A Fresh Look at UALR
It is my pleasure to welcome you to what will be a special academic year for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; a year in which we are making history. Yes, Academic Year 2014-2015 is the founding year for our Colleges of Arts, Letters, and Sciences; Education and Health Professions; and, Social Sciences and Communication. You should remember that when I spoke to you on April 24 at the Spring University Assembly, we were about to have candidate interviews for two of the deans of these colleges. In fact, at that time we did not even have the finalists for one of the dean positions. Today, I am delighted to introduce to you the three leaders for the new colleges:
Welcome to the Founding Deans of the New College
- Dr. Shearle Furnish, Founding Dean of the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences,
- Dr. Ann Bain, Founding Dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, and
- Dr. Lisa Bond-Maupin, Founding Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Communication.
Please join me in welcoming them to the UALR family.
The three new colleges have been in operation since July 1, 2014 thanks to the commitment, dedication, and hard work of many people. To all of you-the transition teams in Academic Affairs, the staff in Finance and Administration, Information Technology Services (ITS), and Registration-that made it possible for us to meet the implementation deadline established by Chancellor Anderson, my heartfelt thank you.
A big thank you also goes to the leadership of the Faculty Senate for all your work last year. Your willingness to be a partner in the development of a unique educational experience for our students based on active and connected learning approaches is appreciated.
My friends and colleagues, every year you continue to impress me with your capacity to innovate, your commitment to our students, and your passion for what you do. I am honored and humble to serve as your Provost. You inspire me to serve you and this noble institution; to contribute tireless, like you do, to the UALR Team. I look forward to continuing our journey together. Academic Year 2014-2015 will be another year full of fun and excitement as we advance UALR to a new level of academic excellence. The fact that this fall we are welcoming the largest group of new faculty we have seen in a while, is another reason to anticipate a bright year for UALR.
Director of the UALR Emerging Analytics Center
One of those faculty members is the first UALR Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Scholar, Donaghey Distinguished Professor, and Director of the UALR Emerging Analytics Center, Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira. Dr. Neira is a pioneer, an entrepreneur, and a teacher in the areas of virtual reality and interactive visualization. She has created and deployed a variety of technologies that have become the standard tools in industry, government, and academia. Carolina, it is a pleasure to have you with us. Welcome to the UALR family.
Executive Director of the Community Connection Center
The Preliminary Roadmap that I submitted to Chancellor Anderson last October for the accomplishment of UALR’s 2020 Vision called for the establishment of the Community Connection Center to house the Children International Program, the Community Engagement Office, and the Cooperative Education Office. Additionally, the Center was charged with the responsibility to develop and implement engagement and outreach strategies guided by UALR and community priorities. Today, I am very happy to introduce to you Dr. Lillian Wichinsky, Executive Director of the Community Connection Center. I am sure that Lillie has already reached out to a good number of you and that she will continue to add to her list of people to visit with.
Inaugural UALR Faculty Fellow
The first recommendation in the Preliminary Roadmap I referenced before was to create a Student-Centered Culture. One of the nine actions proposed in support of this recommendation was the creation of a Faculty Fellows Program. It is my pleasure to announce the inaugural UALR Faculty Fellow, Dr. John Miller, who will be working on two major initiatives: a faculty mentoring program, and student success programs. Please join me in congratulating John.
This afternoon, I will be sharing with you an assessment provided by Huron Consulting Group on what we need to improve if we are to accomplish UALR’s 2020 Vision. My interpretation of our institution’s reality described in terms of enrollment and retention rates will be my second topic. Some comments about UALR’s Enrollment Vision and Framework will follow, along with the actions and operational plan for the year to address our reality while we continue to advance the institution to accomplish the 2020 Vision.
The title of my remarks this afternoon—A Fresh Look at UALR—was inspired by the fact that we had a consulting group looking at what is going on at our institution and concluded that we have in place the appropriate foundations to achieve our vision. Another reason for the title is that the work you did last year—which is the basis for our Enrollment Vision and Framework—was built on a fresh look at UALR’s strengths and what was already going on in our institution.
