University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

CHAPTER 10: ORGANIZATION DIMENSION


Key Performance IndicatorsCurrent
Current Situation
Opportunities and Challenges
Recommended Actions

Foundations Institutions create organizational structures and policies that provide a comprehensive, integrated, and coordinated approach to the first year.  These structures and policies provide oversight and alignment of all first-year efforts.  A coherent first-year experience is realized and maintained through effective partnerships among academic affairs, student affairs, and other administrative units and is enhanced by ongoing faculty and staff development activities and appropriate budgetary arrangements.

 

Key Performance Indicators for the Organization Dimension include:

  • Organizational Structure: existence of unit(s)/structure(s) designed to provide oversight and alignment of first-year efforts.
  • Integration: to what degree the organizational structure results in an integrated approach that crosses division/unit lines (e.g., student affairs and academic affairs).
  • Evaluation: to what degree evaluation results have been used to improve organizational structure performance.
  • Faculty/Staff Development: to what degree does faculty and staff development reach all or most faculty and staff who work with first-year students, is on-going year to year, and is of high quality as confirmed by appropriate evaluation.
  • Resource Allocation: consistent financial resources to support organizational oversight for the first year.

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Current Situation

Organizational Structure

There is no coordinated, focused, campus- or division-wide collaborative effort to assist students during their first year at UNI.  This is supported by the fact that the most common type of comment on the open-ended question to faculty/staff to identify weaknesses in the way the institution conducts the first year of college, (mentioned by 16%) was that the University lacked a coordinated approach to the first year.  This sentiment also was supported by the experiences of committee members.

 

Academic advising and Liberal Arts Core (LAC) classes are two specific areas requiring collaboration and communication.  Administering these activities and programs through a unified organizational structure is vital to achieving success in both areas. 

 

Academic advising plays a critical role in the first-year experience of students. During the first year, students receive academic advising through a combination of centralized and decentralized systems.  Approximately 43% of first-year students are advised in the Office of Academic Advising using a central intake model, which is focused on first-year advising outcomes.  These students are transitioned to their academic departments at the end of the first year.  Students in the College of Business Administration and the College of Education receive academic and career advising by professional advisors housed in the college.  Most other students are advised by faculty advisors in academic departments.  Additionally, Jump Start participants and students who have qualified for the federally-funded Student Support Services program are provided supplemental academic advising in the Academic Learning Center.

 

Advising caseloads vary dramatically.  According to a spring 2008 survey of UNI academic advisors, 25% of faculty advisors are assigned more than the recommended 20:1 caseload and 21.5% of professional advisors have above the recommended 300:1 ratio.[1]  In addition, 42.9% of professional advisors report that they have difficulty meeting the advising needs of students.

 

Concerns about advising (32 comments) were also identified in the comments from the FoE faculty/staff survey narrative responses, including, “Advising is not personal or individualized, schedule construction needs much more support…”  Similar themes emerged from the narrative comments on the FoE student survey such as, “Academic advisors could reach out more, and the groups for orientation should be smaller.”

 

Although the institution lacks a coordinated approach to the first year, targeted efforts to address the needs of first-year students are evident in specific areas.  The Department of Residence provides a number of programs specifically for first-year students, including Dive-In Days and Springboard housing for approximately 350 students, where first-year students live together in a community that focuses on enhancing student transitions, identity development, and academic and social success.

 

The Dean of Students Office facilitates new student and orientation programs, and the Office of Academic Advising coordinates advising for first-year students and collaborates with the Department of Residence on the Peer Advisor in Residence Program (PAIR), where peer advisors conduct individual and group advising sessions in the residence halls.  The Current Practices Inventory (CPI) lists several other first-year initiatives; however, with the exception of the First Year Business Majors Seminar and the Freshmen Intake Model, few of them reach beyond the range of including 1%-4% of first-year students.  Some of these initiatives (First Year Business Majors Seminar, Freshmen Intake Model, Proactive Student Success Program, etc.) have only been ongoing for one year, so evaluation of them is incomplete.

