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AU Midwest cuts staff, moves online

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Antioch University leaders recently announced significant staff cuts and programming changes at Antioch University Midwest, or AUM. While the school’s longstanding “place-based” programs will soon be eliminated, so that regular physical classes on campus will end, the school aims to ramp up its online and low-residency offerings.

“We’re going to focus on providing programs that are more convenient and in more modalities,” AU President Bill Groves said in a recent interview. “We’re trying to focus on student needs, and students are demanding more convenience.”

The programming changes at AUM will include the eventual elimination, in about a year, of its undergraduate degree completion program, previously called Weekend College. The 30-year old program, once an innovative force in adult education, will be phased out as soon as its current students complete their study, according to Groves. Likewise, the school will eliminate its place-based master’s in education program, once an AUM powerhouse, which has declined in enrollment in recent years due to changes in state law. 

The programming changes were approved at the June meeting of the Antioch University Board of Trustees, Groves said. They are in response to falling enrollment in current programs.

“Revenue at Midwest has been declining fairly steadily,” Groves said, citing especially the loss of income from the graduate education program. Overall, Antioch Univeristy faces a $1 million deficit this year, although university-wide enrollment looks good at about 4,000, he said.

Currently, AUM has about 120 students, according to Groves, down from a high of about 700 before the school moved from the Antioch College campus in 2007 to its current location at the western edge of town, on the edge of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE.

“All current students will finish at Midwest in the modality they started in,” Groves said.

The cuts of the place-based undergraduate degree completion and graduate education programs led to the loss of about nine current positions, out of a current staff of about 20, Groves said. The cuts were mainly from support staff for those programs, along with staff in admissions, financial aid and maintenance.

While Groves said no faculty positions have been cut, the faculty in both the graduate education and undergraduate completion programs were on yearly contracts. Some faculty are not being renewed, while others are being shifted to the online program, he said.

Cuts included staff members who had been with AUM close to 20 years. One staff member lives in Yellow Springs, although that person declined to speak about the change.

While the place-based programs will be eliminated, the university does plan to add new programs, according to Groves. The Midwest campus will house an expansion of the university-wide online program, Antioch University Online, or AUO, which is thriving, according to Groves, and new recruiters and support personnel will soon be hired to staff AUO. 

“The board has approved a massive online division to be located at Midwest,” Groves said. “We are significantly expanding the program.”

The university also plans to use the AUM building for several low-residency programs, a hybrid learning model that includes both online learning and several weeks of in-person classes. These low-residency programs include the current Ph.D. program in Leadership and Change, and a university-wide clinical mental health counseling program.

University leaders also plan to add a low-residency Ph.D. program in education and a masters in leadership that supplements the current doctoral leadership and change program.

Ultimately, according to Groves, the university is likely to add more staff at Midwest than it has cut, although he declined to give a projected number.

Still, the loss of current staff is significant, according to former AUM graduate education faculty member Pam Conine, current mayor of Yellow Springs.

“Service delivery options change with the times, and this reorganization at Midwest is typical of such a change,” she wrote in an email. “It breaks my heart that several staff members who have been with Midwest for years have lost their jobs. They are good people who always went out of their way for the AUM students and faculty. I wish the best for these individuals and for the university as it reconfigures to stay educationally relevant in these challenging times.”

May stay in YS

If there is good news for the village in the recent Midwest programming and staff changes, it’s that university leaders are no longer actively looking to sell the Midwest building and move out of Yellow Springs, according to Groves.

“We’re not as interested in selling at this point,” he stated, saying the building has been taken off the market.

In May university leaders said they had put the 92,000-square-foot building on the market and were looking for a new location closer to the school’s students, who tend to be from the Dayton area. However, due to the new emphasis on online programming rather than “place-based” education, there is no longer a reason to locate closer to students, he said.

Groves does not rule out the possibility of selling the building “if the right buyer offering the right price” comes along, although the university is no longer actively engaged in selling it. And if the building is sold, there is the possibility of partnering with other academic institutions or corporations to locate the university’s offices and low-residency programs there.

The Midwest building has challenged university leaders almost from the moment it was constructed in 2007 at the edge of the CBE, according to Yellow Springs News articles. Previously Midwest — then Antioch University McGregor — had been housed on the Antioch College campus, with classes taking place on Saturdays or in evenings when the college was not holding its own classes.

In the early 2000s, the then-president of AU McGregor, Barbara Gellman-Danley, expressed her desire to move out of town to a larger location, based on her projection that enrollment, then in the 700s, would grow by 10 percent yearly. Village leaders wooed the university by offering the 11-acre plot of the CBE for free, and AUM raised $13 million with Ohio Education Facilities Commission bonds and several million more from donations. The new building was completed in 2007.

However, the projected growth never happened, and a variety of factors, including the 2008 recession, a change in the state law regarding required graduate education for teachers, and a proliferation in the adult-focused programming that McGregor once led, resulted in a significant decline in the number of students, now at 120. According to a 2016 financial report, the university still owed $8.8 million on the building.

But there are reasons to stay in Yellow Springs, Groves said.

“This is our history,” he said. “Yellow Springs is our home. We like to think we’re part of the community, and not just a place where people go and vote once and a while.”

Overall, he said, Midwest will continue to be flexible and respond to the demands of the current educational environment.

“This decision was made due to market changes, and we can’t fight the market,” he said. “Antioch has the reputation of being innovative and nimble, and we have to live up to that.”

