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Office of the President

2006 State of the University Address

TOWARD A UC|21 SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTABILITY FOR STUDENT LEARNING

President Nancy L. Zimpher
State of the University Address
October 18, 2006
Webcast

Great Hall, Tangeman University Center

Good afternoon, one and all, (those present and those tuning in to our UC Webcast).  Let me add my own personal welcome to the 2006 State of the UnivPresident Zimpher Photoersity Address on behalf of the University of Cincinnati.  And thank you, Ann Welsh. I know you’ve already been at the helm of the Faculty Senate now for six weeks, but I want to take this moment to publicly welcome you as our new chair and thank you for your enthusiastic leadership.

I, too, want to acknowledge our inspiring musical prelude. For that, we owe a big thank you to CCM Dean Douglas Lowry, who made the performance possible. And to our graduate students in the CCM Graduate Brass Quintet, again, Bravo!

Welcome as well to members of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees –our chairman, Jeff Wyler, and members Buck Niehoff and Fran Barrett; student representative Daisy-Malloy Hamburg, as well as our UC Foundation Board members, student government President  Jerry Tsai and Vice President Jeremy  Driscoll, and other student leaders, faculty and staff.

I am truly grateful for your time today, and I thank the Faculty Senate for this annual opportunity to address our university community. I recall when first arriving at UC, I wondered about “the seasons of the year;” what would be those benchmark events that would define our life together.  Already we are seeing these traditions build:  the New Student Convocation; three inspiring Commencements—one in the winter and two each in the spring; our annual May Forecast; our September “report card” to the Board of Trustees.  So today we share yet another annual tradition as we pause to reflect on the past year’s achievements and set a course for the year going forward, aligned with our UC|21 strategic vision. For the uninitiated, let me remind you that UC’s ambitions to lead in the 21st century are drawn from this vision, and our collective effort to “define the new urban research university."  So…let’s get on with it!

A Year of Extraordinary Memories and Financial Challenges

On the one hand, last year was a hallmark year of celebrations: the centennials of co-op, the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, as well as the College of Business, and the 75th anniversary of the Taft Memorial Fund.  Add to that the official completion of MainStreet and the inspired dedication of the Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village—ensuring that last year will be a bookmark in UC’s history.  On the other hand, last year we also had to accommodate what many have described as “the elephant in the room,” aka:  a very challenging budget profile.  Recall that in the winter of my first year here, we equated our budget situation with The Perfect Storm.

While the tempest has not yet passed, there are signs that the sky is clearing. This year’s budget reductions have been executed with considerable and labored decision-making, if not a whole lot of pain, but I think we are beginning to see daylight.  We are achieving a model of integrated academic and fiscal planning, and we are increasingly prioritizing our academic ambitions in an environment of responsible and transparent financial forthrightness.  To this end, I want to thank all members of the university community for your perseverance, patience and participation. 

I believe we will come through this process of academic prioritization, administrative downsizing, and increased financial responsibility stronger than ever. As is often the case, great challenges present wonderful opportunities to reexamine our goals and the business model that undergirds them.  As Collins suggests in his oft-cited text, Good to Great, we must reject the idea “…well intentioned, but dead wrong -- that the primary path to greatness in the social sector is to become ‘more like a business.’  Most businesses, like most of anything else in life, fall somewhere between mediocre and good.  Few are great…A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness….”  To this end, we are leaving no stone unturned, and at the same time, adding incredible energy to our vision and goals, and the discipline to achieve our ambitions.

On the administrative side alone, we have already taken $5 million in cuts, including the elimination of nearly 80 full-time positions.

We have embarked on an administrative reorganization that will make us more nimble and efficient, reducing the number of my direct reports from 10 to 7. And some 85 employees have signed paperwork for the early retirement incentive and a similar program is being explored for faculty.

Thanks to the conscientious work of our provosts and deans, we are downsizing academic instructional and staff positions through economies in our instructional delivery system, filling to capacity and/or consolidating course offerings and sections, in order to maintain our commitment to the academic core, while achieving financial integrity.

And thanks to the cooperation and diligence of our faculty, staff and students, energy-savings efforts, led by Utilities and Facilities Management, have resulted in $2.6 million dollars in cost savings in the last year. 

