Component C: The organization creates effective learning environments.

VCSU provides a variety of opportunities and support systems to help students excel. These include enrollment services, freshman experiences, advising, counseling and health services, campus life, intercultural experiences, and a career services center.
Enrollment Services
The mission of the Office of Enrollment Services is to identify students with interests and talents that match the University's offerings and opportunities, and while doing so, provide the highest quality customer service in a professional environment. The department supports the University mission and vision by identifying potential learners and implementing the strategies necessary to attract, inform, and enroll talented students. As described in Chapter 3, Enrollment Services has been active in developing an effective enrollment management plan that has been supported by increased staffing, budget support, and curricular development. Enrollment Services employs a number of different strategies to accomplish this mission, including college fairs, direct mail, high school visits, and campus visits. Enrollment Services also utilize students as ambassadors. VCSU Viking Ambassadors are dedicated students who love and value the knowledge they gain from Valley City State University. This group of enthusiastic individuals is a key factor to new student recruitment. They are comfortable describing what they love about the school while also providing factual details about the campus, the staff, and the student body. Thirty-six students from all divisions on campus make up the group. Prospective students are provided a tour of campus by a Viking Ambassador, an appointment with faculty in their academic area, a visit with an Enrollment Services admission counselor, and visits with other offices or classes if desired.

Learning to Live Program

At the beginning of the freshman year, every student participates in the Learning to Live, Living to Learn Program (L2L), a one-credit course. The purposes of this program are (1) to orient the student to the University; (2) to help him/her examine educational goals and objectives; (3) to develop team skills; (4) to develop conflict resolution skills; (5) to involve students in community projects and service learning. Collectively, these goals focus on increasing student retention by helping students be successful and feel part of a community. The course is conducted in small groups (14-18 students) which meet twice weekly. A faculty or staff member serves as the instructor for each group and is assisted by upper-level students who serve as mentors for the new students.

The L2L program is evaluated annually, and improvements made under the joint review of the VPSA and VPAA. In 2006, the program was changed to improve training for the student mentors. More recently the program has been changed to strengthen ties between students and faculty (by providing faculty a direct instruction role in the program), and relationships between students by allowing students to choose the section they wish to enroll in based on section topic. In addition, to strengthen advising for undecided students, faculty teaching the L2L sections will be assigned these students for academic advisement and receive training to support their work in Fall 2011.

Figure 6.1  First Year Retention

The chart in Figure 6.1 details retention rates over the past eight years. VCSU's retention rate averages about 65% over these years, which is higher than the national rate of 56%, but not as strong as a decade ago. The campus strategic plan, therefore, identifies improvement of this indicator (to consistent 70% levels by 2015) as an expected result; improvements in the Learning to Live curriculum and delivery, increased support and expansion of the Learning Center (described below, in Core Component 3d), and continued attention to strong advising and support services all support improvement of this indicator.

Academic Advising

The program of academic advising is coordinated through the Office of Student Academic Services. Each student is assigned an adviser from the appropriate academic program area and is encouraged to meet with the adviser at least once per semester to receive assistance with class scheduling.

The adviser helps the student interpret academic requirements and regulations, establish educational goals, and determine course schedules. The student has the primary responsibility for meeting all appropriate academic requirements.

When a student applies for admission to Valley City State University, an advisement folder is prepared which contains general information, advising worksheets, ACT Profile, a College Student Inventory summary, and any other pertinent information. This folder is passed along to the assigned adviser, who, in consultation with the advisee, adds or changes information as the student progresses academically. A student may request a change of adviser at any time. Any change is processed in the Office of Student Academic Service.

The 2010 administration of the Noel/Levitz Student Satisfaction inventory shows high levels of satisfaction with academic advising. Out of a total of 73 programs and services rated by students, two items related to academic advising appeared in the list of top ten highest rated items. Both "My academic advisor is knowledgeable about requirements in my major" and "My advisor is approachable" were very highly rated and were significantly higher than national averages and the average of the eleven North Dakota University System campuses.

Counseling Services

Mental health counseling services are available for students, faculty, and staff at Valley City State University. Services are provided by a mental health professional that has a Ph.D. in Human Development, Masters of Education in Community Counseling, and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor as well as a National Certified Counselor. Currently the position is .5 FTE for twelve months. The Counselor, however, is also a faculty member and on campus full time, so students have ready access for scheduling appointments throughout the day. In addition, VCSU is an approved site for graduate student internships in counseling. Over the past three years, VCSU has received graduate student interns from NDSU, University of Mary, and MSU-M.

Counseling services are designed to assist clients in resolving any personal concern of the client. Topics may include relationships with other, unpleasant feelings, life decisions, values clarification, study problems, depression, eating disorders, sexual identity issues, alcohol or drug use, or general confusion.

Group counseling, workshops, seminars, consultations, and referrals are also provided through the Counseling Services Office. Services are provided free of charge to the VCSU campus. All information is confidential. During the academic year 2010-11, 106 individuals were served with a total of 417 sessions.

