Numerous trends impact planning at VCSU, and the institution ignores them at its peril. The short list includes these:
Each of these areas presents both challenge and opportunity, and most involve change, something the University embraces as a matter of routine practice. VCSU's strategic planning efforts over the past decade have attended to these trends and have demonstrated the institution's ability to plan realistically to meet future challenges.
Three accomplishments in particular demonstrate this ability to meet societal and economic changes and prepare for the future: the establishment of the graduate program, securing grant funding initiatives, and expansion of the undergraduate education enterprise. Additional benchmark accomplishments further define VCSU as a progressive, innovative, responsive organization.
The mission and vision of Valley City State University in the 1990s focused on national leadership in quality learning and innovation through technology. The Master of Education degree, established in 2005, grew from the University's strong tradition of educational leadership and technological innovation. The M.Ed. rose from the needs of the state and the historic mission of the University, expresses the University's continuing commitment to a mandate from the Board, and capitalizes on strategic niche expertise the University has been developing for well over two decades. The program is built on strong undergraduate programs in Education and has strengthened the University's ability to continue doing what it already does well, while serving a new clientele. It has enabled the University to work effectively with its own teacher-education graduates throughout their careers.
The online Master of Education degree at VCSU is a practitioner-oriented degree, designed for the practicing teachers. The program requires four core courses that provide students with the foundation for educational research and graduate study in education. Four concentrations are available: Library and Information Technologies, Technology Education, Teaching and Technology and Teaching English Language Learners. In each case, the curricular concentrations build on an undergraduate strength at VCSU, and respond to a particular market need.
With premier programs built on a long-standing tradition of excellence, the VCSU School of Education and Graduate Studies is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the North Dakota Educational Standards and Practices Board (ESPB), and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
In 2008, NCATE granted accreditation to VCSU at two levels. VCSU's undergraduate teacher education programs were accredited at the initial teacher preparation level, which applies to programs that prepare students for their first license to teach. In addition, VCSU's new online Master of Education program received accreditation at the advanced level, which includes post baccalaureate programs for teachers who have completed initial preparation.
To receive accreditation from NCATE, schools must meet rigorous standards set by the profession and members of the public. Teacher candidates must have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter as well as the skills necessary to convey that knowledge to students. The college or university must carefully assess student knowledge and must have partnerships with P-12 schools to help students learn. Candidates must be prepared to understand and work with diverse student populations. Faculty must model effective teaching practices and the school must have the resources, including information technology resources, necessary to prepare candidates to meet new standards. NCATE revises its standards every five years to incorporate best practice and research in order to ensure that the standards reflect a consensus about what is important in teacher preparation today.
In their report, the NCATE Board of Examiners identified several key strengths of VCSU's programs. The report recognized VCSU's faculty for its high quality as evidenced by both faculty credentials and evaluation by students and colleagues. VCSU's field experience program was recognized as giving students opportunities to learn by participating in live classroom settings. The report also noted VCSU's centralized assessment system that helps students develop and model professional dispositions, as well as recent improvements to that system developed by faculty and the VCSU IT staff. NCATE also named as a strength VCSU's technology-rich environment, including its laptop initiative in which every full-time student is issued a laptop computer.
The graduate program has continued to grow at a predictable rate. Since it was established in 2005, it has increased by ten to twenty students each year.
Its first graduates were in 2007 when 13 students completed the degree. In 2010 the program met one of the institution's original goals of graduating 30 students by 2010. Table 5.1 illustrates enrollment growth in the graduate program over the last three years.
The institution has profited from grant writing activity for decades. Three current initiatives which demonstrate a more aggressive approach to grant writing have assumed a prominent role in strengthening educational operations.
In December 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law an omnibus spending bill that included $750,000 in funding for Valley City State University to extend its role in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The funding allowed VCSU to develop the Great Plains STEM Education Center, which provides professional development training for K-12 teachers in STEM methodology, and which promotes and supports STEM-related activities in the state. Further support from another federal spending bill and funding from the North Dakota State legislature in 2009 and 2011 allowed for further expansion of the Center's impact.
These efforts in STEM education are rooted in a decade of program development which provides technology and engineering methodology for teachers. In 2000, VCSU launched its online degree program in Technology Education, aimed at providing technological literacy for all students based on content standards published by the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) and endorsed by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). In 2005, VCSU launched a concentration in Technology Education for its online Master of Education degree program. In 2008, VCSU signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Center for Technological Literacy of the Museum of Science Boston to bring quality standards-based engineering and technology education to K-12 schools throughout the region.
Also in December 2009, Minnesota State University - Moorhead (MSUM), North Dakota State University (NDSU) and Valley City State University entered into a partnership to improve teacher training and effectiveness that the Bush Foundation has committed to support with payments of up to $5.65 million over 10 years. The partnership joined 11 other institutions the Bush Foundation is funding to redesign teacher preparation programs.
The partnership allows VCSU to redesign its curriculum to include increasing field experiences offered to students, offering curriculum in emerging fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and ELL (English Language Learners), and improving the understanding and application of assessment strategies.