UC|21 Progress

In the face of these challenges, we have still made solid and steady progress on our UC|21 goals. So certainly we should capture a moment in time to celebrate our achievements, with some highlights from the UC|21 2006 report card:

Goal 1: Place Students at the Center

On our first goal among equals, we continue to make significant strides:

  • Our recent student surveys -- including the National Survey of Student Engagement and Student Satisfaction Inventory -- show big gains in our students’ satisfaction with services, learning, student-faculty interaction and the campus environment. Believe it or not, that includes parking on campus!
  • We have also instituted new privacy protection measures such as the new UCID system to replace the use of Social Security numbers.

Goal 2: Grow Our Research Excellence

  • In a difficult federal funding climate, UC remains in the top 50 of all universities in the U.S., according to the National Science Foundation rankings on federal expenditures, and we remain in the top 25 for all public institutions.
  • We also launched a new UC Research magazine, now to be published quarterly, to highlight our distinguished scholars, and we hosted 2,500 people at our Showcase event in April.
  • And I couldn’t possibly leave this goal without commenting on our very favorite scholar, Dr. Elwood Jensen, most recently mentioned as a contender for a Nobel Prize. 

I hope you know, Dr. Jensen, that your immense accomplishments in the field of medical research not only make us exceptionally proud; they represent for all of us the profound accomplishments that our individual researchers across the campus share everyday with our students, not only in the classroom, but in their labs and studios, their field work, and through their innovative thinking.  Congrats from all of us in the UC family.

Goal 3: Achieve Academic Excellence

The dial continues to move in the right direction:

  • This fall we welcomed our most academically qualified freshman class in UC’s history, with more than twice the number of National Merit Finalists and higher average ACT scores than ever before.  Another sign of progress is that our incoming freshmen possess more Advanced Placement credits when they arrive than any previous class.
  • And most importantly, our retention and graduation rates continue to nudge upwards.
  • And as many of you know, we are currently vetting the product of the UC|21 Strategic Planning Council on Academic Priorities.  This “living document” is currently under review by our deans, the Faculty Senate, and student governance bodies.  It will also be made available to other faculty, staff and interested parties, including our Trustees and the UC Foundation, throughout the fall.  Our goal is to arrive at a final all-university academic planning document by the end of this calendar year that will not only provide a roadmap for future internal university resource allocations,  but also for external private, corporate and government investments.

Goal 4: Forge Key Relationships and Partnerships

Two key initiatives with huge regional significance are now underway:

  • Our new Center for the City is off the ground and ready to leverage our in-house expertise for the greater good of Cincinnati USA.
  • And with the launch of Strive on the Purple People Bridge on August 16th, we announced an unprecedented regional partnership that will work to seal the leaks in our educational pipeline from birth through college graduation and entrance into the workforce -- an investment of our collective capacities that has the potential to change forever the economic opportunity and quality of life for generations of our citizens for years to come.

Goal 5: Establish a Sense of Place

With 15 years of transformation completed, last spring we celebrated a new athletic administration building, complete with an inspired permanent exhibit of our university academic and athletic history and the new Campus Rec Center.  We also:

  • Established a new staff and faculty volunteer docent program for campus tours; as many have equated our campus with an architectural museum.
  • And we launched our first MainStreet Stride, with 900 people proudly parading in their red and black.  Next year we intend to have as many observers in the stands as we do in the “stride” procession!

Goal 6: Create Opportunity

This goal is about developing both potential and resources, and we have made significant strides:

  • Our powerhouse impact on Ohio was quantified in a study we did with Ohio State and Case. Each year, our three major universities pack an economic impact of $6.3 billion on our state.
  • We have also established a UC|21 task force to develop an action plan to promote diversity on campus.
  • We have initiated a new format for budget decision making, including the creation of the Fiscal Planning Oversight Committee, with members representing key constituencies across campus.  The planned-for interaction between this new committee and the formation of a similar standing “academic planning oversight committee,” has the potential of transforming the way decisions are made at UC in potent and positive ways.
  • And immediately after this speech concludes, you will hear more about our successful “We’re All UC” faculty-staff fund-raising campaign.

As we look at these achievements, I want to take the opportunity to thank each member of the university community -- our trustees, our students, our academic officers, our faculty and staff, our alumni and partners -- for making this progress possible.  Your support, dedication and hard work are greatly appreciated and have resulted in much to celebrate.

