Q&A with chief academic officer

Dr. Terry Smith discusses academic initiatives at Columbia College

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the Midwest, got my undergraduate degree at a college like Columbia College and my doctorate from Michigan State. I’ve been dean at Columbia College since 1996 and love working here. I also teach political science for the college. I’ve been married to Jane for 42 years; we have four adult children and four grandchildren.

What is one piece of advice you would give to students?
When you have to balance lots of things in your life, make your studies the fulcrum until you finish your degree.

What do you think is the most important thing that has happened at Columbia College during your tenure?
Two things: the general increase in standards and quality, and launching the online program.

How has the online program benefited the college?
The Online Campus has given thousands of Columbia College students more flexibility and options while maintaining quality. The revenue from the online program has allowed the college to keep tuition at modest levels, to attract and retain quality faculty and staff, to make many improvements to facilities and infrastructure, to increase the endowment and to make venture capital available so we can take some risks. There has been significant migration to online coursework, but we are committed to offering in-seat classes wherever possible, since that is the best option for many students.

Why do students need to take prerequisites? Doesn’t life experience count for something?
Columbia College’s mission is teaching and learning, but our satisfaction lies in changing lives and making dreams come true.
Columbia College is quite life-experience friendly with transfer credits, especially for the military. Life experience counts for a lot, but it is not the same as academic preparation. Few things frustrate faculty more than students who lack the tools to succeed in higher-level courses. True prerequisite enforcement will make everyone’s classroom experience better, even – maybe especially – the student who is kept from enrolling in a class for which she is not ready. And, legitimate prerequisite waivers will be granted.

What is the purpose of the World/Eastern Culture graduation requirement?
Ever heard of globalization? Columbia College has an obligation to expose students academically to the world outside North America. We were late to the game of requiring foreign language/culture for our B.A. degrees, but we got there last year.

You attend a lot of AHE graduation ceremonies. What do you find especially satisfying about these ceremonies?
Seeing the collective joy at the achievement. Columbia College’s mission is teaching and learning, but our satisfaction lies in changing lives and making dreams come true.