University of Northern Iowa Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Review

CHAPTER 9: PHILOSOPHY DIMENSION


Key Performance Indicators
Current Situation
Opportunities and Challenges
Recommended Actions

Foundations Institutions approach the first year in ways that are intentional and based on a philosophy/rationale of the first year that informs relevant institutional policies and practices.  The philosophy/rationale is explicit, clear and easily understood, consistent with the institutional mission, widely disseminated, and, as appropriate, reflects a consensus of campus constituencies.  The philosophy/rationale is also the basis for first-year organizational policies, practices, structures, leadership, department/unit philosophies, and resource allocation.

 

Key Performance Indicators for the Philosophy Dimension include:

  • Institutional philosophy:  the existence of a campus-wide philosophy statement about the institution’s established purpose for the first year stated explicitly or implicitly.
  • Departmental/unit philosophy: existence of department/unit specific philosophy statements.
  • Influence: to what degree philosophy statements influence current practices and policies for the first year.
  • Dissemination: to what degree philosophy/rationale for the first year is disseminated to first-year students, faculty, and staff.

 

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Current Situation

Institutional Philosophy

Most of UNI’s faculty and staff believe that the University is committed to the success of its first year students.  Most also feel that an institutional philosophy on the first year would be valuable.  More than 70% of faculty/staff respondents indicated high or very high to the question, “To what degree is a formalized institutional philosophy for the first/freshman year of college valuable,” (Q15) and 61% answered high or very high to the question, “To what degree do you believe that this institution is committed to the success of first-year students/freshmen?” (Q16)  However, the institutional mission statement, strategic plan, and other philosophy statements, do not include any explicit philosophy statement regarding the first year of college.  There are statements that reflect parts of UNI’s overall educational philosophy (e.g., Liberal Arts Core goals; Qualities of an Educated Person report[1]) but those statements do not specifically reference the first year of college.

 

Table 9.1: FoE Faculty/Staff Survey – Philosophy Dimension

Question

#

Question Text

Response

 

1 or 2

3

4 or 5

Mean

11

 

To what degree has an institutional philosophy for the first/freshman year of college been communicated to you? 

61.3%

22.4%

16.3%

2.24

12

To what degree has a department/unit philosophy for the first/freshman year of college been communicated to you? 

49.8%

24.2%

26.0%

2.55

 

13

To what degree does this institution operate from a commonly held philosophy for the first/freshman year?

53.6%

25.5%

20.7%

2.48

14

To what degree does your department/unit operate from a commonly held philosophy for the first/freshman year? 

39.6%

24.6%

35.8%

2.87

15

To what degree is a formalized institutional philosophy for the first/freshman year of college valuable?

12.1%

17.5%

70.4%

3.89

 

16

To what degree do you believe that this institution is committed to the success of first-year students/freshmen?

9.7%

29.2%

61.1%

3.76

 

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

 

Results of the FoE faculty/staff survey completed in the fall of 2009 are displayed in Table 9.1.  Fifty-four percent of respondents indicated not at all or slight in response to the question, “To what degree does this institution operate from a commonly held philosophy for the first/freshman year?” (Q13) 

 

While no explicit philosophy statement exists for the first new student orientationyear, there is recognition that one or more implicit philosophy/rationale statements for the first year guide practice in specific units/departments, especially in student affairs areas.  For example, the Department of Residence first-year “Springboard” housing program is designed to “enhance entering students’ transition to UNI,” and “create peer reference groups” and “enhance students’ academic and social success.”[2]  Summer Orientation Staff’s role is “to welcome all new students and their families to the University of Northern Iowa. … They will help new students connect with each other, introduce students and families to campus culture,…[and] assist with registration.”[3]  The Jump Start program, “provides students with an opportunity to make a smooth transition to the university.”[4]  These programs share the philosophy that all first-year students and their families benefit by having individualized support from faculty, staff, and peers, and that such support helps students make a successful transition to college.

 

Department/Unit Level Philosophy

Many faculty and staff feel that their department or unit does not operate from a commonly held philosophy for the first year.  Only about 36% responded high or very high when asked the question, “To what degree does your department/unit operate from a commonly held philosophy for the first/freshman year?” (Q14)  Evaluating this question based on a respondent’s role within the University again demonstrated a disparity between groups, with faculty responding significantly lower than those in other roles, with a mean between slight and moderate (M=2.5).  All other staff groups (except for the small number of graduate teaching respondents, (n = 4) responded moderate or high (administrators M=3.2, professional staff M=3.1, and clerical staff M=3.2).  The difference between faculty and those in other roles was statistically significant.

 

These statistically significant differences between faculty and those in other roles may be related in part to the fact that there are few programs or initiatives for first-year students currently associated with academic departments: two in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and one in the College of Business Administration.  This may explain why faculty, who spend most of their time within their academic departments, would be less likely to be exposed to first-year programs or initiatives than administrators and staff.  Programs, for the most part, operate on their own, without being guided by a campus-wide philosophy.

