feature stories

Building on the Baccalaureate

by Carla Maldonado

Dr. Kevin Vichcales

"There is excitement here. People want to work here and they want to go to school here. We are a destination."

Dr. Kevin Vichcales
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and Research
University of the Incarnate Word

Not long ago, an undergraduate degree was like a golden ring. It represented greater opportunity and a bigger paycheck. But now because of increased competition and technology, undergraduate degrees are making way for graduate degrees. They're becoming the new baccalaureate.

This trend is nothing new for Dr. Kevin Vichcales, who took the reins as dean of UIW's School of Graduate Studies and Research in July 2006. Before his move to San Antonio, he spent more than a decade at the Graduate College at Western Michigan University helping to develop graduate programs and the accompanying operational support systems.

“Graduate education continues to increase in importance as the engine of economic, social and intellectual advancement, especially as we confront the challenges of our 21st century global society,” Vichcales said. “More baccalaureate students are going on for graduate degrees, more employers are requiring advanced training of employees, and more disciplines are becoming so specialized that additional study is essential.”

Take today's pharmaceutical and healthcare industries for example. Their increasing complexities have driven the training qualifications for pharmacists from the
baccalaureate to the professional doctoral degree level. The story isn't much different in the business sector.

“While a graduate degree is not a prerequisite to practice business, today's managers need advanced training in management techniques to operate efficiently in the global marketplace. And that is something graduate education offers,” Vichcales said. “Regardless of the field, graduate education helps prepare students to excel in their professions by providing requisite technical and creative thinking skills in an applied setting.”

That type of learning, which is several levels above standard undergraduate curricula, is the difference between an undergraduate and a graduate degree. 

“The learning at the graduate level is exponentially more difficult. And while it is theoretical, it is also practical. We are concerned with how to break things down and actually make them happen in real-world situations.”

But a graduate degree isn't only about money, technical knowledge or career advancement. Graduate education is the source of tomorrow's intellectual leaders.

“As a university, we pride ourselves on helping to produce change. For example, look at some of our graduates who work at Fortune 500 companies. They are now at the senior leadership level where they are in a position to really lead their industries and serve as the drivers of change.

“But there also are our graduates out in the community who are each taking incremental steps, expanding and building upon the knowledge that is already out there. As a group, they also will have a cumulative effect on change,” Vichcales explained.

Unfortunately, Vichcales said, South Texas and Texas as a whole lag behind the nation when it comes to educational attainment at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral level, especially in relation to the state's growth in population and economic development. This means that although there are many institutions that offer those degree programs, the number of students completing the programs and receiving degrees is not on par with the rest of the country.

It's a gap that has not gone unnoticed. UIW has aggressively been developing and fine-tuning graduate programs for the community's needs.

 “We hope to not only attract and serve more students, but to do so by offering a product that is different and unique, something students cannot get elsewhere,” Vichcales said.

 “It's also important that graduate schools be more flexible and accessible to accommodate more part-time students, more working adults, more women and students from historically underrepresented groups, and more individuals who do not fit the traditional model of a full-time residential student.”

With this in mind, UIW has developed several programs to serve the needs of this growing population. One of the newest is the Accelerated Bachelor's/Master's (ABM) degree program. This program provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to complete the requirements for both the bachelor's and master's degree in as little as five years. By linking the curricula and eliminating any duplication of course content, both programs can be completed in less time and at less expense for the student. There are three ABM programs in place: a Master of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in bilingual communication and a Master of Arts in media studies. Ten more ABMs are in the planning stages.

Other new graduate level programs include the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) offered by the Feik School of Pharmacy, now in its second year of operation. Other schools within the university are either developing new programs, such as the Master of Arts program in community psychology, or adding new concentrations to existing programs, particularly in business. There are also plans for a new school of optometry.

Then there is the School of Extended Studies, which features the Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCaP) enabling students to earn undergraduate degrees from UIW by attending satellite locations. Although this program has focused on undergraduate degrees, the H-E-B School of Business and Administration recently partnered with ADCaP to extend its MBA program in an executive format to UIW's Northwest Vista location in the Medical Center.

Through innovation and options, UIW is making it much easier for students to reach the next educational level. As Vichcales said, UIW meets the real measure of the health and vitality of an institution: it's a place people want to go.

 “There is excitement here.  People want to work here and they want to go to school here. We are a destination.”

For more information on the School of Graduate Studies and Research, visit