September 10, 2012
Each academic year is a fresh start, an opportunity to greet new students and faculty and continue our commitment to student success with renewed vigor.
The groundwork for this year began long before our spring graduates crossed the stage, as we planned the initiatives that will help us achieve the goals laid out in our strategic plan, Vision 2020. This planning process heeded a clear message — higher education is no longer “business as usual.”
Across the country, colleges and universities are impacted by declining state support, smaller classes of high school graduates and an economy that continues to impress upon us the value and need for a college degree.
These factors are not new. In fact, our decisions over the past few years addressed them consistently. With the approval of Vision 2020 by the University’s Board of Trustees last year, we were able to take another step toward solidifying our future in an unstable environment by implementing our vision for The University of Akron in 2020. The plan addresses our challenges and focuses on what we must do to maintain accountability to the state and achieve our own economic viability.
One vital part of Vision 2020 is continued investment in distinctive programs that encourage collaboration across disciplines and departments and are aligned with the University’s commitment to providing innovative solutions to regional and global problems. We announced a competitive process (Achieving Distinction Strategic Investment Program) to award funding to proposals that have the greatest potential for impact and influence as quickly as possible. We received 27 proposals, demonstrating impressive faculty engagement and commitment to our shared vision. Later this week, I will announce the recipients of the Achieving Distinction funding based on a comprehensive review of the proposals.
We are also focused on retention, persistence and our Pathways model of enrollment. With the Pathways model, we are seeing a decrease in students with an ACT score less than 20. Our incoming first-time-full-time bachelor degree seeking students have an average ACT of 22.4 and an average high school GPA of 3.2. This movement is a signal that we are moving toward a student body that is better prepared for the rigors of a college education — a measure that will contribute to increased persistence and retention, and improve the overall academic reputation of the institution.
Our progress is also a reminder of our responsibility to provide a valuable Akron Experience for all students. From focused advising to meet the needs of at-risk students to providing increased opportunities for cultural experiences, we can and should engage our students in opportunities to expand their boundaries and thereby achieve more than they ever thought possible.
The Pathways model and The Akron Experience support the Complete College Ohio Initiative to increase the number and percentage of students earning degrees at Ohio colleges and universities. On Sept. 18, the Task Force will visit our campus in one of a series of regional meetings to learn more about current practices and generate ideas for its report at an upcoming November Ohio Board of Regents meeting.
In addition to our major initiatives underway, this academic year is significant because of our self-study and upcoming reaccreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. For our students, reaccreditation means they will continue to have access to federally-based financial aid programs and are ensured quality in academic programs and student support services. For our region, it means the value of a University of Akron degree holds true.
Our reaccreditation process, culminating in a site-visit by HLC from March 3-6, 2013, is a great opportunity for self-evaluation and the implementation of changes that will strengthen a UA degree for generations to come. I hope that you will provide your feedback to our self-study, when the opportunities are announced later this fall.
In the meantime, I wish you a successful start to the academic year.
William M. “Mike” Sherman
Senior Vice President and Provost
Chief Operating Officer