On Course Archives
On Course, January/February 2001
Setting Important Precedent
When the State University launched the System-wide "Mission Review" initiative a little more than two years ago, the overarching goal was clear: ensure the highest possible academic quality across all 64 campuses.
The challenge, of course, was in the details.
How do you take a system of 64 diverse institutions, serving 375,000 students and 27,000 faculty, and universally raise academic standards—while still respecting campus autonomy and differentiation? The desire for continuing improvement in quality was, and is, an objective shared by leaders in higher education across the country, but the State University was particularly motivated. Our Trustees had charged us to move forward in the front ranks of American higher education in their 1995 planning document Rethinking SUNY; New York State itself was setting higher standards for students and teachers; SUNY enrollment was up and we knew our students needed to be prepared to enter the workforce of the new century (hopefully as residents of this state). Driven by these factors and convinced that engaging campus missions was the key to constructive change, we developed the process now known as Mission Review.
Mission Review is an academic strategic planning process premised on iterative dialogue between SUNY System Administration and all 64 campuses. We began with specific objectives: clarifying campus goals and market niche; enhancing academic program quality; increasing intra-campus collaboration; enriching System knowledge of campus needs; and strengthening campus appreciation of System concerns. The process—which soon after its implementation was recognized as a national best practice in higher education by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)—included over 70 meetings, both individual visits to campuses and broader gatherings of campuses by geographic region and institution type (see inset on page 2). Discussion at those meetings focused on key academic areas, from enrollment and graduation rates to faculty development and assessment strategies. Following that dialogue, campuses and System worked together to jointly develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for each campus; critically important documents that outline specific campus goals, benchmarks and future directions. MOUs are not formal contracts, but they do represent a cohesive plan for each campus and as such, are signed by the respective campus president and System Chancellor Robert King. As of this writing, MOUs have been signed by campus presidents and are awaiting signature by Chancellor King.
In the aggregate, MOUs chart a course for the University that is focused on high standards for academic quality.
Where quantifiable goals could be specified, campuses have done so (e.g., selectivity, research, retention, and graduation rates). In other instances, campuses have committed to enhance campus-based procedures that will improve quality (e.g., increased rigor in the promotion and tenure process, assessment of student learning, and regular review of all academic programs).
MOUs Have Practical Applications
Memoranda of Understanding are useful, practical documents that will become an important resource to University constituencies. For example, MOUs will be used as guides in the evaluation process for campus presidents and will also be used in the enrollment planning process as a benchmark for annual performance. And the programmatic goals outlined in these documents have already been incorporated into the program review process, i.e., as new program development requests are submitted to my office, they will be evaluated for consistency with the mission/market niche specified in the institution’s MOU.
The Mission Review process also clearly identified areas in which campuses were looking for additional support/assistance from System Administration. From requests to streamline the program review process to the provision of increased doctoral student support, the facilitation of student transfer, the promotion of research and further refinement of the budget model, System Administration teams took seriously campus concerns and have already begun to respond. For example, this month, System-wide regional roundtable meetings on transfer and articulation are being held in an effort to develop new and effective strategies; and new program review guidelines have been developed in response to campus requests—the forms are available on-line, the process streamlined and compatible with new State Education requirements. System has also responded to the need for greater doctoral student support through the Mission Funding process (see related article on page 5).
In short, Mission Review has been a catalyst for dynamic and positive action throughout the University. My thanks go out to all campuses, the dedicated staff of System Administration (both within and outside of my office), Chancellor King and our Board of Trustees for their essential participation. This was a process that touched many and I believe, has had and will continue to have a powerful impact on the University for years to come.
I am pleased to dedicate this issue of On Course to the outcomes of Mission Review.
While the goals outlined in each campus MOU are specific to that institution—reflective of unique programmatic, geographic and demographic factors, the academic areas or subject headings covered are largely consistent across all Memoranda. For example, each MOU addresses enrollment, graduation and retention rates, faculty development goals and academic program development. "One of the things that made Mission Review such a powerful process was that we asked all 64 campuses to address the same key academic issues at the same time," said Provost Salins. "As a result, the collective aspirations of our campuses, as delineated in their MOU, create an important academic framework for the University."
