Ferrum College has leveled up.

Starting in fall 2020, the small private college will begin offering its first graduate degree programs, a master of science in psychology and a specialist in education degree, or EdS, in teacher leadership and coaching. The EdS program is meant for students who already have a master’s degree in education. The courses will be offered exclusively online.

“What I love about it is, since its founding in 1913, we have always progressed and evolved at the pace of our community,” said Wilson Paine, Ferrum’s vice president for institutional advancement. “In today’s age these are two perfect examples of programs in which there’s a market need, especially within the community, so we feel as though it’s the next natural response.”

The college has appointed a 2004 Ferrum graduate, Sandra Via, as director of the School of Graduate and Online Studies. Via has previously worked for the college as an associate professor of political science and program coordinator of international studies.

Ferrum has been looking into adding graduate degrees since David Johns became the college’s president in early 2018. He has called offering master’s degrees the next step in Ferrum’s evolution. Starting as a training school, Ferrum expanded into a two-year college, then a four-year college.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the school’s accreditor, denied Ferrum’s initial application this summer. Based on feedback from the association, Ferrum revised its application and tried again. This time the application succeeded. Ferrum has gone from being a Level II institution, meaning the highest degree it could offer was a bachelor’s degree, to a Level IV institution.

“This is an important and historic moment for Ferrum College,” Johns said in a statement released last week. “In the coming weeks and months, the faculty will be creating additional programs to meet the needs within our community.”

The Dec. 19 announcement comes just a month after the school announced a new policy called the “Ferrum Promise.” Starting in fall 2020, Ferrum guarantees that students with associate degrees from Virginia’s 26 community colleges who enroll full time at the college will be able to earn their bachelor’s degree within two years, or else Ferrum will offer the remaining required courses for free.

Private colleges, heavily dependent on student tuition, have been facing problems with declining student enrollment, and Ferrum has been no exception.

Johns has said that staying competitive and boosting enrollment requires coming up with creative solutions.

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