Adult ed innovation

Innovation has been at the heart of the AUM undergraduate degree completion program, previously called the Weekend College, since it began in 1986, according to emeritus AUM professor and former Antioch College anthropologist Jim Malarkey, a co-founder and former director of the program. The program initially served as the foundation of AUM, drawing adult students from across the region to its Saturday classes. After a year, the program will essentially shut down its place-based classroom component, with only online classes available.

The vision of then-Antioch College and Antioch University President Al Guskin, the new school, then named Antioch University McGregor, aimed to offer an Antioch College education for adults who wanted to complete their degrees, a concept unusual at the time.

“Guskin said, ‘Let’s offer a Saturday program for working people.’ We called it the Weekend College to give it some zip. There was no competition,” Malarkey said recently.

True to Antioch tradition, the Weekend College’s classes were small, taught by a combination of Antioch College professors and adjuncts, and in-depth discussion, rather than lectures, were the order of the day, Malarkey said. The program, largely designed by Malarkey, was also unusual in encouraging students to dive deeply into the forces that shaped their own life —  in a required class called “Self and Society”  they wrote their autobiography, reading it out loud to the class.

As well as learning to reflect on their  lives, the students opened up to the lives of others, Malarkey said.

“Often you saw people’s jaws drop,” when others read their autobiography, Malarkey said. “They realized people’s lives were not how they looked to be. It had a transformative effect, helped people see through the eyes of others.”

While the program’s first 10 years were spent building the program, the second 10 years were years of consolidation, Malarkey said. The program’s reputation grew, and enrollment steadily climbed.

“Students embraced the program,” Malarkey said.

Even more innovative than the Weekend College was World Classics, an intensive, one-year component open to Weekend College students. An advocate of the Great Books course used at schools such as the University of Chicago and Columbia, Malarkey saw no reason not to bring those same great books to adult students.

At the time, the program was considered audacious, Malarkey said, because the few adult education programs going tended to have a vocational focus rather than a focus on great ideas.

“We said, who says adult students can’t do this, or that Midwesterners can’t?” Malarkey said. “We said, we’re going to take the best stuff we know was ever written about philosophy and psychology and religion and we’re going to throw all of this at them. We think they can do it.”

And they could, Malarkey said. One former Weekend College student, Thor Sage, now executive director of the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, or MVECA, said he remembers his Classics classes well.

“They were some of the most intense and fantastic discussions I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “The Classics program was demanding, I’ve never had so much work, and so much work I enjoyed. It was the best reading list I ever had.”

Villager Brady Burkett, who is now working on a Ph.D. in media psychology, also remembers well his Weekend College and Classics experience. 

“I would characterize my experience at Antioch Midwest as life changing,” he wrote in a recent email. “The faculty created a learning environment that empowered me to critically think about issues past and present. I learned how to interrogate information and challenge orthodoxy with courage and confidence, finding my voice along the way. This continues to serve me every day.”

Now teaching psychology classes at Clark State University, Burkett wrote, “As an instructor now myself, I have brought the values and focus of Antioch’s mission into my classroom, facilitating others around what it means to think critically while valuing the perspectives of others.”

While the Weekend College’s first 20 years saw growth, the last 10 years saw a disintegration of the school’s identity and focus, Malarkey said, which he believes led to the decline in enrollment. Malarkey blames AUM’s move from the college campus to a new building on the edge of town as a significant factor in enrollment decline, as previously AUM students seemed deeply tied to the traditions and facilities of both the college and the town, and after the move, they were torn away from both.

And a renaming of the campus, to Antioch University Midwest from Antioch University McGregor, led to further confusion, he believes. The original school had been named for Douglas McGregor, a renown educator and former Antioch College president.

“The new building and change in name were misguided adventures that sapped enormous energy and tore us away from our roots,” Malarkey said.

And at the same time, competition for students skyrocketed, as adult degree completion programs proliferated in the area. 

Along with the Weekend College, AUM  became known as the site of a high-quality master’s in education program, the only master’s in education program in the state with national accreditation, according to Groves. However, that program’s enrollment dropped sharply when Ohio changed its state law previously requiring teachers to obtain a master’s within five years.

Other previously popular AUM programs included master’s in conflict resolution, the individualized master’s program, or IMA, and certification for healthcare advocates, among others.

While the programs differed in content, there was an effort to emphasize Antiocian values, according to Conine, former education faculty. In commenting on the education program recently, she wrote: “What Midwest always emphasized was the focus on Antioch core values, stressing social justice, honoring diversity and educating the individual student according to his or her needs.”

And while, other than low-residency programs, AUM will no longer offer a regular classroom experience, the legacy of the program will live on, according to villager and emeritus professor Jane Brown, former director of the Weekend College and head of AUM’s Human Service and Human Service Administration, as well as developer of the undergraduate health and wellness major.

“I hold to my belief that we scattered many seeds on to fertile ground and that will still make a difference,” she wrote in a recent email. 

“It’s six years later and in the next two weeks, I have appointments with four former students who want to explore new ideas being birthed by them,” she wrote.

The writer previously worked as an adjunct instructor at AUM.


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One Response to “AU Midwest cuts staff, moves online”

  1. Cara L Duty says:

    I agree with all that Dr. Malarkey said regarding name and location change as well as removal from Antiochian roots. I always said Antioch can be the “Harvard of the mid-west” with focus in ideas exploration, intense discussion in classroom environments and exposure to diverse literature. I am saddened regarding the decline…but it can be brought back!! B.A. Human Resource Mgt. 2002, GMP 23 2005

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