For example, one of the hallmarks of a top-level institution is the ability to appropriately balance enrollment goals with the ability to attract and keep high-quality students. Across the board, the University is seeing strong campus commitments in each of these areas, all detailed in Memoranda:
Campuses were asked to project enrollment goals through 2004, carefully considering campus experience, demographic trends, workforce needs, campus capacity and funding constraints (recognizing that changes in these factors may require a future adjustment of goals). Projections for 2004-05 show enrollments rising to:
These goals will guide System’s Enrollment Planning Group which annually plans for levels of state-funded enrollment.
Retention and Graduation
"While most of SUNY’s 64 campuses already meet or exceed the national average with respect to retention, we encouraged campuses to set even more aggressive goals," said Vice Provost Steven G. Poskanzer. "Each campus will invest substantially in initiatives aimed at improvement: from expanded first-year study programs to new faculty mentoring efforts and enhanced advising." These efforts are delineated in Memoranda, along with—in the case of state-operated campuses—specific five-year goals for improving graduation and retention rates. Average University Community College first-year retention (62.2 percent) and four-year graduation (30.75 percent) rates substantially outpace national public means (52 percent and 21 percent, respectively). For community colleges in particular, retention and graduation rates must be interpreted in the context of the often varying academic goals of their students—many may be seeking a degree, but others may only want to take a few courses.
As a result of discussion begun in Mission Review, the University is developing more comprehensive analyses of student goals upon admission to the University.
In addition to those areas named above, campus Memoranda also address:
Discussions about campus niche necessarily involve consideration of undergraduate admissions selectivity and planned improvements in institutional quality. The University wants to attract talented, motivated students; including the best and brightest of New York, from other states and around the world. At the same time, the University has a critical responsibility to fulfill its goal of access to a quality education for all citizens of the state. As part of the Mission Review process, a new matrix was developed to facilitate discussions of admissions selectivity as an indicator of quality and as a means to address intra-SUNY competition for students. Divided into five categories, the matrix is based on SAT /ACT scores and high school averages. Campuses were asked to position themselves on the matrix now and to identify where they see their student body falling over the next five years. These goals will be considered annually as part of the enrollment planning process.
Expanding the research enterprise within the University is an essential component of efforts to enrich student learning, enhance SUNY’s stature, and increase its impact on New York’s economy. A more expansive research enterprise has long been a priority of the Provost’s office and was a key element of Chancellor King’s recent speech outlining his vision for the University. Mission Review provided the ideal forum for further discussion of research with all campuses. Campuses were encouraged to reallocate internal resources to better position themselves with regard to research. Further, campuses were asked to look at current research expenditures and set goals for increasing research over a five-year period.
All State University campuses are enriched by faculty and staff who rank among the most accomplished educators, researchers, and administrators in the nation. As part of Mission Review, campuses have made commitments to further enhance the quality of their faculty by:
With respect to assessment, all campuses have committed to strengthening assessment of student learning outcomes. Where one did not exist, campuses were asked to develop a comprehensive assessment plan. Consistent with the recommendations in the Interim Report of the Provost’s Advisory Task Force on Assessment, all campuses have committed to regular 5 to 7 year review cycles for all programs.
As part of Mission Review, every SUNY campus was asked to identify both current and aspirational peers. These benchmark institutions will be used to gauge individual campus quality improvement over time. Indicators include: undergraduate enrollment; acceptance rate; SAT scores; high school grade point average; retention and graduation rates; and percent of full-time faculty.
In each of these areas and others, the Memoranda of Understanding provide valuable insight into the goals and objectives of all State University campuses and provide an overall framework for enhanced academic quality throughout the System. Importantly, these are goals that were created in tandem between System Administration and campuses. It is anticipated that these documents will be updated on a periodic basis and that a thorough mechanism for following campus progress in the achievement of goals will be set in place.
"Mission Review brought SUNY campuses and System leadership together in an unprecedented way," said Jefferson Community College President John Deans. "We had a real sense that we were in partnership with all of SUNY."
