Our Rich History: Growth of TAP and master’s in business administration degree at Thomas More

By Tom Ward
Thomas More University

Part 33 of Our Series: “Retrospect and Vista II: Thomas More College/University. 1971-2021”

Thomas More College and the Institute for Professional Development (IPD) had intended all along that the Thomas More Accelerated Program (TAP) would eventually include a master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA). See part one of TAP at NKyTribune here. It was hoped that the demand would be forthcoming from graduate students who completed the Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree (BBA) at TMC or another institution. To meet the anticipated demand, the MBA would be introduced two years after the initiation of TAP (that had begun in the fall of 1993) so that it would coincide with the graduation of the first BBA students.

Dr. Dale Meyers (TMU Archives)

The format for the MBA would be very similar to that of the BBA, and the process of its implementation in TAP followed nearly identical steps. The Department of Business Administration presented a Proposal for a Master of Business Administration to the Academic Affairs Committee in September 1994. It noted that of the other three regional institutions that offered an MBA (Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University, and the University of Cincinnati), only Xavier had a program that had the “level of service provided, convenience, and scheduling” that TMC intended to offer in its program that would be designed for working adult students in the Greater Cincinnati area (Initial Proposal for MBA Program at TMC, Sept. 1994, page 1, TMU Archives). 
The desire for such an MBA program among students who had entered the TAP program for a BBA was evident. Responses to an Educational Testing Service questionnaire showed that 35.4% of participants in the first nine TAP cohorts wanted to continue toward the MBA, and 4.7% toward a PhD or DJ, with another 13.4% undecided (Initial Proposal for MBA Program at TMC, Sept. 1994, page 2, TMU Archives).

Admissions requirements to the MBA Program included a Baccalaureate Degree and “significant career experience,” which, presumably, were attainable for anyone to meet who had earned a BBA at Thomas More. There were certain prerequisites that were required, though deficiencies in these could be removed by coursework at TMC (Initial Proposal for MBA Program at TMC, Sept. 1994, page 3, TMU Archives).

Fr. William F. Cleves, TMC President. (TMU Archives)

The Academic Affairs Committee appointed a task force to study the MBA proposal. This task force consisted of Professors Thomas Gilday (Accounting), Mary Ellen Kelley (Nursing), Sr. Rita Marie Mueller, SND (Chemistry and Director of Institutional Research/Effectiveness), and Elizabeth Penn (Education). Professor Donald Ostasiewski, Chair of the Business Department, and Dr. Dale Myers, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, would attend meetings as non-voting resource persons (MBA Task Force minutes, Oct. 10, 1994, TMU Archives). 

Over the course of several meetings in the fall of 1994, the task force determined that the proposed MBA program adhered to the guidelines of the college’s “Procedures for Program Approval,” which meant that it was consistent with the mission and planning statements of TMC. At the same time, though, they had concerns about the small number of full-time faculty with terminal degrees; this matter needed attention because the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that accredited TMC wanted all faculty teaching at the master’s level to hold a terminal degree (Recommendation #4 in Report of Substantive Change Committee following Sept. 1996 Visit to TMC, page 10, TMU Archives). Professor Ostasiewski anticipated this objection and had earlier proposed that the large number of adjunct professors be monitored by a full-time professor, for whom he suggested the title “Content Coordinator” (Ostasiewski memo to Hebert and Myers, March 22, 1996, TMU Archives). 

Another concern was regarding assessment procedures for faculty evaluations and student outcomes (Task Force meeting minutes, Nov. 9, 1994, TMU Archives). The latter issue was addressed by explicitly denoting procedures in the final proposal written in November. Task Force member Mary Ellen Kelley praised the revisionary work that was done – “The specificity apparent in your revisions has provided much more credibility in terms of outcome” (Kelley memo to Task Force members, Nov. 14, 1994, TMU Archives). 

With the revisions and additions complete, the Academic Affairs Committee voted to approve the program on December 5, and the Faculty General Assembly approved it on December 15, 1994 (TMC Request to SACS for Substantive Change to Candidacy as a Level III Institution, May 1, 1995, page 6, TMU Archives).

