Dominican Welcomes New, Continuing Applied Computer Science Students

Following the announcement that Dominican University of California will assume direct delivery of the Applied Computer Science program offered through a partnership with Make School, the University confirmed this week that it will invite both continuing and newly admitted Make School students to complete their studies at Dominican.

In 2018, Dominican and Make School, the San Francisco-based software and coding school, received approval from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) to enter a unique “incubation” partnership as Make School worked toward becoming independently accredited – a process expected to take from three to five years.

In 2019, Make School launched its bachelor’s degree in Applied Computer Science under Dominican’s auspices as an accredited institution, while Dominican was able to draw on Make School’s expertise to offer a new minor in Coding and Software Design.

However, the financial challenges of operating a start-up venture, compounded by the pandemic, led Make School earlier this month to reevaluate its capacity to become an independent, degree-granting institution. On July 13, 2021 - 32 months after the two parties signed their original MOU - Make School informed Dominican that it did not have significant finances to continue to pursue independent accreditation. 

“Dominican and Make School decided that the best outcome for Make School’s students would be for Dominican to take over the teaching of the Applied Computer Science program and invite the Make School students to complete their degrees at the University,” said Dominican University of California President Nicola Pitchford. 

The handoff of the Applied Computer Science program to Dominican will be completed by July 30; the program will be housed in Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business. As Make School students are already enrolled as Dominican students, no additional application is required. 

“This is not the outcome Dominican and Make School anticipated, but we are committed to ensuring students enrolled in the program enjoy a rich educational experience and graduate with a degree in Applied Computer Science,” President Pitchford said.

Now, as Dominican assumes full delivery of the Applied Computer Science degree, the University’s priority is to ensure the program’s integrity and quality, to continue to nurture student creativity, and to ensure that Make School students — and those faculty and staff who transition with the program — feel welcome and valued at Dominican.

“We have great faith in the educational model of this degree program,” said President Pitchford, “even though, under current pressures, the financial and administrative model could not sustain Make School to the point of achieving independent accreditation.”

Indeed, when initially assessing the incubation partnership, Dominican’s leadership fully realized that assuming delivery of the Applied Computer Science program was one potential outcome.

“Dominican and Make School embarked on this partnership to design a career-friendly computer science education, consistent with our shared educational model, and accessible to a demographic of students consistent with Dominican’s diverse student body. We will be able to do that by delivering the program at Dominican,” said President Pitchford.

While many details are being finalized, Dominican anticipates hiring some Make School faculty to teach Applied Computer Science courses – as well as drawing on the industry expertise of Dominican’s faculty – and retaining a focus on hands-on learning. 

Both President Pitchford and Barowsky School of Business Dean Yung-Jae Lee are confident that the Applied Computer Science program and students will thrive at Dominican.

When Make School was introduced to Dominican in summer 2017, the two entities quickly discovered that they were aligned in terms of mission and a deep commitment to student success through an educational model that incorporated intense coaching, mentoring, and hands-on learning.

From their initial conversations, Dominican and Make School agreed to start the groundwork for partnership. This work continued well into 2018, with a strong focus on shared governance. The University’s due diligence included extensive evaluation of the Make School curriculum and academic calendar by Dominican faculty, ongoing conversations between the existing faculty at both campuses, student focus groups, the development of a faculty task force representing disciplines across the University, and insight gained from external consultants and members of Dominican’s Board of Trustees who have a background in the technology sector. More than 85% of Dominican’s faculty voted to approve the partnership.

“Because Dominican University of California faculty were so involved in designing the programs, we had – and continue to have – a great deal of trust in the quality and the integrity of both the bachelor’s degree and the minor,” President Pitchford said.

The partnership fit with Dominican’s recent focus on strategically adding new programs that respond to workforce demand and build on institutional strengths. Like many smaller colleges, Dominican did not offer a computer science concentration but was seeing increased demand from students to integrate technology into the curriculum in many disciplines. The University was cognizant of the time, effort, and up-front investment needed to both create a new curriculum and maintain curricular relevancy with the rapidly changing world of technology.

The Make School partnership gave Dominican access to deep subject matter expertise and industry experience while also enabling the University’s faculty to develop themselves as they worked closely with Make School’s team of educators and practitioners. 

The pandemic and its financial impact on colleges and universities has been severe, with colleges across the United States seeing decreased enrollment and increased demand on operating budgets. This was not a sustainable scenario for a fledgling program, and the bold and innovative experiment of the Dominican-Make School partnership did not thrive in the pandemic.

“We know that most such innovations do fail to gain a long-term foothold, at least the first time they are tried, and the odds for us became that much longer when we were all hit by the COVID pandemic,” President Pitchford said.

In spring 2021, Make School informed Dominican that the Make School financial model was in jeopardy. The School was carrying substantial leases for both underutilized student residential space and for unused teaching space in San Francisco. The sudden halt in international student movement and delays to full approval for access to some federal funding programs presented further difficulties. At that time, Dominican developed terms for a potential absorption of the Make School Applied Computer Science program and designed a transition framework.

Make School nevertheless continued to move ahead with its accelerated accreditation goal. However, on July 12, WSCUC informed Make School that candidacy would not be approved in 2021, with an invitation to reapply at a later date. On July 13, Dr. Anne Spalding, Make School’s interim president, informed Dominican that Make School would cease offering the Applied Computer Science program.

Dominican has formed a task force to oversee the Make School transition, under the leadership of Vice President Mojgan Behmand and Dean Lee. It includes multiple constituents from across campus, to ensure alignment and integration of its work with existing University operations. Where appropriate, its recommendations will be reviewed and approved through Dominican shared governance, including the President’s Cabinet, Faculty Forum, and the Board of Trustees Executive Committee.

“When we entered into our partnership with Make School, we were determined that the degree programs would enable our students to tap the insight and expertise of practitioners at the world’s leading tech firms without sacrificing the holistic student engagement that is a hallmark of a great liberal arts education, and indeed the hallmark of the Dominican Experience. This remains true today and will help guide our work moving forward,” President Pitchford said.

“I wish I could share at this moment exactly how Dominican will fulfill each of Make School’s commitments to the students, but we will bring our broad institutional knowledge and longstanding experience to do so in a meaningful way. We know the value of these innovations and bold commitments, as they are a large part of what drew us to an institutional partnership with Make School three years ago. For now, some trust and patience will be required as our team works out the details and seeks to provide the best possible transition to Dominican.”

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