Strategic Planning Initiative

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WestConn at a Glance


Our vision: To be an affordable public university
with the characteristics of New England's
best small private universities.

 

Authors: Allen Morton, Peter Visentin, Steve Goetsch, Chris Kukk, Paul Steinmetz
Submitted to the President's Cabinet on May 8, 2012


The mission of this team was to evaluate how close WCSU is to achieving the vision of providing a private school education at a public school cost. Our research reminded us of the university's many fine qualities. We also found some deficits and imagined methods to close those gaps.

Excellent universities provide challenging, innovative curricula and teaching. We acknowledge that fact by making the centerpiece of this report a set of principles to guide us as we add to the foundation of our academic vibrancy.

Also covered:

  • Student support
  • Development
  • Learning Environment
  • Marketing

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

Western provides a culture of learning for the purpose of innovating because we see our students as creators as well as consumers of knowledge. A WCSU education is the blending of the scientist with the artist and the philosopher with the practitioner to create scholars that are engaged citizens. The framework for developing such scholars is through the three C's — concepts, creativity and courage. First, we seek to build a foundation for learning by teaching a holistic understanding of basic concepts/ideas. Second, we cultivate a creative environment by fostering innovative ways of using concepts/ideas. Third, we encourage both students and faculty to act on their conceptual innovations.

  • Western is already on the path of fostering such innovative scholars and engaged citizens:
  • Winning grants such as Fulbright and National Science Foundation awards
  • Publications in various forms such as books, recordings, paintings and journal articles
  • The success of "town-gown" programs such as the Bridge Program and Election Eleven
  • Students and faculty running as candidates in local and state elections as well as rewriting area town charters
  • Volunteerism and civic engagement linking on-campus organizations with nongovernmental organizations such as the Dorothy Day House and the Candlewood Lake Authority
  • An Honors Program that fosters innovation through an interdisciplinary approach to learning
  • The creation of "think tanks" such as Views from the Center and the Center for Financial Literacy
  • NSA recertification of the information security program.

Other types of evidence demonstrating our academic excellence include:

  • 100% passing rates for students taking national exams such as nursing
  • An increase in student acceptance to top graduate programs is increasing
  • A nationally ranked debate team
  • The University's schools receive the highest accreditations in their respective fields

Ideas for extending the path of academic excellence:

  • Increase the number of interdisciplinary majors such as Environmental Policy
  • Increase the number of contract majors
  • Increase the number of small classes
  • Increase the number of classes using Socratic teaching
  • Increase the number of very selective honors societies that are held in high repute in each field
  • Increase the percentage of faculty with terminal degrees in their respective fields
  • Increase community requirements in each major
  • Increase the SAT/ACT scores and class rank of incoming students
  • Build a Phi Beta Kappa chapter
  • Create an Honors College

WCSU is proof that, in education, value matters more than price. That value comes from being more than a university that certifies its students in a given field, it comes from providing our students with a learning environment that fosters innovation in and outside the classroom walls. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The main part of intellectual education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts live."

STUDENT SUPPORT

WCSU provides substantial student support in many areas, including the Bridge Program, the Honors Program, clubs and extra-curricular activities, and excellent speakers that benefit students and the larger community.

Questions remain on whether we do enough to support some of our best offerings:

  • Career Services — Do as many students as possible take advantage?
  • Accreditation — Is every department moving toward the top accreditation in its area and does the university have the resources to make this possible?
  • Premier programs — Are we willing to call out our premier programs for marketing purposes, and what does that do to programs that are not premier?


Although this team did not conduct research on the following areas, the conventional wisdom is that advisement is an area of concern and that there are deficiencies in customer service, particularly in the student services housed in Old Main. We believe that the university is considering remedies to these issues and thus did not address them further in this report.

DEVELOPMENT

A comparison of our Foundation resources, investments and expenditures shows that we do not model private universities or successful publics.

Most tellingly, the WCSU Foundation each year provides the equivalent of 0.2 percent. Harvard's foundation provides 20 percent of the university's budget annually. Private college foundations annually relieve on average 8 percent of the budget. Public colleges are at 4 percent.

In addition, endowments at private universities equal an average of $ 60,270 per full-time student while the average public university stands at $8,894. WCSU's endowment total is the equivalent of $ 4,007 per student.

Research also found that the WCSU Foundation's endowment is invested much more conservatively than those at private or other public universities.

It is reasonable to expect that the WCSU Foundation must contribute more to the university's budget strength. The Foundation board and committees, the staff and president are working on this issue so this committee did not deal with it here.

LIVING AND LEARNING EXPERIENCE ON CAMPUS

Providing on-campus housing for incoming freshmen has proven to be a chief indicator of academic success as students transition into the college life.

Current trends in residential life building design take into account not only durable functional space but incorporate environments to enhance learning outside of the classroom. These environments provide housing and study rooms for like-minded students to share interests, lifestyles, or a commitment to a major. The learning community concept would take a seminar course or course cluster together and get involved in activities and events on campus or in the community. There would also be unique opportunities to involve faculty, staff, and student peer mentors in a close-knit community setting centered on the residence hall and its support facilities.

The residential life living and learning community could focus on providing interest communities for an honors program, a health and wellness focus, the environment, nursing, business or theater arts. As a way to transition first-year Latino students into the college environment, we might provide a floor where Spanish is routinely spoken. These programs could support or enhance the current CULTURE (Create Undergraduate Learning Through Unique Residential Experiences) program on campus sponsored by Housing and Residential Life on campus.