   

Influence

There are many programs that demonstrate the University is serving first-year students (FoE Current Practices Inventory or CPI; see Appendix J), but the presence of these programs does not necessarily indicate an explicit philosophy.  There is first-year programming and assessment related to the encouragement of self-exploration and personal challenge (trying new things, questioning personal barriers), in addition to providing support for academic and social adjustment.  Additionally, there is evidence of conflicting implicit philosophies toward the first year.  Programs in the Division of Student Affairs generally have a philosophy that stresses first-year students’ need for individualized and personalized support to ease their transition to college.  However, having large class sizes in a number of courses that are part of the Liberal Arts Core makes it difficult to follow this philosophy.

 

Evidence suggests that these large classes may present a unique problem for first-year students.  The FoE Current Practices Inventory (CPI) indicated that three of the top five high enrollment courses for first-year students are often delivered in sections of 120 or more.  For example, the vast majority (78%) of students who took Humanities I in fall 2008 were enrolled in sections of approximately 120 students.  This is not surprising considering that there were only 13 sections of Humanities I, of which six sections had enrollment limits of approximately 120 students. Humanities II and III had fewer large sections (only 5 of the 21 total sections), with 53% of the students in large (100+ students) sections.  Except for Honors sections of Introduction to Psychology, which enforced smaller enrollment limits, all those who took Introduction to Psychology in fall 2008 were enrolled in sections of approximately 200.  Nearly 70% of those taking World Geography were enrolled in sections of about 200, which comprised two of the six sections available.  According to our CPI, Introduction to Psychology has the highest rate of grades of D, F, Withdraw, or Incomplete (D/F/W/I) of any high-enrolled first-year course, 26%, while Humanities I is close behind with 25%.  World Geography is ranked third on the same list, with a D/F/W/I rate of 15%. The highest enrollment classes which have traditionally smaller class sizes of 30 or less (i.e., College Writing and Research and Oral Communication) had D/F/W/I rates of 14% and 12% respectively.

 

Dissemination

Over 61% of faculty and staff survey respondents indicated not at all or slight in response to the question, “To what degree has an institutional philosophy for the first/freshman year of college been communicated to you?” (Q11) while almost 50% of faculty/staff responded not at all or slight when asked the question, “To what degree has a department/unit philosophy for the first/freshman year of college been communicated to you?” (Q12)  This is not surprising given that there is no explicit statement of first-year philosophy.

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Opportunities and Challenges

  • There is an opportunity to create a philosophy statement for the first-year, and since the University is in the process of developing a new strategic plan, there is an opportunity to include a new first-year philosophy in the University strategic plan, which would further legitimize the importance of the first year in institutional decision making.
  • A common philosophy would help to ensure programs are delivered in a more coordinated fashion, while reducing the likelihood of duplicating efforts across campus. 

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Recommended Actions

1. Develop a First-Year Philosophy Statement

A subcommittee of the Philosophy Dimension Committee created a draft philosophy statement (see Table 9.2 below).  The draft was vetted by the FoE Steering Committee, the Policy Center on the First Year of College staff, and the HLC Task Force for feedback.  Additional feedback and discussion of the draft philosophy statement took place during a campus-wide forum on the Foundations of Excellence® process that took place in April 2009.

 

Table 9.2: Draft Philosophy Statement (January 2009)

A positive first-year experience is the cornerstone of students’ success in college, and by extension, their careers and lives. The University of Northern Iowa recognizes the importance and value of this positive first-year experience for students, and the need for the university to facilitate students’ effective transition to the University by providing a variety of experiences, opportunities, and foundational skills to help them become successful students.

 

We are committed to creating a welcoming and safe environment both in and outside the classroom that:

  • is sensitive to individual needs, backgrounds and experiences of all first-year students
  • facilitates their connections and points of contact with faculty, other students, staff and support services
  • encourages their active involvement in community life, and
  • introduces them to the community values of respect, caring, ethical responsibility, inclusiveness, and intellectual and social engagement.

We are committed to fostering a personalized and supportive academic, experiential, and living environment that challenges and inspires students to:

  • actively engage in learning
  • develop a broader world view
  • practice responsible decision making
  • open their minds to new possibilities
  • be engaged citizens, and
  • be prepared to be members of pluralistic communities.

 

A comprehensive communication plan should be developed to disseminate the proposed first-year philosophy statement and to gain further feedback from the campus community.  It is important that all constituent groups have meaningful opportunities to provide input into the proposed philosophy so that the proposal reflects the thinking of the broader campus community.

 

2. Develop Goals, Objectives, and Intended Learning Outcomes for the First Year

A measureable and time-specific set of outcomes should be developed for the first year.  It is assumed that the development of these goals will be informed by the work of other Dimension committees.  In addition, it is imperative that the development of outcomes include a specific plan of assessing achievement of these goals.

3. Include Approved First-Year Philosophy Statement in the New University Strategic Plan

It is recommended that the proposed first-year philosophy statement be included in the new University strategic plan.  At a minimum, the new plan should emphasize the importance of the first college year in enhancing student learning and educational excellence.