In its 147-year history, Peirce College – known for years as an alternative junior college that catered to working adults on tight budgets and tighter schedules – has experienced many firsts, but the announcement that the school is now offering its first master’s degree program is perhaps the biggest of them all.
Beginning with the current semester, the school is offering a master ofscience in organizational leadership and management, an area in which school officials have seen the most interest, said Peirce President and CEO Jim Mergiotti.
“We’ve had many of our alumni, those that went through our baccalaureate program, that have expressed an interest in the MSOLM degree, because they wanted a master’s-level platform and to get a graduate degree using the Peirce method,” Mergiotti said. “This first [master’s degree-granting] program is an immediate response to that.”
Pieice College, Mergiotti said, is used to working with an older adult population, with the average student being over 35 years old. “We deal with the nontraditional student and the ‘come-backer,’ by providing academic support and customer service that these folks need in order to manage their heavy life loads, including family life, community commitments and other obligations. They have a very narrow window through which they can matriculate, and we provide that opportunity for them in an intimate setting,” Mergiotti said. “We took that population and looked at what the needs were in the current work environment, as many of them have made the transition back to work, or went into different careers.
“Now [those students] are looking for leadership and managerial positions, and if they want continue their career trajectory, they need richer, more robust credentials.”
In order for Peirce to provide its new program, Mergiotti and his team had to methodically show the accrediting organization that Peirce had the academic foundations in place to support such a program. There’s much more to it than just deciding one day to provide the master’s program. The process was daunting, exacting and time-consuming, Mergiotti said.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Education, up until June of this year, had the responsibility for approving new programs and [authorizing] degree-granting programs. In June, the state legislature and senate passed Senate Bill 406, which gave institutions that have been operating for ten or more years the authority to add programs and degree levels,” Mergiotti explained. “We prepared completely for the PDE’s whole approval process – we did all the documentation and submissions, and even went over the first few stages of the documentation with [the state’s education department]. We went through that rigorous process, which was an important step.
“It was great for us as an institution to go through that,” Mergiotti continued, noting that the process included self-reviews and intense academic investigation. “It made sure that we weren’t taking any shortcuts, and that our plan was strong and robust.”
Currently, Peirce College is accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Its programs are also recognized by the AmericanBar Association and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Peirce also holds memberships with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania and with the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities.
According to Mergiotti, several disciplines were candidates for its Master’s program, but college officials decided on the one program that made the most sense for its students.
“This particular [program] was selected because what we had was an opportunity with MSOLM to provide leadership and managerial skills to complement what students had on the technical side,” Mergiotti said, also noting that the college will examine when and if to provide other Master’s degree-granting courses. “Many students have undergrad IT or business and legal degrees, and this gives the best of both worlds to those students. Coupled with a graduate program that is leadership oriented - one that helps them understand how organizations work and behave – will teach these folks how to take that next step in their careers.
“We’ve not been a junior college for 15 years, and now with our graduate program and offering all three levels [of academics], we can drive a stake in the ground and say that ‘we are Peirce College, and we are all grown up now.’”