 

Integration

Communication and collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs occurs in isolated segments and is not systematically supportive of students during their first year.  As noted in Table 10.1, only 18.6% of the faculty/staff responded high or very high on the faculty/staff FoE survey that there is routine communication to support first-year experiences as demonstrated in the question, “To what degree has this institution effectively organized itself to develop an integrated first college year that supports routine communications among discrete first-year functions?” (Q22)  Only 24.6% of FoE faculty/staff survey respondents felt the collaboration between academic and student affairs was high or very high when asked, “To what degree has this institution effectively organized itself to develop an integrated first college year that supports collaboration between academic and student affairs?” (Q23)  Thirty-nine percent of the FoE faculty/staff survey respondents believed the University’s senior leaders promote partnerships between student affairs and faculty slightly to not at all, in answer to the question, “To what degree are student affairs and faculty partnerships encouraged by senior institution leaders?” (Q27)  An additional 33.4% would only give a moderate rating to the support of these partnerships by UNI leadership.  Also, faculty serving on this committee, many of whom have worked at the institution for more than 15 years, identified participation in FoE as the first time they have been asked to serve on a committee deliberately coordinated with student affairs members.

 

Table 10.1 Faculty/Staff Survey – Organization Dimension

Question

 #

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

17

 

Based on your understanding of this institution's organizational structure, to what degree can you correctly refer new students regarding administrative questions? 

10.1%

25.9%

64%

3.75

18

Based on your understanding of this institution's organizational structure, to what degree can you correctly refer new students regarding questions about academic rules? 

12.6%

27.6%

59.8%

3.68

19

Based on your understanding of this institution's organizational structure, to what degree can you correctly refer new students regarding help with coursework? 

13%

22.5%

64.5%

3.80

20

Based on your understanding of this institution's organizational structure, to what degree can you correctly refer new students regarding help with personal issues (money management, family matters, etc.)? 

18.7%

25.8%

55.5%

3.53

21

Based on your understanding of this institution's organizational structure, to what degree can you correctly refer new students regarding becoming involved with an institution-sponsored organization/event?

15.3%

27.4%

57.4%

3.63

22

To what degree has this institution effectively organized itself to develop an integrated first college year that supports routine communications among discrete first-year functions?

45.8%

35.6%

18.6%

2.62

23

To what degree has this institution effectively organized itself to develop an integrated first college year that supports collaboration between academic and student affairs?

40.2%

35.2%

24.6%

2.79

24

To what degree are resources (personnel and fiscal) adequate for courses that enroll first-year students?

28.2%

39.1%

32.7%

3.05

25

To what degree are resources (personnel and fiscal) adequate for academic support services used by first-year students?

15.9%

40.7%

43.4%

3.36

26

To what degree are resources (personnel and fiscal) adequate for  extracurricular activities available to first-year students?

7.7%

30.5%

61.9%

3.72

27

To what degree are student affairs and faculty partnerships encouraged by senior institution leaders?

39%

 

33.4%

27.6%

2.87

28

To what degree do you, as a faculty/staff member, have a voice in decisions about first-year issues?

63.9%

25.3%

10.8%

2.20

29

To what degree does your department/unit have a voice in decisions about first-year issues?

42.1%

32.6%

25.3%

2.79

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

In general, student satisfaction is very positive.  Results of the first-year student survey completed in the fall of 2009 and displayed in Table 10.2, indicate positive student satisfaction and yet suggest room for improvement.  Approximately 61% of students indicated a high or very high understanding of where to go for an administrative question when asked, “To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you have an administrative question (e.g., financial aid, registration, tuition payments)?” (Q29) and for help with coursework, represented by the question, “To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you need help with your coursework (e.g., tutoring, academic support)?” (Q31)  Seventy-six percent of student responses indicated a high or very high belief when asked, “To what degree do faculty/staff refer you to the right office when you have questions?” (Q34)

 

Table 10.2 Student Survey - Organization Dimension

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

29

To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you have an administrative question (e.g., financial aid, registration, tuition payments)? 

10.9%

28.3%

60.8%

3.71

30

To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you have a question about academic rules (e.g., withdrawal, academic probation)? 

15.3%

31.9%

52.8%

3.53

31

To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you need help with your coursework (e.g., tutoring, academic support)? 

