one of her professors from Webster University where she was enrolled in the graduate business management program. Her visitor wasn't bearing gifts. Instead, he presented Newberry with her final exams, which she took right there in the room.

At the time, Newberry and her husband, Maurice, were in the Air Force, starting a family and attending grad school. "The only way we could get it all done was to attend a school like Webster where the classes suited our schedules," says Newberry.

She went into management jobs at Mc-Donnell Douglas and MasterCard, where she became a unit vice president. Today, she is president and CEO of The Newberry Group, a consultant firm that just made the Fortune 500 tech firms list at No. 175.

Newberry's story of how she earned her master's from Webster sums up the university's appeal to many of its graduate students: accessibility and convenience for working adults.

It is not surprising that Webster is once again ranked No. 1 in Black Issues' Top 100 Special Report for awarding master's degrees to African Americans and other minorities, who often are pursuing graduate education as working, older adults. In 1999-2000, the year covered by the latest data, Webster conferred a master's degree upon 890 African Americans -- 491 in its business programs, and upon 1,197 total minorities -- 681 in its business programs. It also placed No. 1 for awarding master's degrees in psychology to minorities and African Americans.

In the two decades since Newberry graduated, Webster has, in a sense, taken its show on the road. The flexible schedule that made it possible for Newberry to earn a degree now benefits 13,000 students in the College of Business and Technology. Webster's campuses literally span the globe with sites at more than 92 locations worldwide, according to President Richard Meyers' 2001-2002 message to students.

The promotional material does not exaggerate when it refers to Webster as "a worldwide network of campuses." Based in St. Louis on the campus founded by a Catholic nun in 1915, it has the visage of a normal century-old American university. But its conventional facade belies the university's strongest attraction: The main campus is merely the hub of a system that spans the globe with 68 satellite campuses in the United States, including 22 metropolitan campuses, 15 corporate sites and 31 military locations. It also has learning centers in Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, England, Bermuda, China and Thailand.

Founded in "a spirit of academic innovation" to educate young women in an era when it was a revolutionary concept, Webster continues its nontraditional mission today by taking graduate education to people who traditionally have been unable to attain it. It is what Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology, describes as "reality-based education."

"Adults working full-time, juggling family fife, children and school, have a right to graduate education, and the best time for them to get that education is in the evening and on weekends. So that's what we provide," Akande explains.

He says Webster's rise to becoming a top-degree granting institution for minorities is also because of its online offerings and, most significantly, the accessibility of its sites.

The result is "campuses" in an array of urban office buildings and military complexes -- where minorities have easy access. "We are located at some of the largest military bases in the country, where people are trying to get an education while serving our nation," Akande says. Some of the military students take classes at one base, get transferred, and complete their degrees on another military campus, perhaps in another part of the world.

`FROM LEARNING TO DOING'

Strong PR notwithstanding, there are some notable, even stark, differences from traditional universities. …

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