Transcript: 2012 Future of Academic Affairs Address

Prepared remarks for the Future of Academic Affairs Address, delivered March 21, 2012 by Provost William M. "Mike" Sherman.

Good afternoon colleagues and friends.

In preparing for this address, I have reflected on my almost two years at The University of Akron.

And, I offer you the following five observations:

  1. Our connection to the community and region through partnerships, our commitment to the broad ideals of higher education, and a relentless commitment to student success, makes us distinctive.
  2. Every one of us can, and does, add value to our students’ lives. We make their dreams and the dreams of their families come true. Hard work? Yes; A high calling and a privilege – Absolutely!
  3. Listening more and talking less really works.
  4. I don’t have all the answers; but, we can create many more opportunities by answering the questions together.
  5. When the provost volunteers to sit in the dunking booth at Springfest…there is a miraculous improvement in motivation and hitting the bull’s-eye.

Our strategic plan, Vision 2020: The New Gold Standard of University Performance, requires us to help students excel personally and academically, deliver globally relevant programs, invest in faculty excellence, create a dynamic environment for learning, and engage with our community. Vision 2020 is the framework for change; we ARE the change agents.

Using Vision 2020 as our guide, we have begun to redefine ourselves, thus creating a distinctive University of Akron experience. Looking forward, imagine our university in 2020, our 150th anniversary: today we take bold steps forward to shape our future.

Imagine The University of Akron in 2020 where:

  • our research discoveries are identified as the solution to a thriving regional economy;
  • the Akron Experience is the new transcript in higher education; and
  • we have exceeded national trends in degree attainment and placement by serving our students with customized academic programs and success services.

Student success is our ultimate objective. Our new future will include 40,000 learners who seek degrees, certificates, licensures, distance-education and career-advancement programs. We focus on learners, because learning is a life-long process. That dedication is how we will change the educational landscape of Northeast Ohio. The Akron Experience is the cornerstone upon which we will build an educational experience like no other institution.

The University of Akron

The Akron Experience will blend classroom and experiential learning. Above, Krystal Roethel, right, an emergency management major, with a tornado victim in Joplin, Mo.

The Akron Experience is driven by the ideal to develop the whole person. The Akron Experience integrates academic experiences with social, cultural and personal development. Students will have many types of experiences, like those of Krystal Roethel, an emergency management major. She used her knowledge to help the American Red Cross serve tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.

Imagine our university in 2020, where multicultural experiences, study-abroad and real-life work experiences are standards of practice; where real-time resumes, e-portfolios, and digital banks of learning objects are the norm. Our graduates will be recognized for a combination of knowledge and experience, of cultural understanding, civic mindedness and leadership that will help them advance in their careers. Akron experiences, like Krystal’s, will contribute to the vitality of our graduates' communities.

We stand firmly behind our tradition to educate students across the entire spectrum of academic preparedness. We saw evidence of this through our self-study: Undergraduate Student Academic Success. Presented last October in two campus forums, it is a framework for our Higher Learning Commission re-accreditation in 2013.

Our community, region and nation need us to stay the course and model what it means for an educational institution to be inclusive and excellent. We must refine this commitment to ensure student success in the twenty-first century.

Pathways will increase persistence

Academic preparedness, combined with a community and individual commitment to attain college readiness, must influence our pathways that support student success.

If we do not adhere to the core principle of academic preparedness for college level work, the cost will be high dropout rates and high educational debt without the prospect of career success. Academic preparedness is the major key to our student success strategy.

Our analysis identified college preparedness on the basis of several academic indicators. We found students come to us in one of three levels: College-ready, Emergent and Preparatory.

The University of Akron

Senior Samantha Bittinger's co-op at NASA Glenn exemplifies the kinds of opportunities envisioned in Vision 2020 for college-ready students.

College-ready students have ACT scores 21 or greater. They've demonstrated high achievement throughout high school. They are ready to pursue academically challenging coursework that leads directly to degree completion. They will benefit from direct admission into majors complimented with accelerated learning opportunities created by direct interactions with our renowned faculty. I can imagine even more students will have opportunities like engineering student Samantha Bittinger. Samantha helped develop the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle at the NASA Glenn Center.

Emergent students have ACT scores ranging from 17 to 20. Their high school GPAs demonstrate the ability and desire to achieve through personal effort. They are the ones whose lives we can most dramatically impact. They will be admitted as pre-majors. They will receive intentional, intensive, and if necessary, intrusive support for major readiness. We have evidence that these approaches improve academic performance and persistence. This will streamline their path to acceptance into major programs.

Preparatory students are those with ACT scores 16 or below. Their academic performance requires significant additional development and specialized support. Preparatory students bear higher costs because of their additional course work, and they have a lower probability of graduation.

These students will benefit from Wayne College offerings, or from our partnerships with community colleges. These students will have direct access to the academic services they require. We will welcome them to The University of Akron upon associate degree completion and GPA performance. We want them to graduate from this university, although we will not be the first leg in their journey.

We will require transfer students to demonstrate academic success. This will increase their probability of graduation.

Our new pathways approach will establish a better foundation for preparatory and transfer student success. We are committed to the success of all students. Our region and nation need college graduates for our economic well being. Student success is our success. We are all in this together.

Better ways to help students

Importantly, we have also implemented student success strategies for enrolled and incoming students. We have an early warning “academic alert” system. We have doubled the capacity of our peer-mentoring programs; we have increased our learning communities; and we have extended the intentional advising that works so well for our Choose Ohio First Scholars.

We are aware these actions will have a short-term effect on our budget and enrollment. We have increased our enrollments on the basis of available students, now our enrollments will be based on student outcomes, with a focus on persistence and graduation. In the long run, our commitment to student success will positively impact our students, our region and our fiscal resources.