MARKETING

It has become clear in conversations among our group members and with members of other strategic planning groups that the university has difficulty conveying information about our successes to some members of the larger community. That is partly a result of media disfunction but also reflects the diverse demographics of the western part of the state. When individuals learn what WCSU offers in program quality and value, we find they are impressed and fall into our sphere of influence. We have had success recently with direct, one-on-one contact with individuals who have entered our sphere when we educated them about our work. Examples include the guidance counselor and Honors Program luncheons by the Admissions Department and the coffee and conversations and director dinners by Institutional Advancement. More work is needed to create marketing and communications to specific interest groups.

Considering this fact, the university should consider spending resources over the next several months to determine how to best capitalize on the October visit of the Dalai Lama. This event can be used to symbolize WCSU's great improvement over the past several years and its commitment to excellence. The Dalai Lama's visit should be the jumping-off point for another sustained period of growth and improvement.

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Increase the number of interdisciplinary majors
  2. Increase the number of honors societies
  3. Investigate building a Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus
  4. Create an Honors College
  5. Create interest-specific housing
  6. Determine how to advertise, publicize and market ourselves
  • Conduct more one-on-one marketing
  • Build on the Dalai Lama – Appoint a committee to propose how to bring us to the next stage of excellence.

NOTES IN SUPPORT OF ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE SECTION

Examples

  • Richard Stockton College (tier 4 to tier 1 in 5 years—impressive rise)
  • College of Charleston (one of the oldest colleges in the country—impressive longevity)
  • Blend Stockton and Charleston together in our unique way (impressive enduring rise)

Framework (inspired by WSJ 14-15 April 12 article and through an analysis of what top colleges do)

  • Concepts—Building a foundation for learning (teach a holistic understanding of basic concepts/ideas)
  • Creativity—Fostering innovation (foster innovative ways of using concepts/ideas)
  • Courage—Inspiring action (encourage students and faculty to act on the conceptual innovations)

Principles

  • WestConn provides a culture of learning structured for innovating.
  • We see our students as creators as well as consumers of knowledge.
  • A WestConn education is the blending of the scientist with the artist, the philosopher with the practitioner to create scholars that are engaged citizens.

Ideas

  • Interdisciplinary Programs/Majors (i.e., Environmental Policymaking)
  • Increase the number of contract majors (innovative…see computing gaming student)
  • Small class sizes
  • Socratic teaching
  • Community requirements (everything from local internships/volunteering to study abroad)
  • Do more events similar to guidance counselor and Honors luncheons

Evidence

  • Grants—Fulbrights and others (faculty and students)
  • Publications—Journals, books, recordings, paintings, etc… (faculty and students)
  • Graduate school acceptances
  • Students passing national exams (Nursing)
  • Percent of faculty with highest degree in field
  • Accreditations
  • Increase in SAT scores and class ranking of incoming students
  • Honors Program (interdisciplinary and success…see Kelley Bradley v. previous student)
  • Honors societies (those held in high repute in each field; try to build Phi Beta Kappa chapter)
  • Strengthen Community
    Bridge Program (WCSU students act as models for younger students)
    Town/City Engagement (charter revisions to students running in elections)
    Election Eleven
    Op-Eds
    Volunteerism (CLA to Dorothy Day House)
    United Nations activities

NOTE: Our evidence is broader and deeper than just standardized tests.

Result

  • WestConn is proof that, in education, value matters more than price.

A quote to consider:

"A university training…aims at raising the intellectual tone of society…It is the education which gives a man [or woman] a clear conscious view of his [or her] own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them." ~Cardinal Newman

Definition to consider: Definition of a Tier 1 University

By Malik Sharrieff, eHow Contributor

Nailing down one definition of a Tier 1 university is difficult. Though commonalities exist, it is hard to get the many different ranking organizations to justify the differing methodologies that lead to their determinations of which school qualifies as Tier 1.

1. Identification

As of September, 2009, a concise statutory definition of a Tier 1 University does not exist. There are many organizations that rank institutions of higher education and all have slightly differing definitions. Two of the most prominent of these organizations are the Center for Measuring University Performance (the Center) and the U.S. News and World Report (U.S. News). While these two organizations have differing methodologies of evaluation, they are the two most widely respected institutions within this field.

2. Details

According to research done by the Texas Senate Research Center (see reference 1), each year the Center publishes a report identifying the top research institutions of higher learning in the U.S. Criteria consists of: Total research expenditures, Federal research expenditures,Endowment assets, Annual giving, National Academy members, Faculty awards, Doctorates awarded, Post-doctoral appointees, and Median students' SAT and ACT test scores U.S. News also issues an annual ranking using a weighted scale incorporating the following criteria: Peer assessments, Retention (graduation rate and freshman retention rate), Faculty resources, Student Selectivity, Financial resources, Graduation rate performances (predicted versus actual graduation rate), and Alumni giving rate

3. Significance

Universities with Tier 1 status receive higher amounts of research funding, consequently attracting a larger number of students pursuing careers in research and development fields. Major corporations see these institutions as resources, providing highly skilled staff that can establish a competitive edge in the marketplace. These corporations are often willing to relocate to geographic areas with a higher concentration of Tier 1 universities like New York and California. The net effect is greater economic growth within these geographic regions.

4. Benefits

Tier 1 universities generally spend $100 to $150 million dollars in research each year. These funds are generated through donations and state and federal matching funds grants. This translates to a sizable inflow of cash for communities surrounding Tier 1 institutions. The relocation of research oriented corporations also spurs job growth in these areas. Therefore, many states will energetically pursue Tier 1 status for their universities to obtain the associated benefits.

5. Considerations

Because of the lack of consensus regarding the definition of and methodology in identifying a Tier 1 university, many complexities exist regarding the issue. For example, U.S. News actually ranks schools through the fourth tier level. The one commonality across all ranking systems is the idea that the term "Tier 1" suggests annual research spending at or above $100 million.

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