Chapter 3 - Concerns from the 2002 Comprehensive Visit

The team report from the comprehensive evaluation visit of 2002 emphasizes the dedication and collaborative spirit of faculty, students, and staff at Valley City State University. Some of the points identified as particular strengths include :

  • The commitment of faculty, staff, and administration who are focused on improving institutional effectiveness
  • Strong student services with an array of exemplary programs focused on student needs
  • Technology initiatives, including the notebook initiative and digital portfolios, which have made a large impact on the quality of instruction and service to constituents
  • A clean, well-maintained, attractive campus

The concerns identified by the team in the team report, and VCSU's progress in each area, are discussed below.

Concern 1

The institution lacks a comprehensive, focused enrollment management plan that utilizes a range of strategies based on research data. Current plans are not necessarily coordinated with institutional goals and available student financial aid. Staff and resources are limited.

In 2002, when VCSU and other universities in the state anticipated a "precipitous decline" of high school seniors in North Dakota during the following decade, this concern from the team report articulated the issues succinctly. In the ensuing decade, VCSU has made substantial investment in Enrollment Services and developed deliberate enrollment strategies that have enabled growth despite challenging demographics.

Since the 2002 Comprehensive visit, VCSU has added one full-time admission counselor and created a position within the Enrollment Services office that focuses on transfer and international students, in direct response to several strategic planning initiatives, including development of articulation agreements and supporting relationships with universities in Mexico and China. This investment in staffing has been supported with budget increases. In addition, the University developed a new position in 2004, a Director of Marketing and Communication, which has helped plan and support marketing strategies designed to increase enrollment.

At the same time, the University has been engaged in strategic curricular development based on market data, state needs, and data gathered from Enrollment Services. The addition of several majors demonstrates the success of this development: Psychology, Fisheries and Wildlife Science, Health Science, Professional Communication, and the Graduate School are all new programs developed mid-decade that provide strong enrollment each year.

Enrollment growth in these areas has been plotted carefully by the 2007 Growth Plan, with leadership provided from all areas on campus. Developed in response to demographic concerns, the Plan identified five-year growth strategies, encompassing curriculum, marketing, and athletics, with specific, projected enrollment increases in each target area:

  • The Marketing Director worked with Enrollment Services and the Division Chairs to develop a comprehensive, multi-media marketing strategy to increase the visibility of VCSU to prospective students.
  • The athletic program launched a plan to add several intercollegiate athletic programs.
  • The plan specified internal funding awards for academic areas pursuing growth.

The enrollment increases over the past four years provide evidence of this Plan's success. Table 3.1 illustrates enrollment growth in key areas over this period:

Table 3.1 Enrollment Growth by Targeted Area

In addition to the success of careful enrollment planning, VCSU's Enrollment Services has benefited from the system-wide implementation of Hobsons EMT Connect. This software, implemented state-wide in 2009, provides systematic communication tools for maintaining contact with potential new students. The increasing support of the Foundation Office (detailed below, under "Concern 2,") has also made it possible to meet the financial needs of many more prospective students.

Concern 2

The institution's financial base is very limited. The institution can enhance the strengths of the current annual fund to build a development effort that substantially contributes to endowment and other needs. These efforts can assist the institution in moving donors to the next level of giving.

The institution's financial base relies in large part on state appropriations, tuition revenue, grants, and auxiliary enterprises, which fund operating expenses, salaries, and projects. North Dakota's economy has been less affected by economic downturn because of western North Dakota's oil boom and the state's sound fiscal management. The institution's finances are discussed in Chapter Five.

This concern, however, appears to focus on the Foundation Office, which had been newly reorganized in 1996, about five years before the 2002 visit. When Dr. Chaffee became the full-time president of VCSU in 2002, she focused more time and attention on her role with this office in an effort to develop a stronger culture of giving and engagement in the community and on the Foundation Board. This attention and the efforts of the office director and staff have made additional financial resources available to students and had a positive effect on enrollment.

