by Shelby Harding
Whitworth Graduate and Continuing Studies School announced last week that the position of dean of Continuing Studies, formerly held by Terry Ratcliff, will be eliminated. Cheryl Vawter, former director of Continuing Studies and long-time member of the Whitworth Continuing Studies department will integrate Ratcliff’s responsibilities into her new position as vice president of Continuing Studies, as part of the academic restructuring that President Beck Taylor announced in February.
Ratcliff contributed a lot to the programs, but a transition was something he wanted to do, Vawter said.
“I am very thankful for the support of the Whitworth community which enabled us to make significant improvements in the program,” Ratcliff said. “I know Cheryl will continue to work with the campus community in the delivery of a quality education to adult learners in Spokane.”
Ratcliff declined to comment on his pursuits after leaving Whitworth.
The efforts of the past years to improve the graduate and Continuing Studies programs have contributed to the ability of the department to make the move to minimize the leadership roles, Vawter said.
Vawter was the director of Continuing Studies for 12 years before Ratcliff was added to the program as dean.
“All that I did then, I would be doing now,” Vawter said.
The restructuring allows the university to streamline the system and make it more efficient, said Caroline Simon, provost and executive vice president. This is part of the academic restructuring that Taylor announced in February as a part of the budget cuts brought about from the budget deficit last fall.
“I think it does lend itself to efficiencies,” Vawter said. “It allows us to be flexible and nimble in meeting those needs that our students have for those studies. I think it will be a good change all around.”
The departure of Ratcliff allowed for a greater focus on efficiency of student tuition dollars within the program, Simon said.
“We have been examining a variety of ways to be good stewards of the student tuition dollars and finding efficiencies suggested by the task force,” Simon said.
Simon said the restructuring will save money from the department, but she declined to disclose the exact dollar amount of those savings.
Ratcliff’s departure was the result of both his desire to pursue other opportunities and the restructuring of leadership in the Continuing Studies program, Simon said.
“We are grateful for what he contributed to continuing studies during his time here,” Simon said.
Ratcliff was the dean of Continuing Studies before the position was renamed Associate Vice President for Graduate Admissions and Continuing Studies after his departure. Ratcliff worked alongside Vawter since 2008, helping create a system for recruiting new students for Continuing Studies that was simpler and more efficient, Vawter said. Vawter then focused on marketing, enrollment and recruiting while Ratcliff worked on the academic programs.
The need for two separate positions has declined, Simon said.
“The work that [Vawter] has been doing recently has always dovetailed with what Continuing Studies has been doing,” Simon said.
Vawter will be overseeing all aspects of admissions and the academic program for Continuing Studies, as well as maintaining leadership of the graduate program admissions and marketing, Simon said.
Vawter’s experience and passion for adult learning is what has kept her in the program and at Whitworth for so long, said Vawter, who was an adult learner as well.
“I understand the power of getting an education as an adult student; it’s an incredible gift,” Vawter said. “It’s a real exciting thing for me — it’s my passion.”
The department will continue to make improvements and efficiencies as well as increasing student enrollment, Vawter said. The aim is to make the graduate and continuing studies programs at Whitworth the largest of its kind in Spokane.
“I’d really like to take it a little further,” Vawter said. “There’s always new challenges and new things that you have to do. Change isn’t new to us. We’re always flexing, moving and transitioning. We’re just looking to make it better.”