Institutional resiliency is a daunting challenge for smaller, tuition-dependent, change-resistant institutions. Indeed, the most vulnerable of these fragile colleges and universities may soon face extinction. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of degree-granting postsecondary institutions in America over the past decade.
Paradoxical though it may seem, Robert Morris University Illinois (RMU) sees this predicament as a propitious window of opportunity for reinvention, regeneration, ingenuity, and sustainability. Founded in 1913, RMU has grown student enrollment to almost 3,000 students. RMU offers a score of career-driven undergraduate degree programs – in high demand fields like accounting, culinary, drafting and design, exercise and sports studies, law enforcement administration, nursing, psychology, and most recently, medical laboratory technology and rigorous graduate programs in business administration, information systems, management, and human performance.
Uniquely, the hallmark of RMU’s educational philosophy and practice is experience based, applied learning—where students have a special opportunity to learn outside of the classroom through internships, practicums, co-curricular activities, and cultural and civic engagement. As a result, RMU graduates are well prepared to connect the worlds of learning, earning, and lifelong leadership in their careers and communities.
By way of illustrative example, RMU earned approval from the Illinois Board of Higher Education to offer an Associate degree program in Medical Laboratory Technology. This degree program offers a broad science background integrating general education and professional courses with hands-on experiences in a variety of clinical lab settings. These hands-on learning experiences combine 21st-century medicine and laboratory science and technology to help doctors determine the proper treatments for patients.
We learned from the RMU Medical Laboratory Technology Program Director about courses in basic sciences, medical technology, and clinical experience at local hospitals which prepare RMU graduates to work in clinical diagnostic laboratories and in areas such as clinical hematology, chemistry, microbiology, and blood banking.
This new medical laboratory technology degree fits perfectly with RMU’s career-focused pedagogical perspective and, importantly, the job market outlook for medical laboratory technologists and technicians. RMU did its homework in developing the medical laboratory technician program. Just consider the fact that this professional career market is projected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026 – faster than the average for all occupations – and the 2018 median annual salary in Chicago is $53,467.
With RMU’s main campus in the heart of Chicago, the university is ideally located near top-rated metropolitan hospitals in the Chicago area. This ideal location prompts a number of clinical affiliations with the Chicago area’s best hospitals.
Beyond the Chicago area, RMU has established both a regional and national presence, as well as notable peer and aspirant rankings and ratings. RMU has been ranked by U.S. News and World Report among the “Best Regional Universities-Midwest,” “Best Colleges for Veterans,” “Best Value Schools,” and most diverse university in the Midwest, and impressively, RMU was named #1 Value All-Star in the nation by Money in 2015.
RMU can proudly trace its venerable century old heritage—first, as a small School; next into a regionally accredited College, and now as Robert Morris University Illinois. It is no coincidence that RMU is now well positioned. At the end of the day, what RMU does best is anticipate the winds of demographic, economic, and workforce change—and reimagine the university’s mission to jump-start its students’ careers and enrich their lifelong learning as responsible global citizens.
RMU President Mablene Krueger, put it nicely this way: “I can’t think of any other higher education institution that does what we do, the way we do it. We are a small, private non-profit university (lots of those around locally), but we are not a liberal arts school or one with a religious affiliation. Our associate degree offerings and commuter-heavy student body might remind some of a community college, while our career-focused programming hints at the offerings from other sectors, with a student-centered, first-generation focus that allows us to reach much better outcomes, and in a collegiate environment with athletics, performing arts, and student life. Long-term, we plan to become known for experiential learning methods. We believe we are already comparable or surpass most in execution. We are unique!”
James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.