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Breaking Barriers at University of the Southwest
New Mexico school’s unique hybrid teaching and learning model grows enrollment and showcases the need for a robust digital library.
By Alison Roth
When campuses and libraries shuttered last year, students and faculty at the University of the Southwest (USW) were better prepared than many.
At the New Mexico-based institution, hybrid learning had already been the norm for at least five years. The school’s 2,500 students – ranging from undergraduate to doctoral – had already been toggling between attending on-campus classes, virtual classes, on-demand classes, and just about everything in between.
“When COVID hit last spring, it took us only about 48 hours to pivot,” said Dr. Ryan Tipton, USW’s provost and chief academic officer.
Tipton, who joined USW as an instructor 11 years ago, said the faith-based, non-denominational school’s vision has long been to remove boundaries and give students the power of choice. Some choose the traditional university experience, including dorm living and athletics. Others obtain their degrees without ever stepping foot on campus. Some students choose a combination of in-person and virtual education.
In March 2020, said Tipton, “our students were heading home for spring break, so we just told them to prepare to finish the term online. Not much changed for us, and our students’ education continued uninterrupted.”
One key factor that helped with this smooth transition was the USW library, a crucial pillar of teaching and learning at USW. Already set up for fully virtual access, the library brings a broad range of content to faculty and students at all levels. Before the pandemic, they began subscribing to ProQuest One Academic, the world’s largest collection of multidisciplinary content – including journals, news, ebooks, streaming video and dissertations.
“ProQuest One Academic really allowed us to take our library virtual,” Tipton said. “It’s a standalone, one-stop subscription to a complete library resource. We have three colleges at the university: business, education, and arts and sciences. ProQuest One Academic is a perfect fit. It offers resources – journals, ebooks, videos, dissertations – that serve the needs of all three. It does everything for us at once – and puts everything in one place for our students.”
Corina Madrid, USW’s Library and Student Learning Resources Director, said that aggregated databases like ProQuest One Academic are especially valuable when they touch every discipline at a university. “We’re helping our students gain information literacy in such a noisy world,” she said. “They’re able to get on our library website and research whatever they want whenever it is convenient for them.”
USW, which began as a commuter college for student teachers, has tripled in size since 2010 and continues to break educational boundaries, both physical and virtual. Their enrollment was up 13 percent in 2020, mostly in graduate and doctoral programs.
“There are only about 700 students in the entire state of New Mexico pursuing doctoral degrees, and 20 percent of them go to USW,” Tipton said. “We’ve grown from being a local commuter college to being a global institution that serves learners of all ages and at all levels.”