Thanks to the many of you who attended Monday’s Town Hall meeting and shared your thoughts about the findings of our Student Success Task Force. Its recommendations were pointed – we still have a great deal to accomplish, despite all the good work that has taken place in recent times. Our 4-year and 6-year graduation rates of 17 percent and 49 percent, respectively, do not compare favorably with those of all public universities in Connecticut (40.6 and 61.5 percent), and public universities nationally (31.3 and 56 percent). While our graduation rates have started to swing upward, as I mentioned in a recent blog, we clearly have some catching up to do.
The task force – whose findings to which many of you contributed – recommends improvements in many key areas. For example, creating an ombudsman-type position to help students find assistance when they have questions or concerns; or introducing more flexible hours of operation in key student service offices. To help bolster our retention rate, the task force recommends examining the credit-load needed for graduation and reinforcing our advisement ranks – some students are accumulating as many as 149 credits, meaning extra months in the classroom and the added burden of extra tuition and related expenses. Other proposals included recommending more opportunities for student employment on campus; increased support for second-year and transfer students and enhanced academic intervention.
The full report will be available online shortly, along with an opportunity for members of our community to offer comments and suggestions during this month. Watch for an email with a link to the task force website in the next few days.
My thanks to Nicole Henderson, Academic Director of our First-Year Experience program and Peter Troiano, Dean of Student Affairs, who led the task force through its first phase; and then Tracy Tyree, Vice President for Student affairs and Steven Breese, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, for completing the fact-finding process. Soon, we will announce a new team to review the recommendations and carry them forward within the structure of our Strategic Plan – ensuring that this is a living document that will generate positive change on our campus.
I have met with Governor Malloy twice in recent weeks – once at the launching of his new Transform CSCU 2020 Initiative, and again yesterday at the Hamden Chamber of Commerce’s annual Lunch with the Governor, where I had the pleasure of offering remarks. As you know, this multi-year initiative will provide more than $134 million across our 17 institutions, with an emphasis on access, affordability and retention – all themes that we are intimately familiar with here at Southern.
The program also provides for more smart classrooms, in an effort to create technology-rich learning environments; seeks to streamline administrative processes to ease the path to registration and degree completion, and looks to create effective bridges between K-12 schools, community colleges and higher education institutions like Southern.
Coming as it does in the second year of a biennial budget cycle, this initiative can be viewed as an initial investment that will be repeated if we are successful in advancing its agenda. Certainly, it will help us to further our strategic goals and enhance synergies with our sister institutions. In my remarks yesterday at the Hamden Chamber luncheon, I emphasized the work that we are already undertaking to enhance both access and retention. And I also detailed how we are adapting both our facilities – such as the new science building – and our academic offerings, (e.g. the Accelerated MBA; M.S. in applied physics) to meet the future needs of our students and Connecticut’s workforce.
Reflecting the themes contained in Gov. Malloy’s initiative, ConnScu President Gregory Gray’s has proposed that tuition and fees be capped at 2 percent for the 2014–2015 academic year. He recommends that this becomes part of a long-term tuition plan extending through 2016–2017. The Board of Regents has a stated goal to keep college accessible and affordable for Connecticut residents – as President Gray pointed out: “Higher education must remain within reach if Connecticut is to develop a strong, thriving economy.”
With inflation expected annually to exceed 2 percent over the next several years, individual institutions will need to make up much of the budget differential through efficiencies and increased enrollment. At Southern, the lower tuition increase will certainly present less of a financial deterrent for many prospective and current students; and new developments such as the implementation of the Common App will help to expand our pool of applicants. But the onus will be on all of us to continue our work to enhance enrollment and improve retention, following the recommendations outlined by the Student Success Task Force and through the development and implementation of our new Strategic Plan.
DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
In a move that will support key strategic initiatives, Dr. Erin Heidkamp has been named Director of International Education. Erin has served as Interim Director of International Education at Southern since January 2012 and has achieved a great deal during that short time.
She has coordinated the merger of our three branches of international education: Study Abroad and Reciprocal Exchange Programs (formerly the Office of International Programs), J-1 Visa and Risk Management (formerly housed in Sponsored Programs and Research) and Matriculated International Student Services (formerly International Student Services).
During Erin’s tenure, student study abroad participation has increased by 25 percent, faculty-led spring break and summer study abroad programs have increased by 40 percent, and the number of reciprocal exchange partner universities has increased by 40 percent. These are all excellent trends and reflect our strategic goals to prepare our local students for global lives by giving them more international exposure both at home and abroad. Please congratulate Erin on a well-deserved appointment.
SSC ADVISING PLATFORM
Southern’s partnership with the Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative (SSC) is reaping benefits, Kim Crone, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management reports. A pilot program using the SSC advising platform – a predictive analytics system that uses grades and other data to help students measure their likelihood of success in a specific major - was successfully used by exercise science, communication and inquiry faculty. Full implementation and use of the technology is being rolled out to all faculty advisors this spring.
Kim says the SCC Advising Platform has helped us move toward proactive advising, where advisors can easily identify and seek out at risk students who are in the “murky middle” of deciding whether to persist with or complete their degree program. It provides our advisors with accurate, consistent information about a student’s degree planning, progress toward completion, and the effect of switching or changing majors. And it allows us to migrate to a standardized system and technology so that our advisors can share information automatically.
As we know, student retention is a critical element of our efforts to rebuild our enrollment, and effective academic advising plays a central role in helping students stay on track toward degree completion. Our SSC partner, Griha Singla, will be on campus today and Thursday (March 5 and 6) to continue with training and implementation. All interested faculty advisors are encouraged to check with their deans for more information.
TOBACCO-FREE COLLEGE INITIATIVE
Last month, I received a letter from U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy requesting that Southern consider joining the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the initiative in 2012, and there are currently more than 1,200 smoke-free or tobacco-free colleges and universities nationwide. Our neighbor Gateway Community College recently became a smoke-free campus, the first Connecticut public institution to do so. HHS is targeting colleges and universities in its campaign because about one-third of young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 smoke.
As a public university, the enhancement of healthy living for our students, faculty and staff is a key point of emphasis through our wellness programming. And so I have charged our university Health and Safety Committee, chaired by Police Chief Joseph Dooley, to explore the issue and outline the steps that would need to be taken to make our campus tobacco-free. The committee will soon be reaching out to the campus community for reaction and recommendations.
EXPANDING WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I will be a signatory on the university’s behalf to the 2013 Statement of Support for Expanding Workplace Flexibility. This initiative is part of a national challenge by the American Council on Education (ACE) to U.S. colleges and universities to pledge a commitment to creating a workplace flexible environment for faculty.
This challenge is based on evidence that shows a connection between workplace flexibility and improvements in faculty commitment, engagement, productivity, recruitment and retention, as well as reductions in stress and turnover. A workplace flexible environment can lead to increased faculty performance inside and outside of the classroom, translating into improved quality of instruction and increased grant revenues. And furthermore, flexibility can help faculty meet increasing demands at work, as well as in their personal and family roles.
I have asked Dr. Michele Vancour, professor of public health, to serve as Southern’s point person for the Challenge, due to her experience and leadership in university work-life areas. Michele is a past president of the College and University Work-Life-Family Association, and has fostered relationships with key members of ACE’s Institutional Leadership Group, which focuses on programs, research and resources that assist senior leaders in improving institutional effectiveness.
Michele has a longstanding commitment to helping Southern become a great place to work and learn for faculty, staff and students. I know that she will be a valuable asset in helping us ensure that Southern continues to be a healthy, inclusive and welcoming environment in which to work, study and teach.
GREAT COLLEGES SURVEY
Continuing with the work-life balance theme, Southern is participating in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Great Colleges to Work For program, a study designed to recognize institutions that have built excellent workplaces.