Professor Donald Ostasiewski (TMU Archives)

It was important to establish a first-rate MBA program because it would offer TMC’s first graduate degree – its success would create a stable foundation for future graduate programs. The MBA would be directed by Dr. Myers, who had already been very efficient in directing TAP and the BBA. There were differences, however, between TMC and IPD that needed to be resolved, especially over differing interpretations of “the award of financial aid based on the concept of ‘scheduled breaks.’ ” As Dr. Myers explained it in a draft memo, these “breaks” were times during which “prerequisite courses are built into the MBA program and students who already have taken the course are not involved in classes” (Myers memo, Aug. 24, 1995, TMU Archives).  

IPD took what Dr. Myers called the “liberal approach,” while TMC took a more conservative view – that is, IPD thought that financial aid should continue to be paid to those students not taking a prerequisite course, and the college held that they should not be paid during a break; the college’s Financial Aid Office followed the conservative view. Dr. Myers’ rationale for accepting this view was that “since it is the College and not IPD that is in jeopardy should aid be awarded incorrectly, I will follow the recommendations of the TMC Financial Aid Office in these matters” (Myers memo, Aug. 24, 1995, TMU Archives). A compromise was reached that allowed students who already had credits for the prerequisite courses to take parts of the MBA courses they would later need, which would be made available during the break periods. By this arrangement, those students would still be entitled to at least some financial aid during the scheduled breaks. Other issues were resolved internally, including matters of faculty load, an adjunct pay scale, and possible tuition remission for faculty, staff, and their families when space was available in a cohort (Hebert Memo to Myers and Ostasiewski, Dec. 6, 1995, TMU Archives).

Dr. Raymond Hebert, Academic Dean. (TMU Archives)

Once the MBA proposal was approved at the college, it remained to gain approval from SACS for a substantive change, as had been done for the BBA. A request, dated May 1, 1995, for a change to “Candidacy as a Level III institution for the purpose of offering a Masters of Business Administration” was submitted to SACS’ Commission on Colleges. The request stressed that the MBA would be the initial graduate program offered, but TMC intended “to expand program offerings as student demand demonstrates the need” (TMC Request for Substantive Change to Candidacy as a Level III Institution, May 1, 1995, page 8, TMU Archives). Candidacy was granted in June 1995, retroactive to January 1 (James Rogers, executive director of SACS, letter to President Cleves, July 11, 1995, TMU Archives). In reporting on this development, the Kentucky Post noted that it was the only accelerated MBA program in the area (Kentucky Post, July 27, 1995, by Debra Ann Vance).

The first MBA course was held on January 29, 1996; although the first class began in January at the beginning of a semester, the program was designed for new classes or cohorts to begin anytime that 15 to 20 students were enrolled. The initial cohorts would remain together throughout the program and would participate in study groups that were an essential part of the courses. The program was initiated on what was dubbed an “experimental basis” (Undated copy of Recorder article, ca. July 1997, by Jennifer Mills, TMU Archives). It thus began even prior to SACS’ accreditation of the substantive change to offer it, though this was according to SACS’ procedures.

Once the MBA program was underway, a team from SACS would visit “during the term that students are first enrolled” in the program to evaluate it in terms of its accordance with SACS’ criteria for accreditation (G. Jack Allen, SACS liaison, letter to Hebert, Oct. 24, 1995, TMU Archives). This was because, as Dr. Myers was quoted, SACS wanted colleges “to start experimenting with the classes that would be offered under the master’s program so they have an opportunity to talk to students and see how they like it” (Undated copy of Recorder article, ca. July 1997, by Jennifer Mills, TMU Archives). 

A team of three PhD’s from three southern regional universities visited the Thomas More campus September 22-24, 1996. Their overall appraisal of the MBA was positive, though they made five recommendations, including clarification of course assessments and admission requirements; the fourth would have come as no surprise to those involved in forming the program – Recommendation #4: “The Committee recommends that the College restrict the teaching of master’s level courses to those individuals who have earned doctorates in their teaching disciplines” (Report of SACS Substantive Change Committee, page 10, TMU Archives). 

