Kansas State University


Graduate School

Throughout the years, College of Education’s graduate studies

In a recent Q & A Mike Holen, former Dean, Associate Dean and Department Head of the College of Education at Kansas State University, discussed the development of graduate studies for non-traditional students for the College of Education over the past forty years.

Mike HolenCan you talk about your first experiences at K-State? What was the College of Education doing for non-traditional graduate students?

I chose to come to Kansas State largely because the College of Education was in its very earliest years of offering doctoral programs – it seemed a great opportunity for me to contribute.

When I arrived, the College had little cultural and ethnic diversity in faculty or students, but we were about to experience a set of transforming events.  Under the Education Profession’s Development Act (EPDA), several administrators in the College had submitted, and been awarded, a grant (the Pride Program) to provide advanced education to enhance the employability of African-American teachers who had been displaced by the unintentional consequences of school desegregation.  The program attracted 20 displaced teachers as master’s students and six doctoral students who were faculty members at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  Suddenly the College became the academic home of a significant cadre of Black students, most from the deep South.

What happened to the Pride Program at K-State; what other programs supported prospective African-American doctoral students in the College of Education?

Fundamentally, the program initiated a 25-year unbroken series of funding by the government to encourage the doctoral preparation of our African-American colleagues. The program grew; eventually we graduated 63 displaced teachers with master’s degrees. But within two years, federal priorities changed and the EPDA initiatives were transitioned into what was called Title III programming. Under this initiative the College fostered partnerships with a number of HBCSs, most notably Grambling and Southern universities, both in Louisiana – these partnerships focused on professional development for their faculty including completing doctoral degrees to strengthen their home institutions for teacher preparation and for national accreditation.

Eventually, in the late 1980’s, the priorities of Title III shifted from professional development to direct HBCU institutional support. The College and our HBCU partners then pursued and received funding from the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship program.  We recruited 20 African-American faculty members; 19 of them completed their doctoral degree programs with us. Throughout these 40 or so years, the College developed an environment supportive of the graduate-level professional development of a highly diverse student body; we guided well over 200 African-American academics to the completion of their doctoral programs.

The College of Education obviously created a positive reputation of support for non-traditional African-American graduate students. How did that culture come about?

I wish I could say that it came easily and quickly, but that wouldn’t be true. Our doctoral programs were relatively new and our HBCU-related students were from very different backgrounds, from us and from each other. While the students were intellectually able, most were first generation college students, certainly first generation graduate students.  Many had been prepared in segregated and not very well-funded schools. Certainly, our administrators and many of our faculty were highly supportive and promoted the success of these individuals.

Frankly, our Graduate School played an important role, assisting us with admissions difficulties and promoting curriculum modifications to better enable students to meet their academic goals.  I think it really important that we were able to create and maintain a critical mass of students with common interests, experiences, pressures, and aspirations.

The College of Education created a positive reputation to support non-traditional African American graduate students. How did that impact the culture of the University?

Faculty within the College of Education established a reputation to be supportive of diverse students and help them throughout the learning process. We started getting doctorate students who had nothing to do with the HBCU and we continue to this day.The environment was established to be a supportive community, that’s why the completion rate was so high.

Who were the major influencers at K-State that impacted non-traditional graduate education?

All programs, especially graduate programs, succeed or fail because of the faculty in those programs. Our faculty gradually adopted the attitude that student success was to be the dominant theme for the College – for them that meant all students, from all cultures, environments, and educational backgrounds. Credit for our quite remarkable graduation rates rests almost entirely with the faculty and the talented, determined, and resourceful graduate students who chose us for their doctoral preparation.

How were faculty impacted by the programs?

Well, that’s a question that requires a complex answer – it leads me to risk generalizing and speculating quite a bit.  I believe that in the 1970’s, graduate faculty throughout the academy, both at K-State (including the College of Education) and in other institutions, expected entering graduate students to be pretty uniformly well prepared.

Faculty ‘professed’ and when some students did not learn, the faculty concluded the fault rested with the student.  Successful public school teachers quickly learn they have the responsibility to teach all students, however diverse their backgrounds, learning styles, preparation, and even motivation.

I believe the appearance of so many diverse students in the graduate programs of the College and so early in the history of doctoral programming for the College, led our graduate faculty to a growing understanding of the joint teaching-learning responsibility of student and faculty.  In some way, these understandings challenged the faculty to become a proactive part of the teaching-learning equation and engendered a community dedicated to student success.

Graduate faculty members became more responsible for mentoring, guiding, and promoting student achievement. I think that attitude permeates the College’s environment to this day and expands well beyond the African-American student populations from which it emerged.

From where you have come, to where we are at now. How do you feel about future times at Kansas State’s College of Education?

I have absolute confidence that the College will continue to promote the success of highly diverse graduate students throughout its future. There is great new leadership in the College, both administrative and faculty.

I have been privileged to work with Dean Debbie Mercer for over a decade in her roles as Dean at Ft. Hays State and Associate Dean and Dean at K-State. She is firmly committed to continuing and expanding the legacy of equity and diversity our College has fostered for much of its history.

The faculty members have embedded diversity into the curriculum and the fabric of the College in ways that seem unlikely ever to retreat.

“Providing relevant graduate level programming for current education needs is of vital importance to the College of Education,” Debbie Mercer, Dean of the College of Education. “Most of our graduate students are working professionals wanting to continue to grow professionally. We are building on a strong history of such programs. While content continues to be updated, so do our modes of delivery. Recognizing that our students are working professionals, we offer courses at a distance, as well as online. As we look to the future, we will continue to build on this foundation of relevant programming offered via modes that our graduate students are demanding.”

Through the College of Education, the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy (CIMA) offers a broad array of graduate programs of study in English as a Second Language (ESL).  Launched in the summer of 2012, the Go Teacher program at K-State, with partnership from Ecuador’s Ministry of Education and Ecuador’s governing body of higher education, brings teachers from Ecuador to K-State to participate in 10 weeks of instructional programming. The Go Teacher program is designed to prepare educators to be highly qualified teachers of English to students who are learning English as a second language. Learn more about the programs the College of Education offers now.