University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

CHAPTER 16: ROLES AND PURPOSES DIMENSION


Key Performance Indicators
Current Situation
Opportunities and Challenges
Recommended Actions

Foundations Institutions promote student understanding of the various roles and purposes of higher education, both for the individual and society.  These roles and purposes include knowledge acquisition for personal growth, learning to prepare for future employment, learning to become engaged citizens, and learning to serve the public good.  Institutions encourage first-year students to examine systematically their motivation and goals with regard to higher education in general and to their own college/university.  Students are exposed to the value of general education as well as to the value of more focused, in-depth study of a field or fields of knowledge (i.e., the major).


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Key Performance Indicators for the Roles and Purposes Dimension include:

  • Communication of Purpose: the campus effectively communicates to students its vision for the following purposes of higher education: knowledge acquisition for personal growth, learning to prepare for future employment, learning for engaged citizenship, and learning for serving the public good.
  • Personal Motivation: the institution intentionally provides opportunities for first-year students to examine their personal motivation for pursuing higher education.
  • Communication of Intended Outcomes: the campus effectively communicates its rationale for required courses, required competencies (e.g., library skills, writing, computing), and requirements for entry into majors. 

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Current Situation

 

Communication of Purpose

Students sitting together outside of Curris Business BuildingThe review of the evidence revealed no consistent, university-wide approach to providing information on the roles and purposes of higher education.  For example, the current institutional Strategic Plan does address values such as service to the State of Iowa, expansive awareness of multiple perspectives characteristic of a global society, personalized character building experiences, and opportunities for students to provide service to the greater community, but there was no prominent information addressing roles and purposes in UNI’s admissions literature or on the Web site.  The new strategic plan process began in fall 2009. 

 

Individual colleges and non-academic departments vary considerably in how their mission statements and other information sources address roles and purposes.  The Liberal Arts Core, however, is one area in which the University has most clearly articulated information about the roles and purposes of higher education.  The 2008-2010 University Catalog notes the foundational nature of the LAC to the University’s undergraduate programs, and quotes extensively from the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ “Statement on Liberal Learning,” (1999) to describe the roles and purposes of a liberal education.[1]  This statement is also linked to the LAC website, along with a new UNI specific Purposes and Goals statement for the LAC, which the University Faculty Senate approved in October 2009.  The LAC website also contains information which faculty can put on their syllabi for first-year level LAC courses,[2] but it is unclear how many faculty use this resource.  At present syllabi for first-year level LAC courses are inconsistent in their presentation of information regarding the roles and purposes of higher education.[3] 

 

There were some examples of units that incorporate broad roles and purposes information into their mission statements.  For example, the Office of Academic Advising goals include helping a student to:

  • Find/create logic in her/his education.
  • View the curriculum as a whole.
  • Make educational choices based on a developing sense of self.
  • Enhance learning experiences by relating them to previously learned knowledge.[4]

Students relaxing in the dormsThe Department of Residence mission statement addresses the importance of providing an environment that encourages students to become engaged, productive citizens of the University, and states its intent to “build communities of outstanding citizens and scholars through example, challenge and support.”[5]

 

After a review of the evidence related to this performance indicator, the committee concluded that the University does not have a unified campus-wide philosophy, statement, or approach that addresses the roles and purposes of higher education.  Pieces of roles and purposes-related information are communicated through some programs and venues, but there is not a consistent, integrated approach to this communication.  Nonetheless, students seem to understand how attending college does increase their knowledge for future employment, personal growth, being an involved member of their community, and contributing to the betterment of society, as seen in Table 16.1 below.  Faculty and staff, however, believe the University stresses preparing students for their future employment more than its other purposes as an institution of higher education, as shown in Table 16.2 below.

 

Table 16.1 Student Survey – Roles and Purposes

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

14

To what degree have faculty/staff advisors discussed how college can help you achieve your life goals?

16.1%

33%

50.9%

3.48

41

To what degree have faculty/staff helped you examine your personal reasons for getting a college education? 

29.2%

36.8%

34.1%

3.04

42

To what degree do you understand this institution’s intended learning goals for the first year of college?

19.1%

32.5%

48.4%

3.38

43

To what degree does this institution help you understand how attending college increases knowledge for your future employment? 

8%

25%

67%

3.81

44

To what degree does this institution help you understand how attending college increases knowledge for your personal growth? 

7.8%

25%

67.1%

3.80

45

To what degree does this institution help you understand how attending college prepares you to be an involved member of your community? 

12.3%

29.8%

57.9%

3.63

46

To what degree does this institution help you understand how attending college prepares you to contribute to the betterment of society? 

10.8%

29.5%

59.7%

3.65

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

 

Table 16.2 Faculty/Staff Survey – Roles and Purposes

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

42

To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: knowledge for personal growth?

28.3%

41%

30.6%

3.04

43

To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: preparation for future employment? 

15.3%

31.9%

52.8%

3.47

44

To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: active engagement in the community? 

34.1%

40.4%

25.5%

2.91

45

To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: contributions to the betterment of society? 

38.3%

38.7%

23%

2.83

46

To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore their motivation for getting a college education in terms of achievement of their life goals? 

