Inter-institutional Cooperative Academic Programs

Charles L. Madison, Ph.D.

Washington State University – Spokane

David M. Haugen, Ph.D.

Eastern Washington University


Our purpose this afternoon is to share with you one model used to respond to the internal and external challenges meeting academic programs. In the introduction to this session in your conference program, you note the reference to fiscal constraints and political pressures that force programs to seek creative solutions that will allow them to meet these challenges. Our model is one in which two independent academic programs made a commitment to operate their graduate programs in speech-language pathology on a cooperative basis. At this meeting in 1995, Dr. Frederick Spahr, in a session focusing on the external forces on program functioning, shared his thoughts about what academic programs needed to do to position for the future. Dr. Spahr noted that " programs need to develop and evaluate educational models". At that time we were 5 years into our noble cooperative experiment, and could listen to his remarks feeling that we had proactively done something to meet such challenges. Incredibly, we have been a cooperative graduate program for 10 years and can share with some historical perspective the strengths and weaknesses of a program co-located and co-operated. We made a bold move that we consider to have been successful, and we are confident that you will as well.


Some geographical and political background about Washington State is necessary to help you understand why two departments that had been operating independently for over 25 years decided to merge their graduate programs. At the time of our merger, there were 4 graduate programs in speech-language pathology in Washington. The programs at the University of Washington and Western Washington University were on the populous west side of the state and the programs at Washington State University (WSU) and Eastern Washington University (EWU) were 75 miles apart on the east side of the state. Both the EWU and WSU programs were located in small towns, with facilities away (particularly in the case of WSU) from the largest population base in eastern Washington, Spokane. It also helps to understand that in the mid 1980s, the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board had determined that selected areas of the state were underserved with respect to higher education. As a result, the University of Washington and Washington State University were given the opportunity to develop branch campuses at 5 locations around the state. The branch campus of Washington State University at Spokane was narrowly charged to deliver graduate and professional programs that were not currently available in the greater Spokane area. Thus, the political climate was right for program expansion and/or relocation. To several of us at WSU, it was important, for the sake of the profession, not to compete with our colleagues at EWU when responding to the internal university pressures to do "something in Spokane." You will recall that in the late 1980s, graduate enrollments were low, and we were facing an increase in and redistribution of the number of clinical contact hours that were required of our students. These challenges were forcing programs, particularly those located in less populated rural areas, to seek innovative solutions in order to attract students and maintain accreditation.

Motivated by the opportunities at hand, and a desire to cooperate rather than compete, our respective faculties launched a series of meetings to explore, at the faculty level, what our programs might do cooperatively in Spokane. Though the early discussions focused on cooperative clinical, practicum, and internship endeavors, we finally came to the conclusion that a merger of the SLP graduate programs of both universities held some appealing advantages. We saw these advantages to include an opportunity to co-locate near medical centers and other practicum sites, a larger critical mass, savings in instructional time, faculty depth, and teaching assignment flexibility.

In 1988, we began by using the Washington Higher Education Telecommunication System (WHETS), an interactive television system linking the various campuses of WSU, to share classes. A memorandum of agreement was developed, and in 1989 both programs moved their graduate programs to a common location in downtown Spokane, thus launching what is known as University Programs in Communication Disorders (UPCD).

The Model

The organizational structure of UPCD is presented in Appendix A. In this model, the Department of Communication Disorders at EWU, and the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at WSU retain their integrity as academic departments and all that is implied in that status – budget responsibilities, tenure and promotion, and student records, for example. The academic deans at EWU and WSU and the campus dean at WSU-Spokane retain traditional oversight responsibility, and final budget authority in critical matters. The day-to-day operations of the cooperative program are in the hands of the combined faculty, which has formed several committees to attend to specific areas. The Planning Committee is made up of the department chairs and the faculty member serving as UPCD Coordinator, and deals with issues of coordination between universities, long range planning, and sometimes crises. The Clinic Committee concerns itself with clinic management policy and coordination. The curriculum, course scheduling, and instructional assignments are managed by the Program Committee. The Research Committee concerns itself with research requirements of the program and with facilitating research activities of faculty and students. Finally, the Summer School Committee works to develop summer course offerings, summer session scheduling, and recruitment of summer instructors. It is very important to recognize that UPCD was faculty driven in its inception, and that it is faculty based in its management. Committees review and discuss issues, and develop solutions that are brought to the combined faculty, that has agreed to make decisions on a consensus basis.

Operation: How it works

Outlined below are some of the features of how UPCD works. The points addressed are based on questions we have been frequently asked.