According to the terms of the Letter of Commitment, the Bush Foundation is supporting the partnership's strategy to build and implement a dramatically redesigned teacher preparation program that will develop and guarantee the effectiveness of 250 teachers annually beginning in 2014. The partnership will implement recruiting strategies that target middle school students, high school students, college students and career transition professionals with customized approaches. Students will be offered a comprehensive range of certificates recognizing achievement in areas of academic specialization that, through articulation agreements, will be recognized by all of the partners. Prospective teachers graduating from the partnership will be placed in partner schools that provide trained mentors and share assessment data to gauge new teacher impact.
Project Nexus, a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, provided $574,000 to develop and implement a successful online graduate library program. The grant was completed in June of 2011 and met all of its outcomes. A second grant for $232,000 was awarded in 2011 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It provides professional development support for school librarians in North Dakota and surrounding states through 2014.
The Project Nexus outcomes and VCSU's progress are delineated below:
In 2008, VCSU signed an articulation agreement with Northwest College (Powell, WY) that offers students in Wyoming the opportunity to complete VCSU's Elementary Education, English Education and History Education degree programs via distance learning. The agreements address an unmet demand for Elementary, English and History Education degree opportunities throughout the state.
According to the agreements, VCSU will recognize students who have completed Northwest's Associate of Arts degree as having met VCSU's General Education requirements (with some exceptions). They will then be eligible to earn VCSU's Bachelor of Science degree in Education, with Elementary, English or History Education majors, by completing VCSU's Professional Education Sequence, other specified courses, and the student teaching experience. VCSU will deliver these courses using methods that allow the students to complete the program without being present on the VCSU campus. Delivery methods will include online and summer workshops conducted by VCSU faculty on the NWC campus. VCSU uses flexible delivery methods (such as online and summer workshops) so that students may complete all required coursework in Wyoming.
The original partnership with NWC has proved very successful. Other campuses in Wyoming have contacted VCSU about developing similar arrangements because of the positive comments NWC provided at regional meetings. In 2010, the Higher Learning Commission granted the last of three requests from VCSU to deliver these programs to Wyoming, approving all seven community college sites. Agreements with these other colleges have been set up to mimic the Northwest College program. Student enrollment from Wyoming in Spring 2011 was 40 students, with an anticipated total of 70 students Fall 2011. This growth comes from the addition of two new articulations added Spring 2011, and enrollment is now expected to stabilize.
In 2003, articulation agreements were signed to facilitate credit transfer and provide a smooth transition from one related degree program to another Dakota College at Bottineau (DCB) and Lake Region State College (LRSC) with VCSU in the programs of Music/Music Education, Music with an Emphasis in Business, Art/Art Education, and Physical Education.
A unique agreement between VCSU and DCB was developed in 2004-2005 for the delivery of the third year of the VCSU Fisheries and Wildlife Science major on the Dakota College at Bottineau campus. Courses in this program are taught over Intervideo network (IVN). The success of this program has affected VCSU in two ways: first, VCSU has experienced strong enrollment in this program, doubling the number of majors from Fall 2009 to Fall 2010. Second, the strength of this agreement has led to three other agreements, each of which brings students to VCSU while also benefiting DCB's programs and enrollment:
In addition to these new programs, VCSU continues to partner with NDSU in delivering its Elementary Education program in Fargo, and is finalizing new agreements to collaborate in Art. Further, the institution is now collaborating with the University of North Dakota (UND) Graduate School to offer components of their Master's of Business Administration degree to VCSU students thereby allowing VCSU students to participate in their Bridge to the MBA program. Two programs currently in development include a collaboration to receive the Medical Laboratory Science major from UND and an articulation to provide a four-year degree pathway for students in the journeyworker track at North Dakota State School of Science.
Accomplishment across the University is not limited to education. Other endeavors and attributes reflect an institution committed to continuous improvement and meaningful, planned change that will ensure its success in meeting the needs of the broad community of learners it serves.
Just as it did in the last century, Valley City State University continues to accomplish its purposes and strengthen its educational effectiveness, in part, because of the planning and assessment processes that guide decision-making, improvements, and change, all resting in a mission statement that is appropriate and fluid.
Valley City State University is well aware of changing societal and economic trends that require it to be both innovative in shaping itself to meet the future while responding to current needs and stresses. Concerns about changing demographics have proved more significant than economic trends during the past decade; VCSU has successfully identified new markets to off-set expected enrollment declines in its traditional market and sought significant grant support to strengthen academic offerings.
Strengths: VCSU succeeds by deliberately matching its strengths with market needs, from developing a graduate library concentration for inservice teachers across the state (the only such program in North Dakota), to establishing a water education and research center (which served over 1000 visitors in its first year of operation) from the work of several biology professors and the campus macroinvertibrate laboratory.
Ongoing initiatives: VCSU has been able to leverage grant funding to support new initiatives and programs. They have provided support for curriculum development and student scholarships as well as peripheral support of staff and faculty. The three grants described in this section continue to support the quality of the programs as they grow and become self-sustaining.
Challenges: Program growth brings challenges in staffing, policy development, and assessment. After decades of low enrollment and a tight budget, VCSU must now learn to manage growth successfully.