A year ago, I communicated to you that by the year 2020 UALR will be:
“One of the Top Metropolitan, Community-Engaged, and Research Universities among the 16 Member States of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).”
Today, I am delighted to inform you that we are making significant progress in the achievement of this vision. According to the SREB, until last year we were a Four-Year 3 institution—basically, an institution awarding a high number of master and bachelor degrees. Now, we have achieved the Four-Year 2 classification. UALR has awarded at least 30 doctoral degrees distributed among at least five programs for three consecutive years. We are the only university in Arkansas in this category and only one other institution in the state is above us: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. University of Texas at El Paso, University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of North Carolina at Charlotte are among our new peers. Congratulations to all of you who contributed to this remarkable accomplishment!
UALR Vision 2020: An External Assessment
Last semester, the Huron Consulting Group was hired by UALR to reengineer our enrollment and registrar processes and services with the goal of supporting and facilitating increased undergraduate enrollment. The consulting team identified four areas needing attention if we are to achieve our 2020 Vision. First, every faculty and staff member of our University must understand and act in support of a Student Success-Centric Institution. We must be proactive in dealing with our students, and focused on every student’s individual needs. We must facilitate the establishment of relationships between faculty-and-students and staff-and-students, and we must articulate the value of the UALR educational experience.
The Huron Consulting Group also communicated to us that leadership should be exercised at every level if we are to advance the vision of the institution and increase enrollment and retention. Allow me to illustrate this statement with some concrete examples:
- A staff member shows leadership when she moved to a new position as part of a restructuring process and decides to educate herself on the mission of the new department by reading all materials she can find and asking questions to clarify her doubts. Then, the staff member uses her knowledge to engage students in a project the office is involved, which will enhance the educational experience of the student.
- A faculty member can reach out to colleagues in other departments and colleges, and lead a research team to submit a grant application to the National Science Foundation to fund research with the goal of optimizing the use of water resources in the State of Arkansas.
- Another faculty member can exercise leadership reaching out to Dr. Wichinsky in the Community Connections Center to seek assistance in integrating service learning in his undergraduate course.
- A department chair can show leadership in relieving faculty members from administrative responsibilities to allow them to be more involved in interacting with high school students in their laboratories so these students become excited about the UALR educational experience.
- A department can lead the way in the integration of high impact activities in the curriculum as the Department of Political Science has done.
- A dean can lead his or her faculty to identify the academic programs of the future. He or she can lead the faculty in answering the question-What should we be doing to educate the citizens and professionals that our society will need twenty or twenty-five years from now?
You may want to stop me to say that the examples I have just shared with you do not apply to UALR. If there are many of you thinking that at UALR, faculty members are not and should not be involved in recruitment of students, or academic deans are not to work with the faculty in the development of academic programs, then, an assessment of the roles and responsibilities may be in order.
I am convinced that leaders will find their way out of any artificial constraints we try to impose on them.
Internal and external collaborations must be nurtured according to the assessment of the consulting team. Within our institution, we need to form the UALR Team; it cannot be us versus them. The complexity of the task at hand requires that every one of us listen to what the other has to say, we must share our ideas, and build on each other’s strengths and capabilities. We all must work toward the accomplishment of a common set of goals.
External collaborations such as those with the K-12 school system must be expanded and special attention must be given to our high school concurrent enrollment program. Our location makes it possible for us to have strong connections with the state and local government. We must make every effort to inform our elected officials and representatives from government agencies of our capabilities and how we can assist them in making public policy, and how our partnership can contribute to economic, social, and cultural development.
The number of community-based organizations working with UALR is significant. However, expanding these partnerships will afford more UALR students and faculty the opportunity to be engaged with the community. Growing our partnerships with employers will allow us to better understand their expectations for our graduates and also to provide our students additional educational opportunities and our faculty research and professional experiences.