Accountability:  Who Wants What?

Most of the items I have just highlighted are in our UC|21 report card, but our report card is just in its nascent stage, drawing existing information from a wide variety of sources -- both internal and external. And it is accessible, on the Web, in an easy-to-use format for anyone to read.

The question today is how can we add to our report card more data with regard to improving teaching and learning, the nature of the student experience, and the evidence needed to assure our various publics that quality learning has occurred?

Thus the focus of the remainder of my remarks, the anchor theme of this address I am calling, “Toward a UC|21 System of Accountability for Student Learning.”  

You may not remember, but I do, that last year I closed my State of the University address with a quote from Friedman’s The World Is Flat.  Interestingly, it is in large part because of the views expressed in this widely read text, and the spate of national reports on America’s competitiveness, no doubt, that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings formed the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, to launch a national dialogue to strengthen higher education, so that our students and our nation remain competitive in the 21st century.

While the U.S. is viewed by many as the strongest system of higher education in the world, being the best may not be good enough.  So today, the Commission’s report has been issued; Secretary Spellings has expressed her support for its findings, but recently charted a course of action toward implementation. Six key higher education organizations nationally have issued a response to the report, committing their participation in key activities and strategies, and of course offering friendly criticism, related to the accountability issues it raises.

To be candid, assessment is a topic to which the academy, whether deserved or not, has a reputation for being somewhat resistant.

As a Texas educator testified to the Spellings Commission last year: “…Many academics think accountability is scary or just plain unpleasant. What are they afraid of? ... On the one hand, that it will be used. … By contrast, some fear that it won’t be used -- that it will just be a waste of resources and time…”

There are others who may think that if we simply wait long enough, the issue will just go away. 

But this issue is not going to go away.  The persistence of the Spellings Commission may be evidence enough.  During the course of the Commission’s work, Chairperson Charles Miller was heard to observe, “The message from higher education has been, ‘we’re the best in the world; leave us alone and send us more money.’  You can’t, he says, just keep patting yourself on the back; you’ll break your arm.”  Today accountability in higher education must be viewed as a basic and natural element in our educational covenant with students, the public and ourselves.

And today, I hope to make the case that if we have our students and higher education’s best interests at heart, it is imperative to more fully develop our capacity for measuring our impact, particularly on student learning.

When it comes to the growing chorus on accountability, who else is in the hunt?  It might be easier to list who is not! As I noted earlier, statements, books and reports are being issued on this topic from all quarters. In addition to the Spellings Commission, you are no doubt familiar with some of these:  Hersh and Merrow’s Declining by Degree:  Higher Education at Risk, Derek Bok’s Our Underachieving Colleges:  A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More, or the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s Measuring Up, a report card on higher education, in which 41 states received an incomplete on measures of student learning.  I could go on.  Those weighing in on this topic range from university presidents and other higher education insiders, to testing agencies, business leaders and policy-makers.

Rather than dwell more on the Spellings Commission report itself and Spellings’ reaction, I propose a different but related tack.  In response to the mounting appeals for accountability, and including the Spellings Commission report, our membership organization of 214 like-type comprehensive public and mostly research universities - the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges -- along with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, have issued a very provocative white paper, now in its third draft, proposing a national Voluntary System of Accountability for Undergraduate Education, which they refer to as “VSA.” 

Their draft gives credit where credit it is due. They acknowledge that all public universities are already engaged in serious and ongoing accountability appraisals, “with significant time and resources dedicated to the task.” They argue that the academy’s commitment to accountability is real. But they also acknowledge that perhaps more should be done and done better.

Acknowledging that, for now, this “voluntary system of accountability” focuses largely on undergraduate teaching and learning, there is much that can be done as well, to analyze quality learning at the graduate level, and then of course, there are all kinds of accountability measures that would also overlay our adequacy in the research we produce, and the degree of impact from our rather universal engagement and outreach.  But those issues I leave for another day.

