The Associated Colleges of the Midwest will discontinue management of its three off-campus study programs, the Board of Directors determined, following a thorough review of the programs themselves as well as the current landscape for these types of programs.
ACM was an early leader in developing high-quality off-campus study programs, launching its programming in the 1960s at a time when there were few off-campus study options for students and faculty. Over the last several decades, off-campus study and other experiential learning opportunities have been advanced by member colleges and other providers, increasing the opportunities available to students and faculty. Meanwhile, ACM has not run any off-campus study programs since Fall 2019 due to declining student applications, difficulty appointing visiting faculty directors, and operational challenges related to COVID-19.
In May 2022, ACM paused its programs to review them in light of these challenges and determine whether they remain aligned with campus needs and ACM resources. An Off-Campus Study Committee was created to assist ACM staff in the programs’ assessment and included representatives from eight of the 14 ACM campuses serving in off-campus study, academic affairs, student affairs, career services, and finance roles. During the pause, the Committee reviewed enrollment trends, break-even budgets, recent faculty interest, student interest in domestic programs, and other factors impacting ACM’s programs.
The Committee noted the importance of the ACM-managed off-campus study programs over the last 60-plus years and the transformational impact they have had on students and faculty. At the same time, the Committee pointed out that the off-campus study market is increasingly competitive and ACM’s programs serve a narrow and decreasing student audience. ACM has struggled in recent years to reach minimum enrollments and to identify interested and available faculty to lead the programs.
The Committee also questioned whether managing off-campus study programs remains a campus need for which ACM should allocate staff resources. Announced last month, ACM’s strategic plan focuses on supporting students, faculty, and staff by developing and cultivating leaders; fostering inclusive and equitable environments; building community and advancing well-being; incubating innovative ideas; and refining and enhancing existing programs.
Ultimately, the Committee did not see the three ACM-managed programs meeting current or future campus needs at a sufficient level to warrant their continuation. Additionally, the Committee recommended ACM not be involved in programs operated by institutions outside ACM. The ACM Board of Directors reviewed the findings and recommendations from the Committee at the November Board meeting and determined the following:
- ACM will no longer directly manage off-campus study programs. This means ACM will discontinue management of its three current programs: Field Museum Semester: Research in Natural History, Newberry Seminar: Research in the Humanities, and the Oak Ridge Science Semester.
- ACM will discontinue affiliations with programs not operated by ACM campuses. This includes Japan Study and River Semester, offered by Earlham College and Augsburg University, respectively. Additionally, ACM will not enter into future affiliate program relationships for programs operated by non-member campuses.
Members of ACM and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) have the opportunity to assume management of any of ACM’s directly managed programs. ACM will provide information to any campus that is interested and work with ACM and GLCA members over the next several months to facilitate direct connections with the Field Museum, Newberry Library, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Each program website now lists opportunities currently available to faculty and students directly through the partner institution.
ACM will maintain relationships with both Japan Study and River Semester during the 2023-2024 academic year to support students through the current application cycle. ACM will facilitate connections between member campuses and both programs during the transition year.
In the near future, ACM will expand efforts to market off-campus study programs run by member campuses that have the capacity to enroll students from other ACM schools. Additionally, ACM will begin marketing faculty opportunities with off-campus study programs operated by member campuses.
ACM proudly partnered with the Newberry Library to offer the Newberry Seminar for 55 years. Discussions with the Off-Campus Study Committee, ACM’s Board of Directors, and ACM’s Advisory Board of Deans reaffirmed the Newberry Seminar’s impact on the more than 850 students and 100 faculty who have participated in the program.
While operational challenges prevented ACM from launching the Field Museum Semester and Oak Ridge Science Semester, ACM has begun conversations with all three partner organizations to consider alternative opportunities that may be available to ACM students and faculty. As those conversations continue, any potential collaborations will be explored through the lens of ACM’s strategic plan.
“ACM staff, the Off-Campus Study Committee, and ACM’s governing boards recognize the importance off-campus study programs played in ACM’s history and in the lives of student participants, faculty directors, and program staff. We look forward to exploring new collaborations with our valued partners at the Field Museum, Newberry Library, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and we thank Augsburg University and Earlham College for expanding opportunities for our colleges,” said ACM’s president, Sonya Malunda.
“While challenging, these changes ensure that ACM is providing the most high-impact programs to our campuses in response to their needs. The priorities and activities of the consortium will continue to evolve as they have for nearly 65 years, but ACM always remains steadfastly focused on providing exceptional support and experiences for our members’ faculty, staff, and students.”
More information about the discontinuation of the programs can be found on the FAQs page.