Adapting Programs to Better Serve Students
UW Continuum College provides innovative paths to learning that boost people's career success. To help reduce barriers to education and empower professional growth for more students, UW Continuum College regularly adapts the structural aspects of programs to ensure they’re meeting the needs of all students. One way Continuum College is revamping programs is by making several changes to the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies program so working professionals can fit learning into their already busy lives.
We've received a lot of good feedback about the online format, and we realize we’re able to extend our reach beyond the Lake Washington shores.— Kurt Sahl, Program Manager, Continuum College
Established in 1985, the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies is the oldest certificate program in UW Continuum College’s Professional & Continuing Education portfolio. Yet, despite a 36-year history as an important preparer of paralegals in the region, the program has not been without its struggles.
In 2017, American Bar Association (ABA) announced a novel Washington State certification program, the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT). This new program made the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies well-positioned to attract prospective students because it was the only paralegal studies program with a pipeline to the family law course taught by UW Law School and required by the LLLT.
However, when aligning the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies to the new LLLT program, UW Continuum College had to eliminate their successful asynchronous online cohort since the ABA didn’t recognize the legitimacy of online education. Instead of one online and one classroom cohort per year, the program adopted two overlapping classroom cohorts (fall and spring quarters) per year. Then in early 2021 the LLLT program was canceled, negating the reason for the restructuring.
In addition, the demand for social change that took place during the pandemic necessitated the adoption of a more inclusive approach to instructor hiring and student acceptance. Because the pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs, the program’s cost hit its unemployed students even harder. It quickly became clear that the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies needed to adapt again.
HOW THE TEAM SOLVED
In 2020, the pandemic forced the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies to switch to remote learning. However, without the need to accommodate the LLLT certification, the change to a real-time online format ended up being a boon for the program. With the two overlapping cohorts, the real-time online format offered greater access, improving the program’s viability and attractiveness.
“We’ve decided to make the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies exclusively an online program,” says Kurt Sahl, the certificate’s program manager at UW Continuum College. “We've received a lot of good feedback about the online format, and we realize we’re able to extend our reach beyond the Lake Washington shores.”
This past year also brought changes to the instructional team teaching the certificate. To reflect the students in the classroom, and as openings are available, Sahl is actively filling instructor roles with legal professionals who reflect the diversity of the students.
“It's amazing people from all these varied walks of life who want participate in the program, work with our students and provide them access to tools and skills that will enhance their productivity,” Sahl says. “That's been very reassuring and validating that our program can continue to serve a lot of different needs.”
Besides improving the certificate format, Sahl started working with Jo Gubas on the UW Continuum College community and corporate relations team to see if the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies could become eligible for scholarship support to expand access to students in need.
“At the end of last year, Jo asked if there were potential sources of scholarship funding from UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies advisory board members,” explains Sahl. “I passed her the name of the director of paralegal services at Perkins Coie and by the spring, we found out they’d fund the cost of one full scholarship.”
A lot of people look at the University of Washington as an educational leader, and so they gravitate to the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies. And now that the program is online, access has increased.— Kurt Sahl, Program Manager, Continuum College
Since transitioning to being online only, the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies has provided educational opportunities for students who wouldn’t have been able to attend classes on campus. Enrollments have come pouring in from Snohomish County, Whatcom County, Skagit County, Pierce County, Thurston County and Lewis County. There has also been a smattering of students from outside the state.
“A lot of people look at the University of Washington as an educational leader, and so they gravitate to the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies,” notes Sahl. “And now that the program is online, access has increased.”
Additionally, when Perkins Coie announced their funding support of the UW Certificate Scholarship this spring, the reach of the scholarship program expanded to the UW Certificate in Paralegal Studies. They funded 100% of the program costs for one student, including required textbooks. Several partial scholarships that covered 50% of program costs were also awarded to paralegal students from the UW Certificate Scholarship fund, providing these future law professionals with the tools they need to thrive.
Sahl hopes the gift from Perkins Coie inspires other legal firms in town to contribute to the UW Certificate Scholarship. “There were 11 scholarship applicants, which showed there’s a huge need for even more scholarships,” Sahl says. “Even if other firms only contribute the funds to cover a partial scholarship, perhaps we can combine that money to create another full-ride scholarship.”