The fourth area that we must improve on is communication. Can you imagine what will happen if we decide in the Provost’s Office to change the student minimum enrollment requirement to offer a course to 25, but we do not inform the deans or department chair of that change? I know I am exaggerating, but I just want you to get the message of the importance of communication. Remember we need to hear the same message seven times to be able to internalize it.
Academic Year 2014-2015: Reality
As it is demonstrated by the arrows in the figure in the screen, the communication process required to keep every individual, office, and division involved in the P4I model well informed is complex and could easily breakdown. An effective communication process requires the participation of many people, who for the most part, are handling multiple competing priorities simultaneously.
One very important element of our 2020 Vision is the level of enrollment of the institution. As you may know and as Chancellor Anderson will share with you in more detail, enrollment has a direct impact on our budget. I will share information about enrollment and the role for you to play in increasing it. The enrollment analysis for Fall 2014 I am sharing with you is based on the figures we had as of August 8, 2014. Today’s figures are more encouraging, but when I received those it was too late to integrate them in these remarks.
The figure in the screen shows the total number of students enrolled at UALR during the fall semester—with and without concurrent enrollment—from the academic year 2004-2005 to 2014-2015. The red line illustrates the students who are participating in the concurrent enrollment program. UALR’s highest enrollment ever occurred in the 2010 fall semester—13,176. Since then, we have experienced an enrollment decline. Academic year 2014-2015 will be the fourth consecutive fall with a decline in enrollment. The figure shows an estimate for the 2014 fall semester. This is the first time in my life that I pray for an error in the predictive model we developed. If there are not any errors in the prediction, we will experience a decline of approximately 1,000 students in comparison to last year.
As the figure in the screen shows, enrollment is made up of students who are new recruits to the institution—new first time and transfer—plus those who are continuing with us, those who we retain. The figure shows that we should expect a decline in returning students and transfer students. However, we will see an increase in new first-time students. The decline in returning students is a result of two factors: a drop in the size of the incoming class for fall 2013, and the student attrition problem. If everyone of the UALR Team members in this room commit ourselves to retain one student during academic year 2014-2015, and if we get two of our colleagues to do the same, I am confident the student attrition problem is resolved.
The table on the screen shows a comparison of our enrollment for the 2013 and 2014 fall semesters. Again, there is reason to conclude that the student semester credit hours for fall 2014 will be down—in comparison to last year—somewhere between 9.5 to 10 percent.
Our student attrition problem for the first to the second year is illustrated in this graph. However, there is good news. We are doing something that seems to be working. The first-year retention rate is improving and this could be attributed to the changes implemented in the Academic Advising Center.
The trend for the third-year retention rates follows a similar pattern as the one for second-year. To accelerate the positive trend we are seeing in the retention rates from first year on, and to lead students to degree completion in a more manageable time frame, a comprehensive student success plan needs to be implemented with the participation of the faculty, staff, and students. Yes, students—who must be partners in their own educational success.
It is important for UALR to know how our retention rates compare with those of a selected group of four-year institutions in the state of Arkansas. Even with improvements in the first year retention rates we have seen, there are multiple institutions with higher rates than UALR.
UALR Enrollment Vision and Framework
Last year, a massive amount of work was done by a number of faculty members and staff to identify and further develop the uniqueness of the UALR educational experience.
Based on this work, the Huron Consulting Group has established the UALR Enrollment Vision as Bring Learning to Life. We expose students to experiential learning opportunities and help them to engage with networks and possible future employers.
The consultants identified the three pillars for UALR Enrollment Framework:
- Institutional Strategy
They are recommending that the institutional strategy developed is based on UALR becoming a leader in strong and meaningful community connections.
