Job Number One

September 3, 2014

Faculty, Staff, and Students:

It is always exciting to welcome new faces to campus, but just as important are returning students continuing their journeys toward a KU degree. Bold Aspirations, our five-year strategic plan, acknowledges the work needed to increase the number of students who earn that KU degree, particularly undergraduates.

In the three years since launching Bold Aspirations, we have tracked our progress on first-year retention and six-year graduation rates relative to our peers. The 79.9 percent first-year retention rate of our fall 2012 cohort and 61.6 percent six-year graduation rate of our fall 2007 cohort lag behind those of all ten of our peers, which average 87.8 percent and 73.2 percent, respectively.

This year we will implement a comprehensive progression and graduation plan that builds upon programs and activities established over the past three years. Chancellor Gray-Little has set ambitious goals of a 90 percent first-year retention rate and 70 percent six-year graduation rate by 2022. By working together, we can realize those goals.   

Goal 1: Energizing the Educational Environment

We’ve made tremendous progress on Goal 1 of Bold Aspirations, which is focused upon undergraduate education. We’ve implemented the KU Core university-wide curriculum, overhauled and strengthened recruiting, and established new opportunities for experiential learning.

KU is committed to being a leader in course redesign, and in 2012 and 2013 the Center for Online and Distance Learning helped redesign more than 50 courses representing 178 class sections. In addition, 25 large courses in 15 departments and programs are engaged with the C21 consortium, our graduate teaching fellows program, and the Center for Teaching Excellence.

The final report of the Course Redesign Task Force is now available online for review. In consultation with faculty and deans, we will consider each of the recommendations and develop implementation plans. And we will move quickly, as redesign is an important mechanism for improving student learning in courses with high rates of Ds and Fs or withdrawals.

There are 25 first-year seminars (FYS) this fall, more than double the initial 11 in 2012, with 444 students enrolled. Even with the growth of FYS, our UNIV 101 course continues to draw strong interest, with 693 students enrolled, for an overall growth of 128 students in our freshman seminars.

The progression rate for the fall 2012 cohort of FYS students is 4.3 points higher than that of the overall class, while the fall 2013 cohort progression was 1.3 points higher. For those students whose high school performance would place them at the low end of our new admissions standards, though, the improvement was even better — a positive sign for when the standards go into effect fall 2016.

We continue to emphasize the overall diversity of our campus community. Our strengthened recruiting has led to larger class sizes that are also the most diverse in KU history. Additionally, we were pleased to welcome Nate Thomas to KU this summer as vice provost for diversity and equity. Nate has brought new energy to our programs working with diverse and low-income students.

We have named Estela Gavosto as executive director of the Multicultural Scholars Program, which meets crucial needs for groups of traditionally underserved individuals. Our goal is to double the cohort size in MSP over the next four years.  Its impressive results justify that decision: MSP students’ six-year graduation rate has exceeded 80% in the past.

A community effort

To reach our ambitious goals, the entire campus must participate. Job #1 is helping our students earn a degree and walk down the Hill.  We must match our successes in recruiting with a commensurate resolve to raise the first-year retention rate to 90 percent and six-year graduation rate to 70 percent. We will not accomplish these goals by targeting only a handful of areas. For that reason, this fall in Provost’s eNews I will often focus upon our broad and comprehensive progression and graduation plan.

Our plan will engage all levels of campus. From our deans to our student employees, we will provide new tools and build upon existing and growing programs to create a unique undergraduate experience at KU. We have laid out our ambitions; I look forward to our working together to achieve success.

Bits and Bytes

  • The Lawrence campus welcomes 60 new faculty members this fall. Remember: Not all of the people you see wandering Jayhawk Blvd. or up and down hallways are students; some are our new faculty still learning their way around their classrooms and labs! A helpful photo gallery with brief biographical information  is online, and I encourage you to join the Chancellor and me in welcoming our new colleagues to KU.
  • There are important searches in progress to replace a trio of long-serving, dedicated campus leaders. Each committee has received its charge and is engaged in a national search. I want to thank the three deans who are leading these searches:
    • Dean of Social Welfare, chaired by Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education.
    • Dean of Architecture, Design and Planning, chaired by Ann Brill, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
    • Vice Chancellor for Research, chaired by Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
  • William Picking, who joined KU this summer as Foundation Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, will serve as the new director of the Higuchi Biosciences Center. Eli Michaelis, University Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, is stepping down from that role after 25 years. Please join me in thanking Eli for his outstanding leadership, particularly in growing the HBC’s grant funding from $1 million in 1989 to more than $28 million in 2013.
  • Kristin Bowman-James, project director of Kansas NSF EPSCoR and University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, is the lead principal investigator of an exciting Kansas and Nebraska consortium that has received a three-year, $6 million award. The funded project, Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures, is one of only three bi-state awards funded this summer by NSF. These three awards involve researchers from 20 universities in six states. The Kansas project will grow our EPSCoR-funded linkages with Kansas State.
Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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