28.3%

41.7%

30%

3.00

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

 

Personal Motivation

The FoE student survey suggests that students feel UNI helps them understand how attending college prepares them for future employment, to be involved members of their communities, to contribute to the betterment of society, and how it leads to their personal growth.  There is less evidence to suggest that students feel the University is providing organized or systematic opportunities for students to examine their personal reasons for pursuing collegiate study.  On the FoE student survey, the lowest rated item was the question asking, “To what degree have faculty/staff helped you examine your personal reasons for getting a college education?”(Q41) with a mean of 3.04/5.0.

 

The highest rating on both the student (3.81) and faculty/staff (3.47) FoE surveys was for the question, “To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: preparation for future employment?”(Q43-Faculty Survey; Q43-Student Survey)  The second highest rating on both surveys (3.80 for students and 3.04 for faculty/staff) was for the question, “To what degree does this institution help first-year students explore the following purpose of higher education: knowledge for personal growth?” (Q42-Faculty Survey; Q44-Student Survey)

 

The LAC provides opportunities for students to experience non-career specific academic offerings, and the LAC Committee has been attempting to highlight how courses from the core contribute to the development of a well-rounded individual, but these efforts fall short of a campus-wide commitment.  In examining the LAC information on the UNI Webpage,[6] it is evident that much of the information about the LAC that addresses roles and purposes is directed towards students and parents, rather than faculty, although there have been recent efforts to address this oversight.  For example, the LAC committee drafted a document “Purposes and Goals of the Liberal Arts Core,” which was, officially approved by the Faculty Senate on October 12, 2009, and has been placed on the LAC website.[7]  This less intentional communication with faculty/staff about the role of the LAC and college education in general for students may help explain the discrepancy in the FoE student and faculty/staff surveys, in which the students rated UNI’s attention to the Roles and Purposes Dimension consistently higher than faculty/staff did.

 

Communication of Intended Outcomes

The LAC is the core curriculum at UNI.  The campus committee charged with oversight of the LAC has made considerable effort to communicate the rationale for a required general education to students; however, the rationale could be communicated more effectively to faculty/staff, as mentioned above.  Faculty have been encouraged to include statements about the LAC on their syllabi for LAC courses.[8]

 

There is a LAC category (category 1) which focuses on core competencies for all students, with a clear statement of the purpose of this category provided for both students and faculty/staff.[9]  These competencies include written, oral, and quantitative communication competencies, as well as personal wellness awareness.

 

The requirements for entry into the major areas are addressed in numerous areas including academic advising and the various introductory courses for the majors; however, it is not clear if students are aware of the outcomes of their major and how those outcomes relate to LAC goals/purposes in all programs.  Some departments are following the nationwide trend to use electronic portfolios to help students reflect on their learning in their major and LAC courses.[10]  For example, the Communication Studies Department introduces their liberal arts majors to e-portfolios in one of their first major courses, encouraging students to place artifacts there, with accompanying reflections, for each of the LAC goals/purposes and their major goals, as well as three to five employment-related skills areas the student chooses.

 

Even with all of the communication to students about the roles and purposes of higher education, the survey indicates this same information is not communicated as well to faculty/staff.  For example, there is no evidence that current faculty are talking about such issues systematically, as they did in the past when participating in intentional discussions about the Qualities of an Educated Person from 1996-1999.[11]  However, it is unclear whether any of the information from that report ended up being used to formulate new curriculum or initiatives on campus.  Perhaps the new review process for the Liberal Arts Core, which is ongoing, will encourage such conversations and change to take place.

 

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Opportunities and Challenges

  • Most first-year students coming to UNI have some college credits, but may not have been exposed to any roles and purposes information in those college credit courses.  Since approximately 1/3 of incoming new students are transfers, there is no assurance they will have received information related to UNI’s beliefs about the roles and purposes of higher education.
  • There are many opportunities in place for students to fulfill most of the ideals of the Roles and Purposes Dimension.  However, there appear to be few if any direct opportunities for students to examine systematically their motivation and goals with regard to highereducation in general and in their UNI experience specifically.
  • There is no unified first-year statement or philosophy for UNI which could guide exploration of the roles and purposes of higher education for students in the first year.
  • Major initiatives, such as the revision of the institutional strategic plan and the ongoing reaccreditation process, offer an opportunity to incorporate a unified roles and purposes statement across the institution.

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Recommended Actions

 

1. Include a Roles and Purposes Statement in the New University Strategic Plan, which Emphasizes the Role of the First Year in Disseminating this Information to Students

a. The university should include a clearly articulated statement of roles and purposes for higher education at UNI.

 

b. The drafting of this statement should be an inclusive process, involving representation from the entire University community, alumni, and the community at large.

 

c. The statement should also be consistently communicated and incorporated in all University publications and settings.

 

d. The statement should directly address first-year student needs.

 

2. Develop a Faculty Development Program which Incorporates Broad First-Year Student Information and Specific Roles and Purposes Information

a. Topics should include roles and purposes, core competencies, the LAC purposes and goals, and resources on campus.

 

b. Faculty should be encouraged to include such information in their course syllabi.

 

3. Develop Opportunities for Students to Explore both the General Roles and Purposes of Higher Education, and their own Personal Motivation for Pursuing Higher Education

a. The University should develop systematic opportunities for students to examine their motivation and goals with regards to higher education in programs such as orientation, residence life, and the LAC.

 

b. The University should investigate the use of e-portfolios as a tool through which roles and purposes information can be communicated, and through which students can personally process this information in an intentional way.  E-portfolios could be a tool for two-way communication between students and faculty, related to their personal exploration of educational roles and purposes.