- Faculty Engagement
Faculty engagement starts with our prospective students when they are brought to campus to explore the value of our educational experience. At that time, a faculty member who relates and engages with the students is the one closing the deal for us. That faculty member impresses and excites the student; therefore, the student decides to attend UALR. But as I mentioned before, this is only the beginning of the engagement process with the student. We need faculty engagement with the student, every step of the way, when he or she comes here—in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the field, in the hospital, in the faculty member’s office, in the hallway. The faculty member’s actions make it clear to the student that his or her education is the most important thing to our institution.
- Staff Expertise
Staff expertise is required to support the programs, activities, and processes such as, intrusive advising and the use of early warning and detection practices targeted at student success.
Actions and Operational Plans for 2014-2015
It is true we face formidable enrollment challenges this year, but it is also true that the elements for UALR to achieve its 2020 Vision are in place. We need to accelerate the pace and close the gaps that have been identified and that are addressed in the actions and operational plan for this academic year.
As mentioned before, one aspect of our plan—which requires attention in order to achieve the 2020 Vision—is Leadership, according to the Huron Consulting Group. With the objective of providing our administrators, staff, and faculty the leadership skills to accelerate the accomplishment of UALR’s vision, a Leadership Academy will be offered.
Further, the Inaugural UALR Faculty Fellow, John Miller, will lead the development and implementation of a Faculty Mentoring Program that will be modeled after a New Mexico State University program. Academic and Student Affairs will collaborate with the Chancellor’s Office in the consideration of an Excellence in Service Program for all UALR employees.
Careful consideration will be given to the leadership recommendations provided by the consulting team in the search processes for directors, deans, and vice provosts, in progress or to be conducted in the future.
Last year, quite a bit of work was done by an Advising Task Force I appointed to examine different advising models that could enhance student success. A final report was submitted by the task force during the summer. Based on the recommendations of the task force and leveraging on the systems in place that are working effectively, advising processes will be implemented with the goal of maximizing student success while at the same time optimizing faculty involvement and use of professional resources.
The development of the Quality Initiative will continue with the expectation that at the end of the year we will have a system capable of producing data for faculty, administration, and staff for decision making purposes.
The Provost’s Office will explore new ways to communicate with faculty, staff, and students. Additional communication channels will be opened within Academic and Student Affairs, and beyond. Extra effort will be invested to communicate more effectively with all the other divisions of the institution.
With the purpose of taking advantage of economies of scale and the expertise in ITS, we will partner with them to consolidate procurement processes for soft and hardware.
The actions to be implemented that are part of the programs component of the P4I model will require strong collaborations with the Faculty Senate, faculty, deans, professionals in Student Affairs, as well as our university and industrial partners.
It is about finding ways to offer programs that will count as many credits as possible toward a meaningful degree for our students. It is about using existing best practices in academic program development and delivery and adjusting that to better fit and serve our student population.
Two of the actions on the screen deserve special comments.
- First, my sincere gratitude to the members of the Interdisciplinary Programs and Collaborations Task Force, who last year spent countless hours deliberating on the best—the Mercedes-Benz—model we should implement to foster and grow these programs. Following these recommendations and considering the budgetary limitations we are facing, we are going to implement the Fiesta-model, instead of the Mercedes-Benz, to manage and grow the programs. I have asked deans Bond-Moupin and Furnish to lead this implementation and to work with Dr. Sarah Beth Estes and a team of faculty to make it a reality. In a couple of years, we will assess the effectiveness of the model implemented and make any required changes or adjustments.
- The second action I would like to comment on is the expansion of UALR online offerings. We have analyzed the report from the Strategic Planning Committee on Online Education along with what is considered best practices in the industry.
We will be getting external assistance to conduct a market analysis for some areas that have been identified as having the best potential for the offering of additional programs. We are already working with the deans of the colleges where some of the identified programs are, or could be, housed. Within the next two months, we will know what programs are, in fact, viable from a market analysis standpoint, which recommendations offered in the Ad Hoc committee report we can adopt, and the steps we will take to better support faculty involved in online education.