Alcohol education is also provided through the Counseling Services. VCSU is a member of the North Dakota Higher Education Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention. The North Dakota Higher Education Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention provides University System campuses with resources, knowledge and networks to address student misuse of alcohol and other substances.

The Consortium advocates for stronger prevention policies, collaborates in campus-community partnerships and helps campuses develop evidenced-based prevention programs. The Consortium is made up of representatives from each of the eleven campuses, the tribal colleges, Jamestown College, and University of Mary.

Health Services

The campus employs a .5 FTE public health nurse. Services are available free of charge for all students, and may include a health assessment and/or referral to MD if necessary, blood pressure checks, allergy injections (with M.D. order, own vaccine and syringes), pregnancy testing, strep testing, and HIV testing. Also available are first aid supplies, condoms, over-the-counter cold medicine, Tylenol, ibuprofen, cough syrup, antacids, throat lozenges and other over-the-counter medications, depending on the student's needs. The Health Services office maintains immunization records and serves as a resource for faculty, staff and students seeking information on a wide variety of personal, medical, and social issues.

Monthly satellite clinics from the Central Valley Health Unit in Jamestown are offered on campus. These clinics provide physical exams, sexually transmitted disease testing, birth control, pap smears, breast exams, and education. The nurse is actively engaged in educational programming and serves as the campus wellness coordinator. The nurse regularly provides programs in the residence halls, classrooms and for various student groups.

With only a half-time nurse on staff, the Health Services office is very busy. A typical day will present anywhere from 5-10 walk-in students seeking services. In addition the monthly satellite clinics fill quickly with all 20 appointment times being reserved. Students use the services regularly and they give high marks to the staff. On the Noel-Levitz SSI, students report a level of satisfaction at 5.71 compared to a national average of 5.04.

Residential Life

The primary purpose of the residence hall is to provide a living environment that is conducive to the academic achievement and personal growth of the residents. VCSU currently operates five residence halls and requires all students to live on campus during their first year at VCSU. Two residence halls have recently been remodeled into suites to provide more appealing residence experiences. Other residence halls have been recently refreshed with new furnishings and equipment. A staff of head residents and resident assistants provide educational and social programming within the residence halls and students are represented by an Inter-Residence Hall Council made up of residents from each floor.

Residence Hall Counts

Residence hall counts and occupancy rates have shown steady increases over the past several years. VCSU recently remodeled and put back into service a residence hall that was used sporadically. On numerous measures of student satisfaction with campus residence halls, VCSU students rate the residence hall experience at VCSU quite highly. In the SSI categories of Living Conditions are comfortable, Staff are concerned about me as an individual, and Regulations are reasonable, VCSU scores well above national averages and averages within the ND University System.

The Student Center & Student Activities

The Student Center provides a well-rounded program of social, cultural, recreational, and educational activities. The Student Center is a meeting place for students, faculty, alumni, and the community. The Center provides conference rooms, a complete food service, a bookstore with mail service, a game room, a swimming pool, and a number of lounge areas. The Center strives to create and administer programs which serve the best interests of the students. Programs and activities are planned and administered by student groups, the Student Senate Viking Campus Activities Board (VCAB), and the Director of Student Activities. Because of the large amount of traffic in the Student Center and the multiple uses of the building, the need to renovate and reconfigure space in the building is necessary. A committee of students and staff are currently engaged in discussions with an architect to review options for remodeling and adding space to the building. Numerous updates of carpeting and furnishings have taken place over the past several years.

VCAB is the governing body of student-related activities: e.g., dances, coffeehouse singers, movies, game nights, comedians, bands, weekend activities and informative speakers. VCAB is responsible for formulating and carrying out a broad range of social, recreational, and cultural programs. VCAB is advised by the Director of the Student Center and works with a budget of student fee dollars allocated by the Student Senate Finance Commission.

The following is a two month sample of activities sponsored by VCAB:

  • January 2010
  • 20 - Welcome back to school dance
  • 27 - International student speaker
  • 28 - Coffeehouse entertainer
  • 29 - Vikings After Dark - Student Center late night activities
  • February 2010
  • 2 - Pool Tournament
  • 4 - Coffeehouse entertainer
  • 10 - Student Dance
  • 18 - Texas Hold 'em
  • 25 - Dodge Ball night
  • 26 - Vikings After Dark - Student Center late night activities

Intercultural Experiences and Study Abroad Opportunities

Valley City State University has signed agreements with the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, and Universidad Regional del Sureste in Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico: the three universities have had successful student exchanges. Additionally, VCSU students have spent semesters in Honduras, Peru, and in Spain studying their culture and practicing their fluency with the language. Faculty have sponsored student trips to Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, and England. The most recent agreement is with the Zhejiang Economic and Trade Polytechnic (ZJETP) in Hangzhou, China. Presidents and faculty members from both universities have visited each others' campus, with faculty from VCSU teaching for eight weeks and working with ELL students for four. Students from VCSU spent three weeks in China and students from China have taken courses from VCSU. VCSU continues to explore international opportunities for its students and faculty.