For now, no matter who is asking, the big question seems to center on “what exactly happens to students in college?” It is a time of transition, yes, but how do we know for sure? Hersch and Merrow sum up their assessment of assessment:

“Campuses and others use selectivity in admissions and graduation rates as surrogate measures of quality. Yet these merely reflect a ‘diamonds in, diamonds out, garbage in, garbage out’ perspective on quality. Ideally, excellence and quality should be determined by the degree to which an institution develops the abilities of its students. It’s what economists call ‘value added.’”

So given the white paper currently under consideration by our member organization, NASULGC, let me reiterate for you the three principle categories of questions this voluntary system of accountability would encompass:

  • Data that parents and students need to make a thoughtful decision about which institution of higher education would best fit their needs and aspirations for education and career that lasts a lifetime;
  • Information that faculty and campus support staff need to have about student learning in order to determine whether students are reasonably engaged with their institutions, and to measure which educational practices have what impact on quality learning; and,
  • Comparative data sets from like-type institutions that would give public policy makers, students and parents the evidence of outcomes that they say they need, by comparing peers to peers.

Embracing the Opportunity

Given this environment of escalating attention to accountability, what is the University of Cincinnati’s role in this issue? First and foremost, as an institution, we must embrace this moment as an opportunity for doing better, rather than seeing it as a reality that must merely be faced. We can and should be a true leader in assessment and accountability.  Why?  Let me recite the litany of reasons:

Reason #1:  Improving learning and the student experience is our core business. Given our UC|21 Goal of “Placing Students at the Center,” student learning must be our paramount concern. If we don’t try to do this and do it well, we are turning our backs on one of our key missions.

Reason #2:  Closely aligned and inseparable from the question of accountability is quality teaching, along with quality research to understand the best approaches to achieving student learning.  Our Teacher Quality Partnership across the state is examining the “value-added” question for the pre-school through Grade 12 segment of the education pipeline, with the purpose of ascertaining how we at the university level can better prepare P to 12 teachers to achieve preferred learning outcomes among the students our teacher-graduates teach.  We need similar research at the postsecondary level.  At UC, we have taken a step in the right direction with our Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, and soon we will announce the inaugural inductees into our new Academy of Fellows for Teaching and Learning. These new Fellows will almost certainly have a role to play in assessment.
 
Reason #3:  Measuring learning ultimately means learning will get better. I often quote management guru Tom Peters, who says “what gets measured gets done,” and by tracking our impact we will continue to make what we do better. It would be a waste of time to seek metrics and then ignore them.

 
Reason #4:  If we were doing a better job on accountability - voluntarily - we probably wouldn’t be faced with the possibility of the government mandating it.  We had better start measuring the value that our undergraduate experience adds to the students or the government will make us do it with the metrics of their choosing.  We have a better chance of getting the metrics right if we work together proactively rather than reactively.

And Reason #5:  A one-size-fits all approach to this issue does not recognize one of the great strengths of American higher education: its diversity and variety. U.S. higher education is so wide-ranging that any assessment strategy we pursue must acknowledge the differences in institutional types, and only we know best how to articulate and measure the uniqueness.

Whatever our assessment approaches prove to be, they must not be written in stone. We need to be nimble, responsive, and open to modification and experimentation.  Our assessment tools must be accessible and open -- to students, parents, to the public and policymakers. They must all be easily available and user-friendly.  And we must pick up the pace.   We need better measures of learning and we need to be experimenting with those measures now.

Just briefly, let me suggest what’s in store for us.  The questions to which parents and students seek answers lie in the information we share during the recruitment and admissions process.  That will likely not be so much a case of new instrumentation, as it is just being more forthright about the nature and character of the learning experience at UC.

We’ve had some initial experience with a standardized test from the Educational Testing Service, and are familiar with the challenges of administering it.  These issues are very thoroughly addressed in the white paper I have been referring to today, and could be revisited by us in the near future.  We’ve had a great deal more success with the administration of the Indiana University designed National Survey of Student Engagement and the private testing firm’s Student Satisfaction Inventory.

The NSSE is designed to measure our teaching practices and university environments that lead to learning.  We plan to participate in NSSE again in 2007. 

The SSI allows us to assess the quality of student life and learning. We use these data to guide strategic action planning, strengthen our student retention efforts, meet accreditation requirements and assess progress in meeting our goals. We will participate in SSI again in 2008.

