The following is Chancellor Wells’ speech from the Opening Day faculty/staff assembly, Sept. 2:
Welcome to the start of the 2008-09 Academic year at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Opening day is a time for us to celebrate the character, passion and commitment of UW Oshkosh people and to recognize notable achievements with awards and honors. In my remarks this morning, I will describe some of the ways that we are responding to the key state and federal policy issues that bear on our public purpose.
As you may know, John D. Wiley, the Chancellor Emeritus of UW Madison, recently published a call to action in Madison Magazine titled “From Crossroads to Crisis.” In it he warns that “Wisconsin has lost its way. We’ve lost touch with our traditions and values.” In describing the situation we face, he states: “Today, the governor is preparing the next biennial state budget and grappling with another massive deficit. After one-time lapses and permanent reductions in six of the last seven biennia, every state agency, state university, technical school, K-12 school district and municipality is facing the bleak prospect of further cutbacks.”
The good news is that the Governor and the Legislature made prudent state investments in the Growth Agenda during the 2007-09 biennial state budget. We hope they will continue that trend in the 2009-2011 biennial budget. The Growth Agenda supports the UW System Advantage Wisconsin strategic framework, including System President Reilly’s three-pronged policy agenda of 1) producing more, better prepared college graduates, 2) creating leading-edge jobs in Wisconsin, and 3) growing strong communities.
The fact that some public reinvestment is going back into higher education signals a recognition that we are a critical part of the solution. We are the part that drives positive change and growth. What we are hearing from the people to whom we are accountable, however, is that we have to be more affordable, more accessible, more accountable and more competitive. These four themes developed by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) provide a framework for defining our public purpose and the policy challenges we are facing. Let’s begin with affordability.
We are an institution of access and opportunity. Part of our public purpose is to provide affordable education so that any qualified student – no matter his or her financial need—is able to pursue a high-quality college education. We are using our resources more effectively as evidenced in progress we have made in the area of academic advising to make high quality education more affordable. Thanks to differential tuition, we have beefed up the Undergraduate Advising Resource Center (UARC) to empower students to articulate and achieve their personal, educational and career goals. The UARC advisors and faculty help students make informed choices that save them time and money. More well trained and qualified advisors and faculty are now available to meet individually with students to help them explore course options, to understand current policies and procedures, and to answer their questions on a range to topics such as: What is the difference between a BA and a BS? How long will it take me to graduate? How do I know which semester classes are offered?
The UARC also advises students on the many resources available to them, such as free tutoring for any class. By providing ample and high quality assistance to students who want help learning the material presented in their courses, we facilitate student success. These kinds of services are designed to benefit any and all students, but as you can see, they are tailor-made to meet the needs of first-generation students, and the majority of our students are the first in their family to attend college.
There are many more initiatives that have improved our overall student retention and graduate rates thereby reducing time to degree and making a high quality education more affordable. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the faculty and staff who have made this possible; however, much work remains.
When academic success is wedded to persistence, retention is the result. We are coordinating our retention efforts in response to recommendations made by the Equity Scorecard Project last spring. Our goal is to close the achievement gap by bringing retention and graduation rates for students of color in line with those of the student body as a whole. This is an extremely challenging goal. The Equity Scorecard Project has identified some major internal challenges and strategies to achieve internal equity among all students. We are currently working with a retention consultant to help us evaluate how better to meet the academic support needs of students of color. The results of the University-wide Climate Study will be released later this semester providing us with additional information to use to enhance student success.
We are also challenged to lower the number of our credits to degrees. UW Oshkosh averages 145 credits to degree, and that is 10 credits higher than any of our sister UW institutions, whose average is 135. Lowering our credits to degree is a complex issue, but it is within our control. These are some of our achievements and some of the challenges we face in the area of affordability.
Becoming more accessible is the second policy challenge facing us. Only 18.8 percent of the residents in northeastern Wisconsin hold a bachelor’s degree, and that is significantly lower than the national average of 27 percent. Our region desperately needs more and better prepared graduates. Thanks to public support for the UW System Universities’ Growth Agenda, we are primed and well positioned to promote broader access to education.
The Wisconsin Growth Agenda focuses on growth, access, and affordability at each of UW’s 26 campuses. UW Oshkosh received $3.6 million in Growth Agenda I funding for initiatives to increase (or grow) the number of baccalaureate degree holders. This 2007-09 biennial budget provided funding for 27 new faculty positions, already in the process of being recruited, to support an enrollment increase (growth) of more than 1,000 students since 2000. Phase I funding for the Growth Agenda will also support the addition of 500 students by 2010. We also obtained $97 million of facilities funding authorization to accommodate the enrollment growth by constructing a major new academic building, new residence halls and student academic support center.
I am pleased to report that our preliminary enrollment numbers for this academic year reveal the continuation of an eight-year trend of a larger, more diverse student body and a significant increase in first-year students, transfer students and students of color.
The next biennial budget for 2009-11, approved by the Board of Regents on August 29, includes additional funds for Growth Agenda II. Of that funding, $2.3 million is earmarked for UW Oshkosh. Phase II funding would enhance access by supporting
• an additional 250 students by fall 2012;
• by supporting more faculty and staff in high-demand areas, such as biology/microbiology, health care, nursing and environmental studies; and
• by increased support for additional online and hybrid courses for non-traditional students and residents of underserved rural areas.
