Focus on the First Year

October 2, 2012

Strengthening the pipeline of undergraduates to KU is Goal 1-A of our strategic plan Bold Aspirations.  Increasing both the quantity and quality of undergraduates choosing KU is also one of the business cases implemented as part of the Changing for Excellence initiative.  It is one of our top priorities.

Last week, KU announced its largest freshman class since 2009, a total of 3,771 incoming freshmen. Along with the gain in quantity, we made significant gains in diversity and quality as well, including the highest average ACT score, 25.1, for any new class of Jayhawks.  Such good news is tempered by our overall enrollment numbers, which are still down from last year’s levels because of the large size of graduating classes, but with the frosh influx we are certainly positioned for the future in the right direction.

While improvements have been made in recruiting new students, we must also be aggressive to meet the goals we have set for retention and graduation.  Our first-time, full-time freshman retention rate is 79.9 percent; our 10-year goal is 90 percent.  Our six-year graduation rate is 60.7 percent; our 10-year goal is 70 percent.

Achieving these goals is crucial to our vision of being recognized as a top-tier public international research university. Bold Aspirations contains several strategies that serve as the template for our transformation, including investing in first-year experiences.  A student’s first year sets the tone for the college experience.  Our 3,771 new freshmen are the first to have access to these exciting new programs.

A visit by Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man’s Land

Just prior to Convocation in August, my wife Sharon and I enjoyed the opportunity to join a student discussion group on our first KU Common Book, Notes from No Man’s Land.  We had a lively and thought-provoking conversation — a great introduction to the intellectual experience students will have at KU.

This week, author Eula Biss is visiting our campus. The highlight will be her lecture on Thursday, October 4 at 5 p.m. in the Kansas Union Ballroom.  Tickets are available at the SUA box office, and overflow seating will be available.  Eula is also participating in Tea @ Three on Thursday and will host a moderated Q&A at the Commons on Friday, October 5 at 9 a.m.  We encourage your participation in this university-wide program.

The first year of our Common Book program has been a great success.  Classes ranging from several COMS 130 sections to courses in Spanish, journalism, and business, among others, have incorporated Notes from No Man’s Land into their syllabi.  Students are writing papers and preparing oral presentations in response to the essays in the book.  They are grappling with issues of identity, place, race, and more in ways that advance their critical thinking abilities and cultural awareness.

Looking ahead to fall 2013, our next Common Book will be selected from the nominations received last year.  Later this fall, the Chancellor will announce the selection and open up nominations for fall 2014. Planning continues for additional programming and for more courses to integrate the book.

Engaging students through first-year seminars

Our new freshmen this fall could choose to enroll in one of 11 first-year seminars.  Each course is limited in enrollment to 19 students and is designed to introduce students to intellectual discovery and scholarly inquiry at the university, develop and inspire students’ own intellectual curiosity, and foster critical thinking and learning skills.  The fall 2012 pilot seminars are being taught by some of our very best faculty.

The Office of First-Year Experience oversees both the seminars and KU Common Book.  The office is now soliciting proposals for fall 2013 seminars, with the goal of having as many as 25 seminars for next year’s incoming freshmen.

Faculty interested in teaching a First-Year Seminar should complete and submit the online form to the Office of First-Year Experience ( by October 22, 2012.  First-Year Seminars submitted for consideration for fall 2013 should address the critical-thinking goal and learning outcome for the KU Core.

But student persistence and retention to graduation is not just a concern of the Office of First-Year Experience.  Every unit on campus — and every person on campus — carries the responsibility to help our students achieve their goals and walk down the Hill with a degree from KU.

Bits and Bytes

I’m adding a new feature to Provost eNews as a way to gather important reminders and information as quick thoughts from the provost.  Each week, I’ll close eNews with “Bits and Bytes.”

  • I want to highlight the 22% growth in new freshmen at the School of Engineering as it expands to meet the state’s need for more engineers.
  • As part of that expansion, the official opening of the new Measurement, Materials, and Sustainable Environment Center will happen on October 12.  This exciting new engineering building will be followed by another funded partially through state support.
  • The University Core Curriculum Committee continues to accept nominations for courses to be a part of the KU Core. Remember to visit for more information.
  • The deadline for applications for our second round of Strategic Initiative Grants is approaching. Remember to submit your materials by October 15.
  • Our first annual Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, set for next Tuesday, is now fully enrolled with 200 faculty, researchers, students, and staff.  KU Center for Technology Commercialization is helping to foster innovation with this all-day program.
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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