Deans said that Mission Review discussions for his campus have led to new student retention efforts, new collaborative agreements with other SUNY campuses, and, importantly, productive dialogue on intra-SUNY transfer. "For example, from our Mission Review dialogue emerged a real desire to think creatively about retention as part of an overall student success plan," said Deans. "We committed to improved retention rates in our MOU, charged an internal team and even sought external expertise to help us achieve our goals." Deans also noted that Mission Review discussions led to the development of a new A.A.S. paramedic training program at his campus, offered in cooperation with Monroe Community College—an initiative for which the campus received a Mission Funding Award. Deans noted the momentum of Mission Review, "I am hopeful that we will be able to keep up the unique momentum that this effort fostered, particularly as it relates to campus collaborations and intra-SUNY transfer."
When recently appointed Provost Betty Capaldi moved into her new position at the University at Buffalo, one of the first things she was shown was the draft Memorandum of Understanding. "I knew that this was a critical document that would be driving the direction of this institution going forward," said Capaldi. "I approached Provost Salins about needing to add my input and he and his staff worked with me to make that happen." Sean Sullivan, now UB Vice President for Enrollment and Planning, said the transitioning of Provosts during the course of Mission Review meant the process did take a little longer. "In many cases, we had to go back to the campus community and redefine or clarify goals. We knew, though, that this was a vital process and that the time was necessarily spent."
UB received a Mission Funding Award to support expanded merit scholarship and honors programs on campus, part of efforts designed to increase its yield of academically talented applicants. "We had a positive dialogue with System and are very pleased that they were supportive of our goal to rank among the best research universities in the country," said Capaldi. About the process, Capaldi noted, "I don’t know of another system that has done this quite as well. The main purpose of a system is to focus each institution on what they do best. Through Mission Review, SUNY has strengthened the differentiation of its campuses."
Farmingdale Acting President Michael Vinciguerra called Mission Review a well-designed process. "At first glance, I thought maybe we should have started Mission Review with only a few pilot campuses. In hindsight, I have seen that involving all campuses at the same time allowed us to discuss, evaluate and link campus missions in ways which could not have been done otherwise." For example, Vinciguerra said that discussions during Mission Review allowed Farmingdale to demonstrate the unique potential of its two baccalaureate programs in aviation. "Those discussions opened the door for new talks about program funding and facilitated the development of new articulation agreements with other SUNY campuses."
Vinciguerra noted that his campus looks forward to meeting the goals and commitments currently outlined in their MOU and to raising the bar in the next round of Mission Review.
Brockport President Paul Yu said that his campus had begun an aggressive planning effort about six months before the Mission Review initiative was launched. "The timing was great because we were geared up for planning," said Yu. "What Mission Review did was bring that effort to a new level. The Mission Review process made us ask difficult and fundamental questions, and come up with really good answers. Planning on your own campus is an important and necessary task, but through Mission Review we were able to share and enhance our planning process in cooperation with System Administration and all SUNY campuses."
Yu noted that he felt there continued to be promise not fully tapped out of Mission Review. "We had some discussion about developing a System-wide database that could be used as a tool for comparative benchmarking, identifying additional collaborative opportunities, and more. I think this would be a very beneficial project to take on."
Campuses will soon have an opportunity to formally evaluate the Mission Review process. Their comments on what worked and what should be modified will guide the next cycle of this critical program.
With the upcoming distribution of $2.5 million in Mission Funding Awards to support graduate student stipends, the University will have allocated more than $11.5 million to assist campuses in their efforts to realize the goals and aspirations outlined in their MOUs.
Sixty campuses responded to a request for funding proposals with projects totaling over $45 million. "There is no question that the evaluation process was a challenging one," said Vice Provost Poskanzer. "Knowing that we could not meet all requests, we established a competitive review process that was inclusive and based entirely on academic merit."
Mission Funding awards include more than $1.8 million for faculty development, and more than $2 million to support new academic programs. "Having this funding available was a tremendous asset to the Mission Review process and a testimony to the seriousness with which this effort was undertaken," said Poskanzer. Examples of proposals receiving funding include: