Since Alma College’s founding in 1886, it has only offered undergraduate programs. However recently, the school has considered adding a select offering of graduate degrees.
A MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing is one of the programs and it is the farthest along in the process of being added.
“It [The MFA Program] is for people who are serious about writing; who are interested in doing works that are significant in length,” said Michael Selmon, Alma College English Professor and Department Chair.
“Typically, the requirements for any MFA in creative writing is by the end of your program, you have the equivalent of a publishable book of poetry, novel or whichever genre your working with in creative nonfiction,” said Selmon.
The goal of adding graduate programs has evolved over a three-year period of planning. The college issued a Call for Proposals for graduate program ideas, which led to roughly 96 being submitted.
These proposals were then vetted by the Educational Policy Committee and a Budget Review Committee from the year prior, which consisted of executive staff.
“I think if we do this well and we select programs thoughtfully, carefully and strategically this can actually be enriching for the undergraduate students,” said Kathleen Dougherty, Alma College Provost and Senior Vice President.
These groups took the proposals down to sixteen and then another group was formed to decide on programs to implement from there.
“The Strategic Allocation Task Force reviewed those and said, ‘Which one of these does it make since for us to add’? The group finally recommended four proposals… But of those programs the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing seemed to be one of the best opportunities to start with,” said Selmon.
At this time, the college does not know what other graduate programs they will pursue adding. The MFA in Creative Writing will be the first of more to come.
“Our goal is to develop a few select graduate programs. How many overall down the road, I don’t think we know for sure. But a few select graduate programs that will complement and hopefully enhance the undergraduate experience. We want these programs to be consistent with our mission, our institutional vision and our institutional identity. I think in Liberal Arts Colleges like Alma; a few graduate programs can really enhance the overarching curricular offerings of the institution while allowing the undergraduate experience to still be the hallmark of what we do,” said Dougherty.
The job search for a MFA in Creative Writing Director has already begun and a preliminary curriculum has been made. The process for accreditation is the only barrier keeping the college from starting the creative writing graduate program.
“Because this is a Master’s Program and because Alma has not offered Master’s programs in the past, we have to get approval from both the state and especially the Higher Learning Commission, which is our accrediting agency,” said Selmon.
The process can take anywhere between nine and twelve months to complete. A site visit is included by the Higher Learning Commission to get approval and that alone can take up to six months to happen.
“The most realistic time for a program start would not be this summer but summer of 2021.” said Dr. Selmon.
This program will be a “low residence MFA program,” meaning students will meet once in the summer and winter each year for 10 days at a time.
These days will be very intensive with readings and writing, approximately 12 hour days, according to Selmon. The other duration of this curriculum will be spent off-location working with writers electronically to complete more intensive course work until the next meeting period.
“The audience for Low Residency MFA Programs is typically an older group. Often professional people who have jobs and have wanted to write with a particular project in mind… many people are in their forties and sometimes people are in sixties and seventies who enter these programs,” said Selmon.
Though the location of the meeting periods is undetermined, the college is considering more of an inspirational writing setting with more of a “retreat feel” as opposed to on campus, according to Selmon. The reason for a possible off-campus meeting location is because of the intentions that graduate students have with their writing when entering into these programs, their older age is also a factor and the fact that the college doesn’t have the facilities for these students during the winter when undergraduate students are on campus plays a major role in the decision.
The college will also be hiring new faculty to teach the program’s courses because of the requirements it takes to do so.
“We want the program to meet the handbook for the criteria set by the AWP, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and what they say is, to teach in a MFA program you should have a book published by reputable press in that particular area… typically the people who teach in the MFA in Creative Writing Low Residency programs are professional writers and so they work with a small number of students; they are also doing their own writing. They have their job and commitment but it enables them to be part of a community where they too benefit,” said Selmon.
Kathleen Dougherty, believes implementing graduate programs will allow the college to expand its reach in terms of populations, provide good service to the region and expand the overall impact the institution gives. This is all in hopes of bringing more recognition to Alma College.
Despite many rumors, Alma College will keep its name and not become Alma University as a result of this transition.