11.6%

26.9%

61.5%

3.72

32

To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you need help with non-academic matters (e.g., money management, family matters)? 

27%

32.3%

40.8%

3.21

33

To what degree do you understand how your institution is organized so that you know where to go if you want to be involved with an institution-sponsored organization / event?

20.5%

31.7%

47.7%

3.38

34

To what degree do faculty/staff refer you to the right office when you have questions?

5.4%

18.5%

76.1%

4.04

1=Not at all; 2=Slight; 3=Moderate; 4=High; 5=Very High

 

According to the open-ended questions on the FoE faculty/staff survey, 52.5% commented

that teaching is valued at UNI, and faculty are often excited to work with first-year students.  Supporting this percentage are the following comments:

  • Our faculty and staff are great with students.
  • They tend to stay a long time and most like to build relationships with students.
  • UNI instructors care about their students’ success. I think this is our greatest strength.

The FoE student survey had similar responses, with students commenting about their living environments, experience with orientation, and interaction with faculty, as strengths of UNI’s first-year for them.  Although it is evident that UNI has the ability to produce positive results, this capacity would be enhanced if adequate integration of academic affairs and student affairs were implemented for the first year.  

 

Evaluation

Many surveys are conducted at the start of the academic year for first-year students (Six Week New Student Survey, Academic Advising Intake Assessment, PAIR survey) and early in the spring semester (NSSE).  Numerous units implement these surveys including: Office of Academic Advising, Office of Academic Assessment, Department of Residence, and the Dean of Students Office.  Although a number of survey instruments are being used, the committee found the survey data is used inconsistently.  For example, a NSSE Task Force was developed by the Interim Provost, and a presentation was given to University Council, made up of the cabinet, deans, and department heads.  Workshops were developed and were announced on UNI Online with results available on the Office of Academic Assessment Web page.  The Six Week New Student Evaluation was shared informally with the Dean of Students, Vice President for Student Affairs, and staff members working on orientation.  However, even though feedback from students elicited some changes from the latter survey, the results were not shared widely across campus.  As mentioned earlier, some of the newer initiatives (e.g., Freshmen Intake Model, First Year Business Majors Seminar, and Proactive Student Success Program) had been in place for only one year at the time of this study, and their effectiveness has not yet been determined.

 

Faculty and Staff Development

The professional development of faculty/staff on characteristics of first-year students and the specific pedagogy effective in engaging first-year students is of paramount importance.  However, there is little to no emphasis on the first-year experience in hiring; 65-69% of faculty/staff on the survey reported that little to none of the responsibilities to teach first-year students are addressed during the hiring process, in terms of position descriptions, “During the hiring process at this institution, to what degree are faculty responsibilities related to first-year students addressed by means of position descriptions?” (Q69) and in candidate interviews, “During the hiring process at this institution, to what degree are faculty responsibilities related to first-year students addressed by means of candidate interviews?” (Q70)  Only 10.8% of faculty/staff responded high or very high to the question, “To what degree do you, as a faculty/staff member, have a voice in decisions about first-year issues?” (Q28) 

 

The Department of Residence (DOR) provides organized staff training on numerous topics.  Though none of the training is geared directly toward first-year students, it is focused toward residence hall occupants.  The Office of Academic Advising provides advisor training to faculty, and 56.9% of faculty/staff responded high or very high to the FoE survey question, “In advising first-year students, to what degree do you have adequate training to effectively address their needs?” (Q83)

 

Resource Allocation

Funding for the programs supporting the first-year experience comes from many areas within the divisions of academic affairs and student affairs, but due to the lack of a solid organizational structure, those funding sources are not coordinated.  Additionally, the number of large first-year classes and the large number of adjunct instructors is cause for concern.  For example, there were 13 first-year class sections that enrolled 200 or more students in fall 2008.  Additionally, from the fall 2001 to the spring 2008 semester, the number of LAC sections taught by non-tenure track faculty was 2,342 (42%), and the data indicate the number of course sections taught by adjunct instructors is increasing.[2]  The amount of money spent on adjuncts throughout the University for the 2008-2009 academic year was $1,471,121 (179 adjuncts), while in the 2007-2008 academic year the amount of money spent on adjuncts was $1,327,249 (152 adjuncts).

