8. Vision for a Decade
The preceding seven chapters provide a wealth of information and data about UALR today—its nature, its profile, and its performance. They also present information and data about UALR’s planning environment—the financial outlook, new expectations of universities related to economic development, and a review of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Given the foregoing picture, what response is needed?
This chapter presents a vision that takes account of the realities described in the preceding chapters. It is therefore relevant and useful in planning.
The vision, the future we are planning for, will stretch everyone on campus and will challenge all the friends and supporters of the university. It is ambitious, but the realities in our state and community require an ambitious vision. It is a vision that can be substantially achieved, with much hard work, in the next seven to 10 years.
Time Traveling to the Future
The reader is asked now to become a time traveler and fast-forward 10 years, to visit the UALR campus and to see the university the vision can produce a decade from now.
As the time traveler checks the daily news from Arkansas upon arriving, the traveler takes note of the results of the university’s expanded capabilities and contributions during the decade. The critical shortages in the workforce a decade earlier—in nurses, teachers, high- tech workers—have been substantially reduced. The state has narrowed the gap between the state and national numbers of bachelor’s degree holders, and Arkansas now ranks several notches up from the bottom among the 50 states. With the benefit of more college graduates, the state’s per capita income has similarly come closer to the national average. Employment and income levels have also gotten a boost from the business start-ups and the thriving high-tech clusters UALR has helped birth and nurture in Pulaski County and beyond.
The time traveler notes that UALR, with its enhanced capability, is speeding social and economic progress in the city and across the state.
Buildings and Grounds. Changes in the buildings and grounds first meet the time traveler’s eye. In addition to the wonderful center for athletic contests and special events—thanks to the gift from Mr. Jack Stephens—the CyberCollege has opened a state-of-the-art, high-tech building that draws and prepares students for high-paying positions in the knowledge-based economy and serves as a place for cutting-edge research by faculty. Classrooms, laboratories, and offices in older buildings have been updated. There are additional student residence halls, a new parking deck, and expanded recreational and athletic facilities. There is a signature landscaped area along Coleman Creek that draws persons from both the campus and the community. There is a grand front door to the campus at the intersection of University and Asher Avenues.
Student Body. The UALR student body has grown. Students are attracted not only to the outstanding academic programs on campus but also to the advantages of a dynamic urban setting. UALR’s student population, which already had a wonderful diversity at the turn of the 21st Century, reflects two trends of the last decade. There has been a steady increase in the percentage of traditional-age, full-time students; and there is more ethnic diversity reflecting the local increase in the Latino population and a steady increase in the number of international students coming to UALR. At the same time, UALR continues each year to serve thousands of place-bound commuting students—citizens whom metropolitan universities serve, and serve so well.
There are other UALR students the campus visitor 10 years hence will not see—those students all across the United States and beyond who are enrolled with on-campus students in UALR’s expanded Internet-based offerings. The future visitor will also find that the campus has continued to receive high marks for its accommodation of students with disabilities. Further, UALR has continued to be a primary destination for transfer students in Arkansas.
Recognizing the critical state need for a higher percentage of the citizens of Arkansas to hold college degrees, the faculty and staff of the university worked systematically early in the decade to remove policy and procedural barriers and bottlenecks that unnecessarily slowed students as they progressed toward completion of their degrees.
Sense of Community. The sense of community on campus has grown stronger, a byproduct in part of more student housing and also of special programs designed to increase student success, which have resulted in higher retention and graduation rates. Reflecting UALR’s effort to reduce the state’s brain-drain of outstanding high school graduates, the campus now enrolls a larger number of high-achieving students in an expanded set of honors programs. Through service-learning and other course-based service experiences, students are gaining an understanding of the need for and the satisfaction of citizen involvement in the community.
Graduate Niche. The university has strengthened its graduate education niche. The graduate student population has become a larger portion of the university’s student body. With the increase in doctoral programs, UALR each year awards at least 30 doctoral degrees distributed among at least five fields, which has moved the institution into the Four Year 2 category of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) classification of institutions of higher learning. UALR has notable strength among Arkansas institutions in the quality and variety of master’s programs and graduate certificates.
Faculty. UALR’s faculty members are widely recognized as a local and state treasure, a remarkable collection of talent and expertise. Numerous faculty members enjoy national recognition in their respective academic disciplines. In order to make it possible for faculty to make their maximum contributions—in the classroom, in the research arena, and in the application of specialized knowledge to concerns external to campus—private giving to support faculty has increased significantly. Faculty excellence is formally recognized each year through the ongoing Faculty Excellence Awards program funded by the UALR Society of Philanthropy, the Bailey family, and other selected private donors.
Private Support. One key to the university’s rapid progress during the last decade is the increase in private donations produced by a comprehensive campaign. The increase in annual giving, major gifts, and deferred giving has been encouraging and exciting. The increased private support has enhanced numerous teaching, research, and public service activities. All the colleges and the law school now boast one or more endowed chairs or endowed professorships as well as a number of endowed student scholarships.