The net assets of the Foundation have increased rapidly over the past decade. Figure 3.1 (Total Net Assets) illustrates this growth:

Figure 3.1  Total Net Assets

One can see both the impact of Dr. Chaffee's role (visible by 2004, after a year of full-time presidency at VCSU) and the effect of the market downturn in 2009. The addition of 1 FTE staff position in 2008 has also supported this growth trend; in planning for the future, the Foundation Office's main challenge is staffing, as the pursuit of a capital campaign (a goal identified by the Strategic Plan - VCSU 2015 or other major fund-raising activities will require additional support.

The Foundation Board has made scholarship support its priority, relying on the University budget for partial support of salaries and publications. While such a commitment makes it challenging to finance additional staff FTE since these requests must be prioritized against all the other staffing needs of the institution, the priority is based squarely on data about why students choose to attend VCSU: the scholarship package. The CIRP Survey of New Freshmen reports that over 60% of VCSU's freshman rank "I was offered financial assistance" or "Cost of attending this college" as "very important" in influencing their decision to attend VCSU. Figure 3.2 (Total Scholarships Awarded) illustrates the growth in scholarship support the Foundation Office has been able to offer students over the past decade:

Figure 3.2  Total Scholarships Awarded, 1993-2010

Concern 3

The current information base is based on old software. A new Enterprise Resource Planning system through the North Dakota University System should be implemented as soon as possible.

In 2003, VCSU participated as one of two pilot institutions in the implementation of ConnectND, North Dakota's version of Oracle/PeopleSoft web-based applications for financial, human resources, and student administration (Campus Solutions). By 2005, all eleven campuses in the North Dakota University System were live with version 8 (upgraded in 2008 to version 9).

In addition to the financial and human resource efficiencies, which ConnectND offers to all government employees and offices in the state, the Campus Solutions module provides VCSU (and the other universities in the System) with user services (registration, recruitment, financial aid, student records) and data resources for institutional research and planning.

ConnectND is a more efficient and integrated system than previous legacy systems. The system administrators work with the system users to develop reports and modify delivered reports as agreed upon by the eleven campuses. Financial statement reporting for the NDUS is now streamlined and standardized across the 11 campuses due to system-developed reporting tools. Prior to ConnectND each campus developed their own financial statements based on their in-house expertise.

From an internal control or risk mitigation perspective, ConnectND provides excellent audit trails and tracks all transactions by User ID. In addition, the business rules established within CND provide standardized, consistent processing and do not allow manipulation of data outside of those business rules. Access to enter, update, view, or query data within CND is limited by security roles. Employees are assigned security roles that permit access only to fields, data, and processing that are within their areas of responsibility. The security roles protect student and employee data from unauthorized use and protect the integrity of the system by preventing unauthorized transactions. ConnectND is reliable and stable. The CND staff are quick to resolve issues and answer questions related to CND processing.

The implementation of ConnectND has given VCSU ready access to more and better data. Most requests for information can be easily accommodated with readily available queries. The ConnectND systems are maintained centrally by NDUS employees. Local expertise in the form of a query writer or institutional researcher is needed to allow VCSU to better utilize the wealth of data available in the system; extracted and analyzed, this data would further inform decision-making across campus.

Concern 4

The current shared administration with Mayville State University has limited the time that may be necessary for the institution to deal with a fluid, competitive environment.

The concerns expressed in the 2002 Team Report regarding the shared administration with Mayville State University led Dr. Chaffee, at that time president of both institutions, to ask the State Board of Higher Education to hire a consultant panel to assess the viability of continuing the shared administration. Success II Report prepared by these consultants provided a number of suggestions for differentiating the two institutions and for program development, advice which has helped both institutions plan effectively over the past decade. In addition, the panel recommended that the SBHE "move as quickly as possible to formally dissolve the joint presidency and re-establish presidencies at each campus" ("Success in the New Century," Recommendation 39).

The recommendations of the Success II report were presented to the SBHE at their June 20-21, 2002, meeting, and, following the Chancellor's recommendations, the Board approved separate presidencies for MaSU and VCSU, and appointed Dr. Chaffee as president of VCSU (SBHE Minutes, June 20-21, 2002, page 6).

