Energizing the Educational Environment

October 12, 2011

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

A great university is comprehensive. It supports accomplished faculty and educational programs across disciplines, encourages groundbreaking research and discoveries, and builds vibrant communities strengthened by diversity. All of these facets are connected by our mission to educate future leaders.

KU faces challenges in attracting the best undergraduates and ensuring they successfully complete their degrees in a timely way and enter the global workforce. Facing the challenges of undergraduate education is an important part of our strategic plan, Bold Aspirations.

This issue of Provost eNews focuses upon two important aspects of undergraduate education: a new KU core curriculum and recruitment and retention. You can read more about our particular focus in these priorities on the Bold Aspirations implementation web site.

A university curriculum based upon core educational goals

Goal 1 of Bold Aspirations is to strengthen recruitment, teaching, and mentoring to prepare undergraduate students for lifelong learning, leadership, and success. Our planning process developed a series of strategies to reach this goal. The first will establish a new core curriculum for all undergraduate students.

The strategies were formulated by the strategic planning work group on Energizing the Educational Environment (EEE) co-chaired by Chris Haufler, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology and special advisor to the provost, and Ann Cudd, professor of philosophy and associate dean for the humanities. Two years ago Chris led the chancellor’s task force on Retention and Graduation, which discovered that KU’s BA requirement of 72 credit hours of “general education” is 30 to 50 percent higher than those at peer universities. The EEE work group determined that a curriculum based upon learning goals rather than course distribution provides students with a quality learning experience, while at the same time providing them the flexibility to take part in life-changing experiences such as study abroad, research, internships, and double majors.

During the strategic planning process, the campus community identified six educational goals as the basis for a new KU core curriculum:

  1. Build core skills of critical thinking and quantitative literacy;
  2. Strengthen written and oral communication;
  3. Develop a background of knowledge across fundamental areas of study;
  4. Gain the ability to integrate knowledge and think creatively;
  5. Respect human diversity and expand cultural understanding and global awareness; and
  6. Practice social responsibility and demonstrate ethical behavior.

Six “satellite committees” are currently developing measurable learning outcomes that expand and elucidate each goal. The committees are composed of faculty members nominated by university governance, deans, and department chairs, as well as student representatives nominated by the Student Senate. The six educational goals with their measurable learning outcomes will coordinate flexibly with existing school and college requirements and become the foundation for a university-wide curriculum.

Starting in January, faculty, departments, and schools will be invited to identify options — consisting of courses and learning experiences such as research, service learning, and study abroad — to meet the six educational goals. Part of the success of any new curriculum is providing evidence that students actually achieve the desired learning outcomes by the time they graduate. KU will develop a pilot project to demonstrate how an e-portfolio system can record student accomplishments and facilitate the evaluation of student learning.

Recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest

To further enhance our ability to attract and retain students as recommended in Bold Aspirations, we will invest in first-year experiences, including a common book program, faculty-led small-group first-year seminars on interdisciplinary themes, and learning communities based upon block enrollment.

One of the 10 business cases currently being developed for the Lawrence and Edwards campuses as part of the Changing for Excellence initiative is in support of the Bold Aspirations goal 1’s second strategy: improving how KU manages its student enrollment. We stand to gain at least $8.6 million annually by more effective recruitment, enrollment, and retention of our students, which in turn will give us the financial base to improve the university. Part of our approach will involve greater outreach to applicants, personalized recruiting, an array of four-year merit-based scholarships, and strategic allocation of need-based financial aid.

November 1 is an important deadline for one of the major changes we have already made: our new four-year renewable scholarships for incoming freshmen. Under the leadership of Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Matt Melvin, our dedicated staff and student assistants have put renewed energy and resources into a recruitment campaign that highlights new scholarship opportunities.

Working together

I especially want to salute our friends in Kansas Athletics for their tremendous help this month to enhance student recruitment and scholarship opportunities for all students at KU. Athletics, in partnership with Public Affairs, made it possible to launch a major statewide broadcast advertising package this month. It includes more than 700 TV spots in Kansas City and Wichita and on the Lawrence cable system; more than 1,000 radio spots in the Kansas City, Topeka, Lawrence, and Wichita markets; and multiple digital billboards in the Kansas City area. Athletics also provided 40,000 minutes of automated telephone messaging, including messages from Coach Bill Self. Public Affairs also sponsored Google ads, billboards across Kansas and print ads in the Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita markets promoting the Nov. 1 scholarship deadline.

For KU to excel in its mission of educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that will change the world, we must continue to build and enhance our collective efforts to attract the best and the brightest students to KU, as well as to ensure that they progress once on campus and graduate on time. Their success is our success.

I encourage you to participate in and contribute to the important campus initiative of crafting the KU core curriculum and improving our recruitment and retention of students. Our Bold Aspirations strategic plan implementation web site will regularly keep you informed of overall progress.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

This issue of Provost eNews as well as past ones can be found on the Provost eNews web page.

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