  1. Students apply to, are accepted by, matriculate through, and graduate from their respective universities.
  2. Based on academic tradition, students receive either a Master of Arts in Speech and Hearing Sciences from Washington State University or a Master of Science in Communication Disorders from Eastern Washington University.
  3. The academic requirements are the same for all students. There are some administrative differences (i.e., paper work, time lines, etc.) between WSU and EWU enrolled students.
  4. The program is truly cooperative in that faculty from both universities teach students from both universities. Faculty from one university have adjunct faculty status at the other. Consideration is given in teaching assignments for areas of specialization and balance between universities.
  5. Since WSU is a semester university, and EWU is a quarter university, the UPCD calendar is an amalgamation of the two. In essence, we develop our own academic calendar, and receive dispensation from our respective universities on selected deadlines. The schedule is not perfect, but it works.
  6. By agreement, EWU serves as the fiscal agent for the funds generated by the campus clinic. The clinic director acts at the discretion of the faculty in the use of those funds.

We thought it might be useful to talk in a more subjective manner about what we perceive to be some positive and negative aspects of developing and managing a cooperative program.

One of the decided strengths of a combined program is the obvious increase in the size of the faculty and the concomitant increase in breadth of areas of expertise. When broad academic or research interests are duplicated, there are simply more faculty to share instructional duties and to direct student research projects. Even narrowly focused interests have a better chance of flourishing with a larger, more academically diverse faculty. With a greater number of people generating ideas, evaluating old courses and developing new ones, the curriculum, at least potentially, is strengthened.

Further, faculty are not in competition for tenure and promotion slots or for merit pay with their close colleagues from another institution; thus they find the cooperation satisfying and stimulating. A commonly expressed sentiment is that participating together makes us all better.

Differing institutional missions have served as a program strength. Washington State University is one of two research universities in our state. Eastern Washington University is defined as a "regional comprehensive university", whose primary mission is teaching and service. While all faculty obviously make contributions in the areas of teaching, research and service, they nevertheless bring to the program the emphases of their respective institutions, and the students benefit.

Attempting to meld two different programs into a single enterprise has the potential for creating problems, and it is not surprising that some arose. All differences, of course, do not translate into problems. Washington State University is on a semester system; Eastern Washington University is on a quarter system. UPCD’s schedule is a hybrid; faculty and students adapt to it, registrar’s offices tolerate it and administrators ignore it. One of the programs uses a letter grading system; the other a numerical system. Final grade rosters from each institution arrive at different times and, after 10 years, faculty still make errors in completing them and continue to be tardy in submitting them (neither of which probably differentiates our program from any single program in the country). Our universities have different admissions criteria, different candidacy policies and different terminal requirements for the master’s degree. These small differences are easily accommodated by the cooperative program, and faculty view them as little more than minor inconveniences.

It is sometimes difficult, however, for faculty to disregard who prints their paychecks, and there is a tendency for institutional loyalty to predominate when it comes to discussions of more substantive program issues. Indeed, differing institutional policies on how faculty work loads are established has led to differing points of view regarding teaching or supervisory assignments. Differing university philosophies on how funds are allocated or expended form the bases for focused discussions about whose money should be spent and how much. Probably the single most contentious issue in our cooperative program revolves around the use of institutional versus jointly held funds in hiring part-time clinical supervisors or other support personnel.

Occasionally, there are people---faculty or administrators---who lend little active support to the program and probably would be unconcerned about its demise. Most institutions of higher education are committed to promoting themselves as leaders in the community, state, or nation. So while talking about or engaging in cooperative programs, they covet the role of being the lead institution. Institutional ethnocentrism runs deep, and sometimes counter to the best interests of the discipline. The majority of faculty, however, recognize the responsibility of cultivating the aspects of the partnership that need attention and directing their efforts toward its growth.

Finally, some homely advice. Simply placing two programs together with the

expectation that they will cooperate is not realistic. As is the case with any relationship, it takes commitment and energy to make it work. Departmental culture and mentality must change and this is not a situation in which loners and mavericks will be comfortable. Teamwork is an essential constituant. Directive, authoritarian people do not do well in this culture; they can no longer "run their own show." Things will not always be equal. If differences cannot be neutralized, they must be accommodated. Cooperation involves negotiation; sometimes it means compromise.

At its best, our cooperative program works exceedingly well. There is a synergy that is unlikely to be found in a single program. We believe that we are simply better as a partnership than we were as single units. We took a risk, stuck out our necks, and it has paid off. We explored a new world and encountered only an occasional minor setback.


Spahr, F.T. (1995). The impact of external forces on educational reforms in higher education. Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Graduate Education. Minneapolis, MN: Council of Graduate Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders.