Public higher education is essential to the well-being of our democracy, and it is in crisis. Current and future generations of students are becoming more diverse and less affluent while the price of higher education and student financial aid debt are increasing dramatically. Over the next six years, we need to provide better educational quality at a lower per-capita student degree cost that is collaboratively aligned with the needs of the community and the economy. We are committed to strengthening democracy in and through higher education. By striving to provide life-long access to high-quality and affordable post-secondary educational opportunities, we enable individuals to improve their lives while supporting public life and democracy.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has developed four public policy priorities designed to address this crisis in a way that honors long-standing commitments to the nation’s students and their families. The four broad policy arenas are Affordability, Accessibility, Accountability and Competitiveness. I would like to update you on how we at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh are fulfilling our public purpose of making ourselves more affordable, more accessible, more accountable and more competitive.
Tuition increased 5.5 percent again this year. For the fourth year in a row, students from families with an annual income of $60,000 or lower are exempt from the tuition hike, as are all students at the UW two-year colleges. Paid internships and scholarship awards help us attract and retain our diverse student population, offset tuition costs for students in need and encourage nontraditional students to complete their education.
The Beach Monitoring project, funded by more than $4 million of local, state and federal grants, advances scientific knowledge, engages more than 100 student researchers in high-impact learning, addresses community health concerns and helps protect our tourism economy. The Yahoo! Global Support Desk will provide paid internships this year worth $364,000 for about 30 students. Each student will receive approximately $10,000, while being engaged in part-time, employment-based, and high-impact learning.
We are using another $500,000 from our Strategic Initiative and Rainy-Day fund to continue the Student Titans Employment Program (STEP) for a second year. The STEP program offers students quality, employment-based educational experiences while providing staff and faculty members with needed assistance. We are piloting educational policies in STEP to identify best practices we can apply to all on-campus student jobs wherein we annually distribute $5 million to 1,500 student employees. The realization of employment-based learning outcomes will make our on-campus student employment program nationally distinctive.
Our Capital Campaign has resulted in scholarship commitments of nearly $5 million. We also have secured 125 Noyce Scholarships at $10,000 a piece for STEM student teachers, and our Center for Business Success has provided approximately $2 million of paid internships for roughly 500 students in the past five years.
Photography intern See Xiong, a senior in journalism, is getting a clearer picture of what her future may hold. Working within the Integrated Marketing and Communications office, Xiong, a Student Titan Employment Program (STEP) intern, is learning the intricacies of a professional environment.
Through the New North Educational Attainment Committee, we are working to align K–12 and higher education curricula, standards and assessments to ensure that students are prepared to enter post-secondary education and the workforce with the knowledge and skills to be successful.
In November, UW Oshkosh hosted the state’s first Education Foundations Conference with the Higher Education Aids Board, bringing together representatives of all the state’s public and private sources for financial aid to talk about ways they can collaborate to keep college accessible and affordable.
With a projected final fall enrollment of 13,600 students, we are the state’s third-largest university, and we are Wisconsin’s second-fastest growing university, characterized by six consecutive years of historic enrollment growth, resulting in four consecutive years of record-breaking graduating classes. We have nearly tripled the number of our students of color and increased the number of older adult, undergraduate students by 33 percent. We remain a school-of-choice for transfer students, with more than 1,500 new transfer students enrolling during the academic year.
We also have expanded access to high-demand programs. For example, we have added a collaborative master’s degree in social work with UW–Green Bay; an accelerated bachelor’s degree for non-nursing graduates; Wisconsin’s first Bachelor of Applied Studies and Fire and Emergency Response Management degrees; the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree; new academic majors in athletic training, environmental studies and environmental health; and teacher education programs in accelerated math and science in collaboration with five UW colleges.
This year, we are working with the Board of Regents to promote the “Principles for Progress and Prosperity” compact. The compact is designed to reframe the way state officials and the public think about their public university by eliciting an understanding that tax-payer funding of public higher education is a critical investment for a prosperous democracy.
We have to do things in a fundamentally different way if we want to see a greater share of state tax dollars invested in the mission of our public higher educational institutions in 2011–2013. To meet the needs of the people, the communities and the students we serve over the next six years, we must expand access, increase productivity and provide not only better educational quality, but also better educational quality at lower per-capita degree cost for our students.