Toward a cluster of questions surrounding public assurance that good learning is occurring, this is a much more challenging dilemma. There is at this time no “crosswalk” between understandings and abilities measured by say an ACT or SAT test at point of entry to college, and the measure of success on the GRE, LSAT or GMAT, for instance,  as students graduate. And, there exists at this time no single test that might be universally administered to measure core outcomes.

And let’s not discount, as some have been trying to do lately, the importance of accreditation. In all, UC has a list of more than 40 organizations that review colleges and programs on our campuses, ranging from the Higher Learning Commission to college reviews to program-specific reviews such as the American Psychological Association.  Many even require us to follow up with our graduates after they leave us.

Signs of Progress at UC

At UC, we have many other signs of progress on the accountability front. Let’s look at some examples:

  • In 2002, our Graduate School launched an important assessment process called graduate program review.  On a cycle of every five years, programs are examined by both internal and external reviewers. The purpose is to promote continuous improvement in our graduate programs as well as performance excellence. It also allows us to invest wisely in those programs that are strongest.  Currently, our newly drafted position paper on academic priorities under review at this time, calls for initiation of parallel program reviews at the undergraduate level as well.
  • Through General Education and the UC|21 Integrated Core Learning proposal, we have been hard at work on assessment. We have a ways to go to be sure. But for the past two years, we have had senior capstone requirements in place in every college. Pilot projects with E-portfolios are underway, and we have begun to gather baseline data. These continuing efforts will help us to measure whether learning expectations have been met and what strategies we may need to consider for improvement.

    And because of these efforts, we should be in good shape to create the Student Success Plan currently being called for by the Ohio Board of Regents.
  • Our Professional Practice program leads a $1 million study that is creating a novel way to link corporate feedback and curricular reform. Supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, this project is moving into its third year and should prove to be another of those UC “firsts” like co-op itself. When fully rolled out, these new tools will connect co-op students’ performance to their instruction in the classroom and will provide valuable feedback to departments and programs involved in co-op, not just here at UC but around the world.
  • The College of Applied Science each year examines its job placement rate and salary data for recent graduates. For the past 10 years, 96 percent of all of their graduates seeking full-time jobs were successful in their job searches within weeks of graduating. This is the kind of data we need across the institution as a whole.

So…What If?

Today I have tried to extrapolate from various national reports, and a proposed national pathway toward a voluntary system of accountability, to suggest how we might respond with a replicate in our own distinctive way, a UC|21 voluntary system of accountability.  For your consideration, I have focused on the three directions that a voluntary system of accountability might take.

What if, in establishing what students and parents need to know in order to be confident in their selection of UC as a very good place to study, we asked our student government to take a lead here, and present us with a menu to guide prospective students and their parents about learning at UC?  What if our UC Alumni Association convened focus groups of alums who are encouraging their children to attend UC, and there are many who do. What do they most need to know about the student experience in order to close the deal with their aspiring college-bound children?

And what if we asked the Faculty Senate to examine best practices in instructional delivery systems, in concert with the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, and other key groups deeply engaged in improving learning on our campus? 

And what if we convened an ad hoc group of interested and informed students, faculty, deans and directors to consider ways in which we could experiment with new and creative measures of learning outcomes that would allow a cross-walk between what students know and are able to do when they enter UC, in contrast to what they know and are able to do when the exit UC.  This huge conundrum is not ours to answer alone, but certainly needs to be done in concert with the national dialogue.  We need to be organized to participate in that dialogue, and I dare say, help lead it.

In closing, I’m going to rely on Richard Hersh and Derek Bok for wisdom and reflection.

Hersh observes:  “Valued-added assessment offers an excellent place [for us] to start and a chance for higher education to demonstrate that ‘faith-based’ answers about quality are no longer acceptable. This country has always looked to higher education to take the lead in innovation, and to define, seek, and demand excellence from its students. Today’s academy should be satisfied with nothing less.”

And from the eminent President Bok:  “If colleges miseducate their students, the nation will eventually suffer the consequences. If [we] can do a better job of helping [our] students communicate with greater precision and style, think more clearly, analyze more rigorously, become more ethically discerning, be more knowledgeable and active in civic affairs, society will be much the better for it. Small wonder, then, that critics care enough to write with such passion and that large numbers of people want to read what they have to say.”

And now a quote from me:  “Let’s get to work!”

Thank you.