By developing more better-prepared college graduates, UW Oshkosh is promoting an enlightened citizenry and greater social cohesion in the region and beyond. We are also preparing our graduates for leading-edge jobs in Wisconsin.
Another indicator of enhanced accessibility is our third consecutive record-breaking graduating class size; 2,073 degrees were awarded in 2008 up from 1,856 in 2005. UW Oshkosh also has seen a continued increase in enrollment in several off-campus programs, including organizational administration, accelerated nursing, and the fire and emergency response management program.
In addition, the University is witnessing an 8 percent increase in continuing sophomores, which may be an early indication of improved retention rates resulting from such high-priority, strategic action initiatives as the NBC Village “experiment” last fall. In that experiment, students who chose to live in Nelson, Breese or Clemans Hall became part of a first-year, residential living environment that provides an increased staff-to-student ratio, shared classes, study groups and increased faculty interaction to create more student involvement on campus. Based on the success of the NBC Village, Residence Life is now considering an all-sophomore experience as well. Now let’s turn to accountability.
In addition to providing more affordability and accessibility, we are being asked to fulfill our public purpose better by becoming more accountable. We are achieving this in part through participation in a new program called the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), which will be unveiled nationally on September 24th. The VSA provides consistent, comparable, and transparent information to prospective students and their families, as well as to legislators and others through a web-based “College Portrait.”
The “College Portrait” reports college cost, price, and student success outcomes, and it measures student achievement on a “value added” basis. We will administer the College Learning Assessment (CLA) on a pilot basis this year to see how well it aligns with our desired learning outcomes. We already have limited experience with the two other recommended tests.
The “College Portrait” also provides data on constructs that have a proven correlation with greater student learning and development. These constructs are drawn from surveys of student experiences and perceptions, such as NSSE. I’m proud of the leadership role we are playing in helping to shape this national effort.
All of our campus governance groups passed resolutions in support of our early adoption of the VSA, and we were among the very first in the nation to adopt this new accountability and reporting tool.
Our Sustainability Team produced a fine report last spring, and the National Wildlife Federation has included UW Oshkosh on its list of universities and colleges with “exemplary programs” for sustainability. Due to generous support from Johnson Controls, we have just finished a comprehensive study of our carbon footprint. The final report will be released shortly. Later this week we will announce that we are the first university in the nation to be a “Fair Trade” university by making a commitment to do our part toward ending trade injustice that results in millions of people living in poverty. About 70 universities in Europe (including the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham) have achieved “Fair Trade” status, but UW Oshkosh is the first American university to do so. Let me conclude with some thought on competitiveness.
We are the public’s access to affordable liberal education. Beyond public and policy discussions of access, affordability and even accountability, public colleges and universities are expected to play a central role in expanding the nation’s human capital and in boosting our competitive advantage in today’s global marketplace. We believe that our commitment to access, affordability and accountability must be anchored in an equally strong commitment to educational excellence. We meet this expectation, in part, by providing a rigorous and well-rounded preparation for our graduates in a variety of fields, including K-12 teachers. Our number-one priority is providing students with the broad knowledge and transferable skills, and the strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement that prepares them for socially valued work and for civic leadership in our society.
The Liberal Education Reform Team (LERT) was charged in May of 2007 with presenting a framework for student learning outcomes adapted from the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative of the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). Last spring, LERT led a campus-wide process that resulted in the adoption by the Faculty Senate and approval by the Senate of Academic Staff of a set of UW Oshkosh Student Learning Outcomes.
The Student Learning Outcomes describe the forms of learning and accomplishment that contemporary students need from college for life, work and citizenship. They represent the very high expectations for knowledge and skills held by educators and employers in the 21st century. They provide a new framework to guide students’ progress and curricular alignment. This year LERT will implement a procedure for refining and adapting rubrics for the learning outcomes so that expectations for student performance can be shared and reinforced throughout the student learning experience—in the classroom, in residence halls, and in extra-curricular activities. Our goal is to raise the level of student performance and the quality of student learning and to raise retention and graduation rates.
I am pleased to announce that UW Oshkosh will become a “partner” institution in the AAC&U Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) initiative, which is producing a set of meta-rubrics for assessing the learning outcomes in a variety of contexts (program as well as classroom assessment). LERT will receive the first draft of these meta-rubrics on October 31st and obtain feedback on them from internal and external stakeholders. We will give feedback to AAC&U for revising future drafts of the meta-rubrics, which means we will influence the development of rubrics for the student learning outcomes at the national level.
As a campus, we should all be especially proud that we were one of the first universities in the nation to launch the LEAP initiative back in 2005-06 when we devoted three issues of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Magazine to a series about the value and importance of a liberal education and linked it to the American Council on Education’s Solutions for Our Future initiative.
As we enter our fourth year, it is a huge point of pride that our Faculty Senate, the members of LERT and the Liberal Education Resource Group (LERG) and campus leaders are continuing to keep us on the forefront of the national movement to reform liberal education in the United States. The UW Oshkosh administration fully supports them and all members of the campus and community who are working to enhance student learning outcomes. That is what matters most in the end.