 

Overall, there has been little financial support for faculty/staff to organize, plan, and execute first-year programs, and there are no dedicated funds for training and professional development for those who work with first-year students.  However, the faculty and staff survey results indicated that 28.2% of the faculty and staff reported that resources are not at all or slightly adequate to support courses that enroll first-year students demonstrated in the question, “To what degree are resources (personnel and fiscal) adequate for courses that enroll first-year students?” while 39.1% reported moderate agreement and 32.7% reported high or very high agreement with this question. (Q24)  Sixteen percent of the faculty/staff feel resources are not at all or slightly adequate to support academic support services for first-year students when responding to the question, “To what degree are resources (personnel and fiscal) adequate for academic support services used by first-year students?” while 40.7% feel resources are moderately adequate and 43.4% feel resources are high or very high. (Q25)

 

The Undergraduate Academic Advising Council, which reports to the Provost, conducted an academic advising survey in May 2008.  In the survey, of the 333 advisors who responded, 77.4% stated they would like to have more intentional advising training.  Additionally, 42.8% of professional advisors advise 300 or more students per semester.  Meeting the needs of their advisees “with difficulty” is reported by 42.9%.[3]  These results suggest that additional resources need to be allocated to hiring and training campus advisors.

 

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Opportunities and Challenges

  • An organizational structure is needed to develop adequate programs for first-year students, and the funding is needed to execute these programs.
  • Additional academic advisors are needed to be able to adequately advise new students.
  • Most faculty/staff do not feel involved with decisions and initiatives regarding the first-year experience.
  • Most faculty are willing to work with first-year students; however, in some cases, they may not be sure how to best structure their classes to meet the specific needs of first-year students.
  • There is a lack of a systematic approach to professional development related to enhancing the success of first-year students.
  • The FoE Faculty and Staff survey indicates that in the eyes of faculty members, administrators, professional, technical, and service staff, more opportunities need to be provided for professional development to properly train faculty and staff so they have the skills and knowledge to work with first-year students.  In addition, release time for faculty and staff is needed to collaborate with other faculty and staff who work with first-year students.
  • Additional full-time, tenured track faculty are needed to teach first-year classes.
  • A system for communicating survey data and developing action plans based on them is lacking. 

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Recommended Actions

1. Create and Fund an Organizational Structure to Coordinate First-Year Programs

a. Institute a formal, governing body that is responsible for the oversight and alignment of first-year initiatives.

 

b. This body should be charged with setting the strategic direction of the first-year and for the assessment, monitoring, and reporting of specified first-year initiatives and learning outcomes, while the implementation of specific activities should rest with the appropriate departments or units.

 

c. Leadership of this body should reside jointly in the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.

 

d. While this body is strategic in nature, it is understood that curriculum control should not be granted to this body.

 

2. Develop and Fund a Cohesive, Collaborative, University-Wide Academic Advising Plan, involving the Undergraduate Advising Council

a. Develop a university-wide academic advising plan for all students, which includes developmental activities to improve advising across campus.

 

b. Implement the recommendations of the Undergraduate Advising Council Report on Advising Improvements.[4]

 

c. Allocate resources to provide for additional academic advisors so that the ratio of Academic Advising advisors to students is capped at 1:150 and the ratio of faculty advisors to students capped at 1:20.

 

d. Train faculty and staff advisors specifically to deal with the needs of first-year students.

 

3. Develop and Implement a Plan for Faculty Development focusing on the Teaching of First-Year Students

a. Include in the development plan a variety of topics to enhance teaching and to increase faculty understanding of student transition issues.  Specific topics on learning styles, cognitive characteristics, and appropriate use of technology in courses should be included and emphasis should be placed on improving academic advising at all levels.

 

b. Include faculty and staff in the development and implementation of the plan.  Activities that facilitate networking of faculty and staff who work with first-year students should be encouraged, as should the use of technology (i.e., webinars, podcasts) to deliver information to faculty and staff.