University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

Appendix E: Progress Report of the First-Year Council Regarding Participation in the Foundations of Excellence® at the University of Northern Iowa May 2010


1. Create a First-Year Council charged with the oversight of first-year programs.
2. Develop a first-year philosophy statement and first-year learning outcomes.
3. Develop a comprehensive plan for faculty development.
4. Task the First-Year Council to develop a first-year cornerstone experience for all first-year students.
5. Develop a systematic process to define, identify, and assess the needs of first-year students, especially underserved populations.
6. Incorporate the findings of the Foundations of Excellence® process into other institutional improvement efforts that impact first-year students.
7. Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for assessing and improving first-year programs.



The Foundations of Excellence® (FOE) action plan submitted in July 2009 contained seven high priority recommendations. The first of those recommendations called for the formation of a First-Year Council charged with setting the strategic direction of first-year programs and more specifically, to proceed with developing action plans for implementing the key FOE recommendations. The First-Year Council was formed in November of 2009. The council has made significant progress on implementing each of the seven key action items. In order to report the progress of the council, the seven primary recommendations made through the FOE improvement process are described below, along with the associated actions taken to date.

 

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1. Create a First-Year Council charged with the oversight of first-year programs.

As recommended, the University formed a first-year council. The council is currently chaired by the co-chairs of the Foundations of Excellence review, Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter, Associate Professor of Communication and Jon Buse, Dean of Students. The council is charged by the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Vice President for Student Affairs with membership equally distributed among faculty and student affairs professionals.[1]

 

The council has met monthly during the academic year. The council immediately formed sub-committees to begin developing action plans on five key objectives: 1) first-year outcomes and assessment; 2) faculty development; 3) first-year cornerstone experience; and 4) identifying and assessing the needs of specific student sub-populations.[2]


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2. Develop a first-year philosophy statement and first-year learning outcomes.

The First-Year Council considered the work previously gathered during discussions on first-year philosophy and learning outcomes that occurred as part of the Foundations of Excellence® review. Representatives of the council attended a conference on learning outcome development and assessment hosted by the Higher Learning Commission in the spring of 2010. To date, a preliminary list of first-year outcomes has been developed.[3] The council is continuing the development of the outcomes and currently is developing a plan to ensure each outcome can be assessed using an existing assessment tool, such as NSSE data, or a new tool. Those outcomes that cannot be assessed will not be considered high priority outcomes. Once outcomes and assessment measures are in place, the council will determine which program, activity, or academic component is expected to accomplish each learning objective.

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3. Develop a comprehensive plan for faculty development.

The First-Year Council formed a sub-committee to review current faculty development efforts and to ascertain best practices in faculty development within the first year. The council has discussed ideas for faculty development, including the initiation of a visiting lecture series and the development of professional development mini-grants to fund faculty development opportunities and research on improving first-year student teaching and learning. They are currently gathering a “best-reads” list of resources for the first year, one of which included a new university library subscription to The Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.

 

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4. Task the First-Year Council to develop a first-year cornerstone experience for all first-year students.

The First-Year Council has proposed a 3 credit hour (graded credit) academic inquiry cornerstone course. The course and its related delivery methods would be developed by faculty members, in partnership with student services staff, students, and administration. This course would, by the nature of its assignments and activities, provide a helpful transition to students to college at UNI and will include extended orientation topics in the context of an interdisciplinary critical inquiry topic of the faculty member’s choice. The First-Year Council sub-committee working on this task included the following recommended components for this course in their proposal.

 

Recommended Components

  1. Academically-focused (interdisciplinary critical inquiry topic of faculty member’s choice), with elements of extended orientation included [based on ideas from literature and focus groups with current students] – the course itself and its delivery methods would be developed by a team of faculty members, with input from student services staff and students and administration. Students would get an orientation to college through an interesting academic topic, demonstrating that learning is enjoyable.
         a. Interdisciplinary topic of faculty member’s choice (keeping in mind topics students are interested in as
             well as what faculty want to teach)
         b. Emphasis on critical thinking, writing, & hands-on research
         c. Higher-order thinking & assignments (not just recall & tests)
         d. Engaged pedagogy (not just lectures – the focus needs to be on discussions & writing)
         e. Research-based & applied approach to covering extended orientation general topics
  2. Faculty-led teaching team, comprised of a faculty member & peer mentor, with student services and library staff in support of course.
  3. Part of LAC, if approved as part of LAC revision.
  4. 3 graded credit hours [based on research indicating better learning outcomes].
  5. Required course for first-year students in their first semester (piloted & phased in over time – e.g., 3-year period).
  6. Small sections (no more than 25 students).
  7. Assessment built in to the course from the start – to support faculty research & outcomes-based information-gathering.
  8. Include a common summer read as required text.
  9. Could build in a required university e-portfolio of some kind, to be developed by the student over the time they are here.
  10. An advisory board to oversee the course, possibly with an administrator involved (included faculty, staff, and students on this advisory board).
  11. Faculty development built in for course preparation & teaching (with paid summer workshops initially, if possible, and regular meetings at least once a year thereafter).
  12. Part of faculty member’s normal teaching load or some other compensation given for teaching the class – faculty members should have their participation rewarded in some way (recognized in tenure/promotion process). Could include emeriti faculty to help instruct.  Could use course tuition to help cover costs of instruction, similar to how summer school is staffed.
  13. Could teach the extended orientation topics in a variety of ways – e.g., (a) front-load the class (the week before school starts) with orientation topics, starting class a week early; (b) teach those topics through podcasts; (c) have guest speakers come in every couple of weeks in large lecture setting, made up of several classes put together & then apply topic/s in smaller seminar setting the following week; (d) have assignments built around these topics.

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5. Develop a systematic process to define, identify, and assess the needs of first-year students, especially underserved populations.

 

The sub-committee that reviewed this recommendation considered the availability of proprietary products, reviewed retention data for several subpopulations of UNI students, and considered the organization of the Council and units involved in providing support services to students. The First-Year Council has received approval to purchase MAP-Works, a web-based student success and retention product for implementation with new students beginning in the fall semester of 2010.[4] This product will help the university identify and assess the unique needs of each individual student.

 

In addition, the Council has received approval to appoint a Student Success Leadership Committee reporting to the First-Year Council and charged to coordinate, evaluate, and monitor first- year student success and retention efforts, including the implementation of MAP-Works. This group includes the unit directors of several key departments including:

  • Registrar                                                                       
  • Director of Admissions                                                  
  • Director of Academic Learning Center                         
  • Director of Academic Advising Services                      
  • Faculty member from the First-year Council
  • Academic Department Head
  • Dean of Students
  • Director of Financial Aid
  • Director of Residence Life

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6. Incorporate the findings of the Foundations of Excellence® process into other institutional improvement efforts that impact first-year students.

The First-Year Council includes representatives from the Liberal Arts Core Committee, the Academic Advising Council, and the Diversity Council and Diversity Advisory Committee. These appointments were made to ensure the needs of first-year students and the lessons learned from the Foundations of Excellence® process are considered in other institutional improvement efforts. Also, the FOE report contained a number of unit/department level recommendations that are being shared with individual departments. The First-Year Council will also ask departments to provide an update on these proposed action items in the 2010-11 academic year.

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7. Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for assessing and improving first-year programs.

As stated previously, the First-Year Council has begun a discussion to link assessment measures to proposed first-year learning outcomes. This planning will continue into the next academic year. Upon finalizing the learning outcomes and assessment measures, the council will commence a discussion to associate each learning outcome with a specific strategy, program, or activity.