Part of the program involves an employee survey that will be distributed to all of our full-time faculty and staff. On March 17 you will receive an email with instructions on how to complete it. This confidential survey was designed specifically for higher education, and the aggregate results will be useful in not only assessing our workplace culture but also in establishing benchmark metrics for future initiatives from our continuing Strategic Plan work.
Your participation and honest feedback will be critical to the assessment process. To ensure the confidentiality of your responses, the survey will be processed by ModernThink LLC, a research and consulting firm focusing on workplace excellence. Our institution will not be given any information that would enable us to trace survey data back to any one individual. Everyone’s participation is encouraged! A high response rate helps ensure accurate results and demonstrates the commitment of our faculty and staff.
Did you know 1 in 3 Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and that heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined? We can help to change these statistics by showing our Southern colors as part of the Greater New Haven Heart Walk on Saturday, May 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Savin Rock Beach in West Haven. The 3-mile Heart Walk is a fun, family event where participants join more than a million people in 300 cities nationwide to raise funds supporting the research, education and advocacy efforts of the American Heart Association.
Fitness Center Coordinator Jess Scibek and Associate Athletics Director Mike Kobylanski are leading Southern’s effort, recruiting team captains and members. If you are interested in starting a team or joining team SCSUfit you can also CLICK HERE to visit Southern’s company page. I am a member of the Executive Leadership Team for the Heart Walk, and I encourage as many of you as possible to join this enjoyable and rewarding community event!
STUDENT CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
As you know, Southern and its students have a long and proud tradition of community engagement and volunteerism – highlighted several years ago by our inclusion on the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Reflecting this tradition, I have been elected as a board member of the Connecticut Campus Compact, which focuses on civic engagement and creating partnerships between public and private institutions statewide.
Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents—representing about 6 million students — who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. As the only national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement, Campus Compact promotes public and community service: develops students’ citizenship skills, helps campuses forge effective community partnerships, and provides resources and training for faculty seeking to integrate civic and community-based learning into the curriculum.
This is an excellent opportunity for us to enhance our students’ volunteerism and community contributions so that they will develop into the engaged citizens on which our democracy depends.
HERI FACULTY SURVEY
Our strategic planning process will be informed by data, including the results from the National Survey of Faculty developed by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI).
The last time that Southern administered HERI was during the 2005-2006 academic year, and there has been a great deal of change on campus since then.
The link to the HERI faculty survey has been sent to all faculty members’ email accounts. It is critical that the Strategic Planning Committee has complete and accurate information on such topics as pedagogical practices, faculty goals and expectations for students, research and service activities, sources of stress and satisfaction, and the connection between learning in the classroom and practices in the local and global community.
HERI is absolutely anonymous, and I hope that all faculty members will complete the survey.
ATHLETES EXCEL IN CLASSROOM
Excellent news from our Athletic Department, where our 392 student-athletes combined to record a semester grade point average of 3.04, the best mark in school history.
Eleven of our 19 programs achieved a team grade point average of 3.0 or higher during the fall semester. The women’s cross country team led all programs with a 3.6 team GPA. Individually, 46 percent of our student athletes achieved a GPA of at least 3.0, while 25 percent had GPAs of 3.5 or higher. Four student-athletes recorded a perfect 4.0 GPA during the semester.
I echo the words of Athletic Director Patricia Nicol: “The academic success achieved individually and collectively by our student-athletes this past semester continues to demonstrate their presence as outstanding ambassadors for Southern Connecticut State University.”
Congratulations to the coaching staff, administrative support team and our student-athletes for these praiseworthy accomplishments.
Concluding on the theme of athletic excellence, please take the opportunity to support our men’s basketball team in person as they continue their march through the post-season and their rise in the national rankings. Currently on a school-record 14-game winning streak, the 25-2 Owls host Le Moyne in the Northeast-10 Conference Semifinals today at 7 p.m. in Moore Fieldhouse.