With regard to increased productivity, we set new records for the number of degrees conferred in each of the past four years, resulting in a 27-percent increase in the degree growth rate over the past 10 years.
Regarding enhanced quality, UW Oshkosh is taking steps to provide the learning every student needs in the 21st century. In 2008, we adopted a set of student learning outcomes based upon the Essential Learning Outcomes of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. We have developed definitions and performance indicators for each outcome so that students will have a better understanding of what is expected of them. Regardless of a student’s background or choice of major, each one of our graduates should achieve the liberal education outcomes.
As a public university, we prepare students to follow in the footsteps of our nearly 80,000 alumni to become teachers, healthcare and human service professionals, artists, scientists, business leaders and others essential to the region’s workforce, economy and quality of life. We are addressing this policy priority in multiple ways.
We played a part in the Wisconsin Economic Summits this summer. The first summit focused on strategies for increasing economic development and competitiveness. The second focused on managing the state deficit, and the third focused on moving Wisconsin forward.
When we hosted the Board of Regents meeting in October, we dedicated our new Student Success Center and presented our new mission statement, which was developed by members of the UPLAN Council and approved by
all governance groups last spring.
In December, we hosted New North Inc.’s seventh economic summit for approximately 800 business leaders and elected officials. New North Inc. is a regional economic development organization. Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance (NEW ERA), a consortium of the publicly supported institutions of higher education, is a founding member of New North Inc.
We also are extremely proud of the high quality of teaching on our campus. UW Oshkosh has won the most Regents’ Teaching Excellence Awards. Six faculty members and three academic departments have received this prestigious award.
When the state’s budget is in the red, we can control degree costs and increase quality by simplifying degree requirements; continuously assessing degree progress to determine pedagogical effectiveness; eliminating unnecessary sequences, options, emphases and tracks; scheduling more efficiently; and identifying and deleting outdated courses. The school of journalism at Iowa State employed these strategies to streamline its curricula and has achieved a ratio of 16 majors for every active course.
An article titled “Can Learning Be Improved When Budgets Are in the Red?” in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that research by the Teagle Foundation shows that colleges can improve the quality of student learning and engagement, at a time when budgets are stretched, by starting to ask themselves some fundamental questions, including:
Are we asking our students to reach robust, long-lasting learning goals?
Do all students and faculty members understand what those expectations are and why they are important?
Do the requirements of departments and courses reflect those educational goals?
Here at UW Oshkosh, we ask our students to reach broad learning outcomes that will enable them to think for themselves and to work with others to solve problems in innovative ways. Members of our Liberal Education Reform Team (LERT) visited every department and governance group on campus at least twice to ensure that our students and faculty members understand what those student learning expectations are and why they are important.
We are currently investigating the third question: Do the requirements of departments and courses reflect those educational goals? Last year, LERT team members mapped where those outcomes are taught in more than 1,000 courses. They also surveyed faculty opinion on the level of achievement that should be expected of UW Oshkosh students at both graduation and upon completion of the general education program. We are very earnest in our efforts to improve the quality of the educational experience at UW Oshkosh. We also are taking steps to reduce the cost of a degree.
There are at least two sides of the coin called “controlling the price of a college degree.” One side is external subsidy of the cost through state, federal and private funding. The other side is internal cost controls. These include reducing time to degree, curricular glut, requirement maze and providing more cost-efficient services. Admittedly, we cannot continue to do more with less indefinitely. There are some “enabling conditions” that must be met if we are to motivate our internal stakeholders to improve quality while reducing degree cost. Our most important enabling condition is securing fair, competitive compensation for the retention, recruitment, and development of our talented faculty and staff. We are dependent on the fine work of our outstanding faculty and staff, and we must see to it that they receive competitive compensation.
The beauty of the “Principles for Progress and Prosperity” compact is that both sides of the coin reflect the same goal: Everybody wants more value and less debt. A successful compact will optimize our ability to control costs and enhance quality.
I realize that, by calling for such a challenging compact, I may be pursuing the road “less traveled by,” like Robert Frost 90 years ago. But I take encouragement from Frost’s wisdom. He concludes his famous poem with these lines: “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Besides providing expanded access, increased productivity and enhanced quality as the compact calls for, I believe that we also need to work on lowering the per-capita student cost of a college degree … and that will make all the difference. Put simply, our top ongoing priority always should be a better education for a better price.
Richard H. Wells, Chancellor