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Committee on the College at Wise approves new masters program

Chancellor Donna Price Henry also presented on Wise’s fall enrollment statistics

Another presenter at the meeting was Faculty Consulting Member Jinny Turman, who shared information on the creation of a new regional center for Virginia Humanities at U.Va. Wise.
Another presenter at the meeting was Faculty Consulting Member Jinny Turman, who shared information on the creation of a new regional center for Virginia Humanities at U.Va. Wise.

The Board of Visitors Committee on the University of Virginia’s College at Wise approved a new Master of Technology Management & Data Analytics program and heard updates on Wise’s fall enrollment statistics and retention rates at its meeting Friday. The Committee also voted to reappoint four members of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise Board, which advises the Chancellor and oversees the development of the College, for a second term. 

The Master of Technology Management & Data Analytics program will be Wise’s second graduate program, following a M.E. in Curriculum and Instruction program that began in the Fall 2023 semester. Gurkan Akalin, executive director of the Institute of Applied Data Analytics and Department of Business and Economics chair at Wise, first presented on the new master’s program at the Committee’s December meeting. 

According to Akalin, the program will attract both U.Va. Wise alumni and Southwest Virginia residents working in technology and data fields to further their education as students at Wise.

“We want to develop this human resource locally at U.Va. Wise, and we want to keep [undergraduate alumni] while they finish their graduate degree,” Akalin said. “Additionally, some of the employees [in the region] who are already working, this will give them an opportunity to do a master’s program.”

Akalin said that program organizers hope that students will complete the program within 12 to 18 months and that the organizers hope to have 35 students in the program within two or three years of the program’s start date. The Master of Technology Management & Data Analytics program is projected to begin in the Fall 2025 semester.

Chancellor Donna Price Henry also updated the Committee on enrollment numbers at the College at Wise for the 2024 academic year, with Henry saying that total enrollment for the fall is up 20 percent from the previous year. According to Henry, the College at Wise currently anticipates the arrival of 428 first-year undergraduates and 100 transfer students. She noted that the College at Wise is aiming to increase the number of transfer students to 123 and that transfer decisions typically come in later. 

Henry also discussed the retention rate at Wise, saying that between 2019 and 2022, retention rates jumped from 66 percent to 75 percent for freshmen and 56 percent to 79 percent for transfers. She said she aims to further increase the freshman retention rate to 80 percent, particularly by changing advising at the College.

“On the retention front, we are really working on advising, a lot like U.Va. is,” Henry said. “We have a model of first-year [faculty] advisors who go through training and work with the new students as they come in.” 

Henry said the College at Wise is altering its advising system, as students will now attend virtual, one-on-one meetings with their advisors prior to orientation. According to Henry, this marks a departure from the previous advising system, in which multiple students met with an advisor simultaneously in in-person meetings.

Henry also discussed financial aid, noting that roughly 90 percent of students at Wise receive some form of federal financial aid. She said that because of this need, Wise did not want to wait for the results of the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form — which experienced substantial delays this year — to create financial aid packages for admitted students. 

According to Henry, Wise instead created financial aid packages to students prior to receiving all FAFSA information and guaranteed admitted students that their financial aid packages would not be reduced when complete FAFSA information came in.

“Very early on, we decided that we needed to begin packaging even without that data,” Henry said. “We knew there was a little bit of a risk to that, but we felt that there was more of a risk not to package.”

Another presenter at the meeting was Faculty Consulting Member Jinny Turman, who shared information on the creation of a new regional center for Virginia Humanities at U.Va. Wise, which she said was part of Virginia Humanities’ push to have five regional divisions across the Commonwealth. Virginia Humanities is headquartered at the University in Charlottesville, and the organization’s mission is to help connect Virginia residents with their history and culture. 

Turman also shared updates on academic research at the College, including Biology Prof. Bruce Cahoon and his students’ research on the dietary preferences of mussels, the findings of which were published in the academic journal Scientific Reports.

The Committee will reconvene when the Board next meets in September.

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