We need to anticipate what the careers and professions of the future will be, 20 or 25 years from now. I urge you to take advantage of our role as a research institution involved in the discovery of knowledge and technologies and to link our research findings to academic program development.
As a metropolitan research university, UALR must be responsive to the needs of the students and our community. We must provide our community with the educated individuals who will effectively contribute economic, cultural and social development to the city, region, and state. Therefore our academic program offerings must be aligned to these aspirations.
According to the assessment of the consulting team, UALR’s community connections keeps us relevant and make us unique, effective, impactful, and not easily replaceable. Thus, it is wise for us to take advantage of this strength in the educational experience we offer students. Let’s optimize the focus on active and connected learning.
For institutions to thrive in today’s higher education landscape, they have to seek strategic partnerships with public and private organizations to leverage resources, have meaningful community impact, and offer opportunities to faculty, students, staff that otherwise will not be affordable to the institution.
If UALR is going to be a student-centric institution, strategic partnerships must be forged within the institution as well. At the top of the list of the internal partnerships we need to focus on establishing a strong and effective partnership between faculty and professionals in Student Affairs. As I stated in my recommendations on academic restructuring to Chancellor Anderson last October, “…the current generation of traditional college-age students, the Millennials. They do not compartmentalize the social and academic sides of their lives.”
We must understand that every one of us is part of the UALR Team. As a member of this team, sometimes our role is to lead but at times we must be a follower if the team is going to be successful. The success of our team will be measured based on the success of our students.
All the members of the UALR Team must be on the same page in terms of what the profile of the UALR student population will look like three, five, ten years from now. The path to be on the same page is an institution-wide enrollment strategy. This strategy should guide our recruitment efforts but also our student success initiatives.
We have heard you. We need to improve the information technology (IT) support we offer you. A partnership that will bring Academic and Student Affairs representatives to the table along with ITS representatives is being offered as a strategy to enhance the IT support currently in place.
UALR has a wealth of members of the Alumni Association who are willing and eager to be involved with our students. Our students can benefit tremendously from a program that connects alumni with students to provide career mentoring. We will pursue a program like this during the 2014-2015 Academic Year.
Our institution can differentiate itself if we graduate individuals who are leaders, innovators, and responsible citizens. The accomplishment of this goal will be only possible if we coordinate and strengthen our connections with industry, community-based organizations, and professional associations. In addition to benefiting our students, this will enable UALR to build an adult student pipeline, expand the opportunities for us to obtain external funding to work on industry and community inspired research, and facilitate the transfer of the technology developed in our labs to the marketplace.
Last June, the transition team of the new colleges submitted a comprehensive report that is serving the founding deans well as they partner with the faculty to build the colleges. This is an exciting and once in a life time opportunity for you. I would like to encourage all of you involved in building a college to think about what you would like that college to be known for a decade or two from now.
Another task force that produced an excellent report last year was the Honors College Exploratory Task Force. Based on the recommendations in the report, an implementation team is working on getting the fundamental pieces in place for the UALR Honors College that will allow us to admit the first honors class for fall 2015. Simultaneously, a national search for the founding dean of the college is underway.
The University of Arkansas (UA) Board of Trustees approved in May the UALR University Center to be located in the UA Community College at Hope, Texarkana Campus. The center is scheduled to open in January 2015.
In closing, I would like to invite you to join me in moving forward to the year 2020 and enjoy for a short moment how it will feel when we can say “UALR is a Top Metropolitan, Community-Engaged, Research University Among the 16 Members States of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).” The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is overwhelming. To be able to truly experience the joy of this big accomplishment, it will not take much. It will only require us to make the changes that will allow UALR to respond to the students’ needs in a timely and effective way. It will require that we take advantage of the internal and external areas of opportunity that have been identified for us. We should remember what Leon Megginson said, “According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
My colleagues, it will only require us getting a little bit out of our comfort zone and doing things slightly different. We just need to remember Francis Bacon when he said, “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.”
I am confident that with the UALR Team in this room we can do it. We just need to believe what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”