After receiving the SACS Committee report, sent to President Cleves on November 14, 1996, TMC made its response in February 1997 to show how it was attempting to satisfy the recommendations. The response document answered Recommendation #4 by pointing out that there was currently only one professor teaching who had not yet attained a doctorate (TMC’s Response to Substantive Change Review, Feb. 24, 1997, page 9, TMU Archives). To satisfy any remaining concerns, a Faculty Content Coordinator (as Don Ostasiewski had proposed the year before) was being appointed to supervise both part-time and full-time faculty, as well as to assist in the process of assessment (TMC’s Response to Substantive Change Review, Feb. 24, 1997, page 3, in response to Recommendation #1, TMU Archives). After discussing the TMC program at its official meeting in June 1997, SACS granted it accreditation at Level III – as the “On TAP” newsletter announced it, “It’s Official… The MBA is accredited”! (“On Tap”, July 1997, page 5, TMU Archives).

Dr. Angela Crawford, Vice President for Digital, Graduate and Professional Programs. (TMU Archives)

In July, SACS requested that TMC submit a progress report regarding its compliance with the recommendations, though it did not say that accreditation was contingent on completion of the progress report (James Rogers of SACS letter to Cleves, July 7, 1997, TMU Archives). These reports seemed to be routine, however, since SACS also requested them for the ongoing BBA program and would request future ones for the MBA.

As the program was getting off the ground, Dr. Myers’ title was changed from Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of TAP to Vice President for Graduate Studies and Continuing Education (Report of SACS Substantive Change Committee, page 15, TMU Archives). The TAP programs he was leading could claim to be successful: both the BBA and the MBA programs reported an 87% retention rate (Annual TAP Progress Report, 1996-1997, page 1, TMU Archives), with 716 students having entered them by the fifth anniversary year of 1998 (TAP Annual Report, 1997-1998, page 2, TMU Archives). Furthermore, TAP showed a net revenue gain for every year except its first, 1993-1994 (TAP Annual Report, 1997-1998, Budget Summary, TMU Archives). There were plenty of reasons for congratulations all around when the first MBA degrees were awarded to thirty-six graduates at the May 16, 1998 College Commencement – they were the first ever to receive a master’s degree from Thomas More College (Moreover, Summer 1998, page 2, TMU Archives).
While TMC was busy establishing the MBA program, issues that demanded attention arose with the earlier BBA program. The original requirement of sixty credit hours was proving to be too stringent – TAP’s BBA program had a 60% denial rate, which “compares unfavorably with other IPD partner programs” (TAP Student Services Review by IPD, April 1999, page 6, TMU Archives). These “strict admissions requirements” had led to the undesirable effect that some applicants had to wait over a year to enter the BBA program, while applicants to programs at other schools had a delay of only half the time (Partnership for Success” by IPD, Sept. 1999, page 8, TMU Archives). Because many promising applicants did not have nearly enough credit hours, TMC began to investigate adopting an early admission, zero-credit entry policy.

This situation led to the introduction of the Gateway Program (this was an internal TMC program as part of TAP. It did not involve Gateway Community College, with which TMC would make an articulation agreement in 2005). It was intended as a “series of courses designed to help the students build hours for TAP admittance” (Annual TAP Progress Report, 1997-1998, page 3, TMU Archives). Entry into the BBA would still demand sixty hours, but there would be two phases or tiers for students, depending on the number of credits they already had: those who needed to attain up to the first thirty hours could get them through TMC’s existing Evening College, while the next component, specifically called “Gateway,” would allow students to achieve the final thirty hours through the Division of Continuing Education prior to admittance to the BBA (Myers and Hebert memo to Faculty, October 20, 1997, TMU Archives). Most of these courses would fulfill the requirements for the core curriculum. The first Gateway classes began in August 1998 (TAP Student Services Review by IPD, April 1999, page 5, TMU Archives).