VCSU has recently signed formal affiliation agreements with two international study abroad organizations. Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA) and International Studies Abroad (ISA) offer opportunities to experience full semester, summer term or partial term study abroad. As a result of these partnerships, agreements and affiliations, students have studied abroad at rates never before experienced at VCSU. Below is a three year summary of student study abroad:

  • 2 students in Honduras
  • 1 student in France
  • 9 students in China
  • 1 student in Ireland
  • 1 student in Italy
  • 3 students in Peru
  • 1 student in Spain

Career Services

Career Services at Valley City State University serves as a clearinghouse for not only job opportunities, but also as a resource for students who are deciding about a college major or what career opportunities are available to them. The office coordinates all placement activities, whether on/off campus, permanent/temporary, or professional level employment. Job vacancies are listed for schools, businesses, industries in North Dakota and surrounding states.

Support for job seeking skills is provided to all students and alumni, free of charge. This can be assistance with a resume, cover letter, interviewing , or navigating the internet. Graduate and Professional School information is also available, including catalogs, tests and other admission criteria. In the past year, 246 resumes and 45 letters of application were reviewed by the Director of Career Services and critiqued. In most cases, this involved face to face meetings with the students.

For the past two years, Student Learning Outcome surveys are conducted for every class and every event sponsored by Career Services. Consistently students respond that the class/event met their expectations and that the information provided was relevant and helpful to them. In addition, the students also indicate that they would recommend the event/class to other students. Based on the Student Learning Outcomes, planning for the next year is impacted and student needs are being met more effectively.

During the Spring 2009 semester, Career Services and the Division of Business and information Technology collaborated to co-teach the Portfolio and Senior Job Search Skills Class. Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, this collaboration extended to similar courses offered in the Math and Science departments, and the Division of Communication Arts and Social Science. This collaboration connects the University Abilities, the portfolios, and reflective statements, to the entire job search process. It is a natural fit and is extremely useful in assisting students with their first professional job search.


Career Services also provides the organizational framework for internships. A number of academic programs encourage (or require) students to pursue internships, including Fisheries and Wildlife, Business Administration, Professional Communication, and Human Services.

Within the last ten years, students have completed 362 internships at over 200 businesses, government institutions, and/or education organizations. Students must have reached sophomore status and maintain a 2.5 GPA to be eligible; they may work full-time or part-time in positions that are related to their major, minor or career interest.

Students who wish to have maximum marketability after graduation have the opportunity to intern multiple times before graduation. Positions may be local, regional, national or even international. Employers include small town banks, local or regional manufacturers, local and state government or large corporations.

Interns and employers both complete evaluations at the conclusion of the internship experience. Both evaluations assist the University with curriculum revisions or specific skills that may need to be added to the curriculum for relevancy regarding a specific job market.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

Another program facilitated by Career Services and administered through the Academic Affairs Office, Prior Learning Assessment provides the adult learner with the opportunity to earn university credit for prior collegiate level knowledge/learning obtained through independent reading, volunteer services, workshops, conferences, in-service training, work and other activities.

Documentation of prior learning is assembled into a written presentation, which is evaluated by departmental faculty to determine credit awards. The amount of credit awarded depends on the kinds and quality of learning outcomes presented and validated. The PLA credits may come from previous military and employment experience, CLEP, correspondence study, on-line courses, workshops, and/or other special topics. Over the past 10 years, 66 students have completed prior learning portfolios, and 56 (85%) have graduated.

Evaluation of Core Component 3c

Valley City State University supports a learning environment conducive to the needs of its students. The University has established programs to assist students both academically and socially as they navigate their role as students inside and outside the classroom. VCSU strives to continually improve these programs and services.

Strengths: VCSU offers a variety of programs and services to enhance the student's experience. The renewed agreement with the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS) in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, as well as its affiliation with the Zhejiang Economic and Trade Polytechnic (ZJETP) in Hangzhou, China will continue to provide study abroad opportunities for students and faculty. The internship program provides valuable field experience for students. The institution provides a variety of organizations in which students can become involved and learn valuable leadership skills.

New Initiatives: While the Learning to Live course (first year experience) has been an integral part of VCSU since the 1980s, it is currently in transition. The course is in transition, moving from an 8-week peer-taught and faculty-mentored course to a 16-week peer- and faculty- taught and mentored course on specific subjects. In addition, the relationships begun with ZJETP and recently renewed with UABCS have developed new opportunities for faculty and student exchange, as well as articulations for program transfer agreements.

Future Challenges: Because Valley City State University is a regional university, many students return home on weekends. While the institution tries to provide activities on weekends, not every student takes advantage of these activities. VCSU provides many opportunities for student involvement, but it should integrate a system to track who is participating in these endeavors and whether or not these endeavors have been successful. Additionally, online students have few options. Services must be expanded to online learners and online clubs should be developed.