As noted elsewhere in this self-study, the appointment of Dr. Chaffee as president at a single institution allowed her to focus her energies and abilities in directing the campus vision and in implementing new initiatives; the decade which followed this decision demonstrates repeatedly the flexibility and growth opportunities her energy, attention, and vision brought to VCSU.

Concern 5

Assessment is at an intermediate level of implementation. Analysis of portfolios is scheduled for the first time this next summer. Data from assessment strategies could be used to provide positive enrollment strategies. VCSU is using data to improve its academic program in the departmental majors. The institution has the capability to use data in general education to enhance effective study learning and shows promise of doing so in the next year.

The campus-wide graduation requirement of a digital portfolio was implemented in the Fall 1998 catalog, for students graduating under this catalog in Spring 2002; at the time of the team visit, only students in a pilot study in the Teacher Education program had completed senior portfolios, and the development of assessment tools or an understanding of the ways data could be used for improvement were necessarily in early stages.

In the decade following the comprehensive visit, VCSU's commitment to Ability Assessment and the Senior Portfolio has remained strong. While details have necessarily changed as the University Assessment Plan of 2001 was implemented, the fundamental plan has remained constant. The University Abilities shape the General Education program and provide linkage between General Education and the majors; the portfolio remains the culminating senior experience for all undergraduate students.

University-wide assessment of the Abilities is undertaken each summer, when teams of faculty review the projects completed for each ability, including projects drawn from general education courses and from senior portfolios across campus. Data gathering from these reviews has been an evolving process over the past decade, as initial plans resulted in too slow a process for review, and the rubrics and scoring tools required several summers of tinkering before faculty were satisfied.

The faculty assessment teams now have gathered several years of data from projects at both levels (general education and senior). Two newly-formed faculty committees, the Academic Assessment Committee and the General Education Council, have now taken on the responsibility of reviewing and using this data, along with several other survey tools, to make curricular and faculty development recommendations. As the General Education Council continues to explore connections between our current University Abilities and the recent Lumina Degree Profile and LEAP Learner Outcomes, the use of data comparing student work at the general education and senior levels will provide useful insights about student academic growth while on campus and the areas that need further attention across the undergraduate curriculum.

The School of Education and Graduate Studies has made extensive use of the data gathered from student portfolios, and has led the way for other Divisions in using this data to inform curriculum decisions. While each Division has programs that fall under the oversight of Teacher Education, and each Division reports data each semester from senior portfolio assessment and identifies this assessment as part of their three required assessments for the NCATE/North Dakota Board of Examiners content review, actual use of the data for program improvement is harder to document in every Division. Fine Arts maintains a robust program assessment/improvement plan that uses data from a variety of student inputs, including the Abilities; Communication Arts and Social Sciences uses the portfolio assessment process to inform regular updates of its program ability maps and course projects; Business and Information Technology has made efforts to connect the University Abilities to industry expectations of graduates and assure that these outcomes are being met in its programs. On the other hand, Math, Science, and Health & Physical Education has found application of the University Abilities more challenging in their content areas, although their faculty recognize the value of the reflective capstone experience and do learn about their program strengths from the portfolio review process.

To assist faculty in the various programs with tracking and reflecting on assessment data, to include that gathered from the divisional portfolio assessments and other tools used by each program to measure learner outcomes specific to their areas, the Academic Affairs office began requiring annual program updates in Fall 2010. These updates will provide for annual report of program data and make program review (completed every 5-7 years) more meaningful. Recognizing the important role assessment should have in curricular revision, along with the realization that every program should have annual data available, the Curriculum Committee has begun to require a more detailed rationale for curricular change requests, that includes, where applicable, assessment information in support of the request.

The changes the assessment plan has undergone over the past decade and its current use and status are discussed further in Chapter 7; the ways in which the Graduate School has transformed this assessment concept for a similar capstone experience is also described in Chapter 7.