Curriculum. Keenly aware that as a public university UALR was established and is supported with tax revenue to meet the needs of the people of Arkansas, academic leaders at all levels of the institution work continually to add, revise, and delete programs in response to changing needs in the state. The faculty provides courses of study that are up-to-date, technology-enhanced in many instances, and prepare students to live, work, and lead in the unfolding 21st Century. Through regular assessment of student learning outcomes and rigorous evaluation of academic programs, faculty constantly improves the institution’s academic courses and programs. Consistent with the multiple roles that faculty must play in a metropolitan university, the broadened definition of scholarship coupled with rigorous evaluation, as advocated by Ernest Boyer, is ingrained in institutional practice.
Research. In 2000 UALR was designated “doctoral/research intensive” in the national classifications of the Carnegie Foundation. The dollars brought to the university and the state through grants and contracts at UALR, which also boost the economy, have increased dramatically during the decade as the UALR faculty has successfully competed for federal research dollars. Through these efforts the faculty contributes to advances on the frontiers of knowledge. Faculty members who engage in local applied research, given UALR’s urban setting, address problems close to home while advancing solutions that have relevance across the nation.
The number of inventions and patents from the campus grew significantly during the decade. As a result of commercialization of intellectual property developed on the campus, after an early success in nanotechnology, the state economy now includes a growing cluster of high-tech businesses in central Arkansas.
As research expanded during the decade, the campus did not repeat the mistake too often made by major research universities—neglecting the teaching of undergraduate students. In fact, over the last seven to 10 years undergraduate education has been enriched as faculty has expanded the opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.
Community Partnerships. The time traveler finds that UALR gives and receives benefit through a rich set of mature partnerships with a variety of organizations in the community. Among those that have particularly increased in importance during the decade are ones with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Pulaski Technical College, the UA Cooperative Extension Service, Central Arkansas Libraries, the UA Clinton School of Public Service, the Clinton Presidential Library, Heifer Project, Winrock International, and local governments in Pulaski, Saline, and surrounding counties. The university’s fine and performing arts departments feed talent to all of the excellent cultural organizations in the metropolitan community. In addition, UALR’s public service units and its academic departments work in a variety of ways to strengthen government offices and agencies, local Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and small businesses across the state.
Race Relations. UALR’s annual survey of racial attitudes in Pulaski County, based on the premise “you have to face it to fix it,” has successfully focused attention on a paramount community issue. The university has stimulated grassroots efforts across the county to move the greater Little Rock community away from being a national symbol of resistance to racial equality, due to the 1957 desegregation crisis, to being recognized, through national media attention, as an emerging model of wholesome white-black relations. One result is that attractive out-of-state businesses and organizations that once declined to re-locate or open new sites in this area have begun to do so, attracted to a community that is successfully addressing a human issue that too many metropolitan areas ignore.
University District. Driving throughout the university’s neighborhood, the future visitor will see that during the decade more than the campus changed. The university’s partnership with the people, businesses, churches, and other organizations in its immediate neighborhood is having a good effect. The visitor will see that this area of the city now known as University District—an area of the city that for several decades had been experiencing a slow decline—is now showing clear evidence of revitalization.
Thanks to the cooperation of the city government of Little Rock and support from Metroplan and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, when University Avenue was widened, it was transformed into an attractive, tree-lined boulevard, with new pedestrian safety features. Other streets in the University District display the University District banner to show that they are also a part of this area of cooperation and improvement.
Throughout the University District, businesses are starting or expanding, and around the busy intersection of Asher and University Avenues one encounters a thriving international business village, a destination for people from across the state. New housing starts, mixed as to both income and race, are increasing along with efforts to rehabilitate existing housing stock.
Regional Cooperation. Beyond the city, increased cooperation is notable across the central Arkansas region as leaders in one community after another are coming to recognize the implications of being part of an intensely competitive global economy. UALR has reinforced the efforts of state and local leaders to promote cooperation within the region. UALR, through an annual regional summit and related initiatives, has brought business and civic leaders together to get acquainted, learn of opportunities to work together and learn how to work together—all for the purpose of making life better for citizens in all towns and counties in the region.
Because of this evolving focus on regional solutions, old issues that had held back many communities in the region have been resolved. Governmental services are more efficient, resulting in reduced costs or improved services—sometimes the result of merged operations or other forms of partnerships between local governments. A number of communities throughout the region have, as a result, increased the success of their economic development efforts and have improved the quality of life in their communities.
In summary, if the reader could become a time traveler and fast forward to UALR a decade from now to a future in which the foregoing vision had become reality, the visitor would find a university responding effectively to urgent state priorities. The visitor would find a university successfully meeting the critical challenge of equipping students to live, work, and lead in the increasingly complex civilization of the 21st Century. The visitor to the future would rejoice because the community and the state had in the capital city more than just a comprehensive public university. The visitor would find in UALR a higher education powerhouse, deeply engaged with its community and the world, contributing very broadly and powerfully to both social advancement and economic growth through its noteworthy instructional, research, and public service programs.