We can and we will elevate student achievement with educational experiences that increase degree attainment and produce highly employable professionals. In Vision 2020 we established graduation rates that exceed 60 percent, and placement rates that approach 80 percent within six months of graduation. We established high expectations because we anticipate a student profile of even higher achievement.

These changes are simply the right thing to do. Higher education at our University cannot be just about access…it also must be about “success.” It is the right thing to do on an individual basis, and it is the right thing to do as an institution of higher education. It is the right thing to do for Ohio and the nation.

Last year, President Proenza charged us to revise the general education curriculum. The General Education Transformation Committee is developing an approach to prepare our students for the 21st century workforce, with identifiable and measurable learning outcomes. It will support the completion of all degree requirements in a timely manner. Learning outcomes will be defined and knowledge and skills will be measured. Our students will benefit from this informed and insightful faculty-driven effort.

We know that the most direct and enduring influence on student success is faculty contact in the classroom and through project based and research experiences. We must expect our students to excel and hold them to high standards of performance. Imagine our university in 2020, where all students, working closely with faculty advisers and mentors achieve more than they thought possible.

I observed that expectation in last year’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Dr. Carolyn Behrman. Her students are engaged in course-based research. She creates a different way of thinking, and this creates a different way of doing.

'Achieving Distinction' initiative

We will have an environment that stimulates and enables great teaching, meaningful engagement opportunities for students, and research prominence. The Achieving Distinction initiative will support our goal of student success through faculty excellence and engagement. It will focus at least $2 million annually to hire full-time tenure track faculty and staff and fund start-up costs. Endorsed by our Board of Trustees, the plan details the hiring of 12 full-time tenure track faculty and four related staff in FY-13. Those numbers will continue to rise until we have hired a total 160 new faculty and staff. Their research and expertise will align with areas of focus including: regional solutions, the human condition, health care and medicine, and innovative technologies. Our success will be reaching those numbers.

These areas of focus align with the strategies of our vital partners, including

Imagine 2020 when the success of collaborations with our vital partners is identified as the entrepreneurial catalyst for the region’s economic development and prosperity.

'Ensuring Excellence' initiative

We have made a deliberate commitment to create, support, and deliver the highest quality core undergraduate curriculum. Resources have been allocated in part based upon our Ensuring Excellence initiative. We must protect this commitment and steps have been taken. Eighty-nine faculty positions are at various stages of the search process. Just imagine these new faculty members among our ranks.

To ensure our institutional structure enables Vision 2020, we took steps to adjust our college structures. The College of Creative and Professional Arts converged with the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences. In new ways, opportunities for cross- and multidisciplinary collaborations will emerge.

A new College of Health Professions was created by converging the College of Nursing and College of Health Sciences and Human Services. This will extend the reach of these programs beyond all previous boundaries. A national search for the inaugural dean of the Health Professions College is underway. These adjustments in colleges involved broad faculty consultation and significant involvement of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the Faculty Senate.

University Council

We all agree that a new approach is needed for academic governance and integrated planning. The newly established University Council is our example of shared collegial academic governance. It is a body with close ties to faculty, its Faculty Senate, vice presidential units, deans, the student body, staff and contract professionals. It is already strengthening and building new partnerships across our university. And it is increasing and streamlining communication among our constituencies. This Council will produce remarkable results.

Faculty, staff, students, and community partners have provided valuable insight to renew the Campus Master Guide Plan. We anticipate the Board will direct all future available capital funds to improve the quality of teaching and learning and research environments. In the near term, it means we will focus on lab centralization and updated learning and research facilities. This will increase our ability to achieve $200 million in research expenditures.

Analysis of resources

Because we require accountability of ourselves, because state support is on a continuous decline, and to be vigilant about cost of tuition, we will rigorously analyze our resources. Such analyses will identify revenues and expenditures for all units.

Hard decisions need to be made about the distribution of resources across and within the academic and academic-support units. Should budget reductions be necessary, they will be less for the colleges. Re-distribution of unit base budgets will favor the colleges. Distribution of new net revenues will favor the colleges. Over time, more of our general funds budget will be invested in our academic programs, because delivering the very best academic programs is our mission.

We must identify entirely new streams of revenues and ensure academic integrity, while bringing to the world our distinctive academic programs. Our evaluation of the e-learning opportunity will “test” this model. As reported to the Faculty Senate and University Council, that analysis is now taking place.

We must expend our resources for effectiveness. We cannot sustain programs or functions that no longer effectively serve our academic mission. We must determine what we will continue to do and do even better. These will set the stage to implement a budget system that is based upon excellence, productivity, efficiency and innovation.

Imagine our University in 2020 when our budgeting system has been identified as a gold standard in higher education.

Vision 2020 as a roadmap

Our opportunities of the Akron Experience, Academic Excellence, Community and Regional Vitality and Global Distinction are before us. President Proenza has challenged us to move this university forward. Vision 2020 is our roadmap to the future. We will remain true to our primary purpose: to provide the highest quality educational experience to ensure student success. Our goals are high. We will attain them.

The year 2000 rightfully was the beginning of a great physical transformation for our University. The year 2012 begins a transformation that creates our future as a globally distinct university. We are creating the Akron Experience. We are setting a higher bar for student success for all of our students. Our pathways will increase persistence and graduation rates and student success beyond graduation.

The state of Academic Affairs continues upward to greater excellence because of you. We have made a significant investment in faculty excellence. We are in it together to get it done. I am confident we will get it done.

Each college, each unit, and each faculty member, each office and staff member is responsible to fulfill a specific role in our success. Collectively, we will invent our future, fuel our region’s economy and address societal challenges with entrepreneurialism and innovation.

For all we've done and all we will do, I want to close today’s address with three statements.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

The University of Akron

Provost Sherman