Public Purpose Magazine, Fall 2017
2017 Fall PP cover


Between the LinesSusan M. Chilcott

This quote by Dr. Mary Evans Sias, director of AASCU’s Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI), is the appropriate concluding statement in the cover story that focuses on diversity in higher education leadership. MLI will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2018; it has had a significant influence on higher education leadership. We wanted to share some of its accomplishments in anticipation of that celebration. 

The point Dr. Sias makes could be generalized to the larger landscape of higher education as represented by AASCU and its members. In her welcome remarks at our Annual Meeting in October, President Muriel Howard said, “AASCU schools are fulfilling the needs of an increasingly diverse America. It is our institutions that are at the forefront of providing educational opportunities for those who comprise this new, changing demographic.” There were a number of occasions when the conversations at the Annual Meeting—both formally and informally—turned to our state colleges and universities and how crucial they are to America’s workforce, as well as to the civic and social fabric of our country. 


Table of Contents

The Role Of Department Chairs In Student SuccessBy Karen Doss Bowman

About five years ago, faculty in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse did a gut check: Pass/fail rates aside, were their students really learning in the classroom? 

Timothy Dale, now chair of the department, recalls that conversations about student success began when his predecessor prompted the faculty to read and discuss “Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor: Lessons from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” The book chapter, written by Craig E. Nelson and published in To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development (Vol. 28, 2010), examines traditional teaching methods and philosophies that aren’t conducive to learning—such as the belief that making a class more difficult serves to “weed out” students who aren’t capable or interested in the subject matter. 


Path to SuccessMillennium Leadership Initiative graduates share their experiences, accomplishmentsBy Victoria Markovitz

Today’s public college and university leaders face complex challenges, including declining state support for public higher education, conflicts between campuses and lawmakers regarding free speech and civil rights, and the need to protect students from violence and hate speech. Amidst these issues, diversity in student bodies continues to increase, and these students need to feel supported, safe and welcomed. 

In 1999, AASCU’s African-American presidents founded the Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI) to ensure the next generation of leaders in higher education reflects the diversity of the nation, providing individuals traditionally underrepresented in the highest ranks of higher education with the opportunity to develop skills, gain a philosophical overview, and build the network needed to advance to the presidency. This mission remains just as relevant today.


Managing the Enrollment CrunchBy Stephen G. Pelletier

In the upper peninsula of Michigan, one university is starting the world’s first cold weather body farm, part of a new forensic anthropology major. Separately, recognizing the rise of medical marijuana, that same institution has launched a unique undergraduate degree in medicinal plant chemistry. The program will train students for work in emerging industries related to medicinal plant production, analysis and distribution. In Oregon, which has legalized marijuana, another university is studying whether it ought to create a program in cultivating cannabis. 

The advent of programs like these tells a couple of stories. Fundamentally, they embody forward-thinking from universities that have carefully analyzed emerging needs for academic programs—and moved quickly to serve those needs. The other story is that part of what’s driving that creativity in program development is that a great many public universities serve geographic areas with a shrinking cohort of high school graduates. That in itself is a strong impetus for designing new programs that will attract new students. And that’s one strategy for universities to use for working themselves through the current enrollment crunch.


More Than the Bottom LineNon-budgetary Policy Changes Can Affect University ResearchBy Frank Graeff
In an era of declining state support, many universities are anxiously monitoring cuts to federal research budgets. However, current policy discussions in Washington can drastically alter government research at universities without touching budgets. The following policies could affect who can apply for grants, how those funds can be used, and what topics are eligible for federal funding. 

Challenges Ahead for Competency-based EducationBy Barmak Nassirian

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), technically required every five years, is now four years overdue, and, the constant talk about its impending arrival notwithstanding, nowhere in sight. On Sept. 22, the Department of Education’s Inspector General (IG) provided a timely, albeit unfortunate, illustration of how congressional gridlock and the breakdown of regular legislative process can have real-world consequences. 

The IG issued a much anticipated audit report on the question of whether Western Governors University (WGU)—an early pioneer in distance education and competency-based education (CBE)—is legally eligible to participate in federal student aid programs. She found that WGU programs do not satisfy the black letter of the law, which requires “regular and substantive interaction” between students and faculty in distance education programs for these to be eligible for federal aid. That the finding, if accepted by the secretary, would render WGU—since its founding, the darling of politicians, foundations, and progressive and conservative reformers—prospectively ineligible for aid was bad enough. But the IG’s recommendation that the department should therefore recoup more than $700 million in improperly disbursed federal funds added fuel to the firestorm of outrage and indignation. 


Opportunities for All in the Digital AgeOptimizing Your Social Media Campaigns
Digital consumers around the world spend about one of every three minutes online on social media and messaging, reports technology company GlobalWebIndex in its Q1 2017 “GWI Social” report. Our Opportunities for All campaign uses the popularity of social media to promote the value of state colleges and universities (SCUs), while also allowing schools to highlight their unique benefits. Here are some tips to help you become a part of the campaign and to optimize your social media efforts.

Utah Valley University’s Dual Education Model:How One School Built a Thriving University Around a Community College By Matthew S. Holland

Today, Utah Valley University (UVU) is the largest university in the state. With 36,000 students, it is projected to grow to 46,000 in eight years. Twenty-five years ago, it was a community college with less than 10,000 students. 

A significant driver of UVU’s rapid evolution and growth is its unique dual education model. Combining the rigor and richness of a first-rate teaching university with the openness and vocational programs of a community college, UVU’s dual model represents an idea whose time has come. 

When I was named president of UVU eight years ago, the state legislature had recently voted unanimously to make Utah Valley State College a university. We faced extraordinary crossroads in deciding what kind of a university UVU would become. The allure of the elite research pathway was tempting, particularly as UVU was already excelling with very good four-year liberal arts programs. 


Presidents & PracticesGood Timing: Sacramento State’s New Effort to Improve Graduation RatesBy Robert S. Nelsen

In May, I had the honor of presiding over the largest spring commencement in Sacramento State’s history, when more than 5,300 students received their degrees. But behind that joyous moment was an unfortunate truth: For too many of them, the path to graduation took far longer than they had anticipated. 

The California State University System is a leader in providing access to quality, affordable higher education. But in an era of reduced public funding, our students continue to face barriers to timely graduation. To address this critical issue, Sacramento State last year launched the “Finish in Four” and “Through in Two” programs as part of the CSU’s system


Currents & Transitions

EndSightsAASCU Advocates for "Dreamers"

AASCU and its member schools have stood strong in supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, fighting for the protection of “Dreamers,” the more than 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children. 

In September, AASCU President Muriel Howard released the following statement regarding the termination of the DACA program: 
“We are profoundly disappointed with, and strongly oppose, the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, under which individuals brought to the United States as children have been provided temporary reprieve from deportation from the only country many of them have ever known.