In 1999, TAP opened a program in Blue Ash, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, for which they attained licensure from the Ohio Board of Regents, and later approval from SACS. Expansion into Ohio made sense because a high percentage of TAP students were from the Buckeye State. Blue Ash was chosen because it “provides greater access to some of the more populous and upscale residential areas” and was a “major hub of corporate activity in Cincinnati.” Classroom space in Blue Ash would be provided by Mercy Regional Healthcare System (Partnership for Success” by IPD, Sept. 1999, page 3 and 4, TMU Archives). TAP in Blue Ash also cooperated with nearby Raymond Walters College and Cincinnati State Technical College.

Need for more space was becoming obvious at the original TAP locations at Chancellor Commons and on Centerview Boulevard near campus. TMC conducted a feasibility study in 2000 regarding moving the program to the main campus. IPD rented these facilities from lessors in the Thomas More Centre, which TMC in turn rented from it. If TAP moved, TMC would have to compensate IPD for the vacated space; besides this cost, the college would have to find and renovate spaces for classrooms and offices on campus (Report on Feasibility of Moving TAP to Main Campus, 2000, pages 4-7, TMU Archives). This made moving a daunting task, but it was accomplished by 2004 after the then-current IPD contract expired.

By the end of the twentieth century, TAP was a strong and successful program, dependent upon a “positive and constructive” relationship between TAP and IPD. Staff from IPD worked effectively with Dr. Myers and Thomas More’s TAP personnel. These IPD staff included Homer Corn as contract manager and Vicki Culberth as marketing manager, who had offices on the campus (TAP Student Services Review by IPD, April 1999, page 8, TMU Archives).

It was also crucial, however, for TAP to keep up with changing technology and new trends in education that marked the twenty-first century. The rapid growth in online courses in higher education demanded that TAP – indeed, the entire college – had to adapt if it were to remain competitive. TAP personnel responded vigorously to the challenge.

A number of new accelerated undergraduate and graduate programs were introduced in digital format, including an Associate of Arts in Management, a BA in Individualized Studies, a BA in Ethical Leadership, a BA in Psychology, and RN and BS programs in Nursing. Master’s programs were also developed for Ethical Leadership and Nursing. Of the programs already functioning, the MBA went online in 2014 and the BBA in 2017 (Notes by Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022).

Another change came when IPD was purchased by Helix in 2015, which then served as Online Program Manager (OPM) for TAP. The expansion of online programs diminished the need for the program in Blue Ash, which Thomas More closed in spring 2019 (Conversation with Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022).

The most dramatic development occurred when the college officially became Thomas More University on October 1, 2018. (This change will be detailed in a future part of this series). This occasioned structural changes, which included instituting three colleges with their own deans. In June 2018, Dr. Angela Crawford, a member of the Business Faculty since 2016, was appointed as the first Dean of the College of Business. She became Vice President of Digital, Graduate and Professional Programs in June 2020 when TMU’s new President, Dr. Joseph Chillo, decided to eliminate the relationship with the OPM Helix and bring the enrollment and marketing all in-house (Notes by Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022).

With the change to university status, an outside firm conducted market research to adopt new branding for the university. They found that, in the minds of many, “TAP as a brand was only associated with business programs” and students in other programs did not identify themselves as TAP students. It was decided, therefore, to eliminate the TAP name and simply brand the degree programs under Thomas More University. This would signal that TMU was “offering a wide variety of degree programs for working adults…” (Notes by Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022).

Along with this change in branding, a sub-brand was created to “differentiate our non-credit professional programs” from those for credit; it was called “Thomas More – Be More”. This met a perceived need because many employers favored non-credit credentialed employees, and TMU responded with “69 online self-paced courses with badges and six micro-credentials in high demand areas,” including Career acceleration, Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, Human Resources, Management and Leadership, and Logistics and Operations (Notes by Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022).

Although these new online developments brought about changes that could hardly have been anticipated in the early 1990s, they were not a real break with the past. As Dr. Crawford expressed it, “This shift to the credential market further demonstrates that we are building upon the innovative spirit of those who first created the TAP program and living out our mission in a way that helps each person become the best version of themselves that they can be” (Notes by Dr. Angela Crawford, Feb. 17, 2022)

Tom Ward is the Archivist of Thomas More University. He holds an MA in History from Xavier University, Cincinnati. He can be contacted at wardt@thomasmore.edu.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.