Monthly Archives: September 2013

Week of September 23-27, 2013

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This post was intended for last week, but an embargo on the public release of Regents fall enrollment data prohibited us from publishing this until September 27, 2013.

Leaves are falling this week and this has put me in a reflective mood.  This week we will report the university’s official Fall, 2013 20th day enrollment data to the Kansas Board of Regents.  It’s an important data point in Kansas as a great deal of significance is attributed to Fall 20th day enrollment data in comparing institutions.  These data are used for everything from public relations to internal resource allocations to legislative research and many things in between.  The importance of this agricultural calendar model is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of Kansas…more so than spring and summer session enrollment data.  A quick read of George Mehaffy’s 2010 article entitled “Medieval Models, Agrarian Calendars, and 21st Century Imperatives” helps put this into a larger context.   Why put all this importance on a single data point?  As graduate students and working professionals, we learn that a single data point taken out of its larger context without analysis can be a dangerous thing.  Yet, annually, these Fall 20th day data points are what administrators lose sleep over.  Despite the fact that higher education has become much more fluid with students entering and leaving our university at different times of the year, we still place great comparative value on this date.  This is an academically flawed approach, but academics do not make decisions about university funding levels and other such important matters.

The good news for the FHSU Graduate School is that we are up this year. This is the year we enrolled over 2000 graduate students.  As far as anyone can recollect and without diving deeply into the historical archives, that is the first time this has ever happened at FHSU.   Graduate students represent about 15% of the university now.  Take our cross-border partnerships out of the enrollment equation, and that percentage rises to around 20%.  Knowing full well that current and past performance is no guarantee of future returns, it’s definitely a high point for the university, especially when the other data that drive our FHSU operations, with the exception of undergraduate distance education learners, are essentially flat or posted a decline.  One way of looking at it is that the Graduate School’s increase of 158 students over last fall’s data exceeds the overall increase in 2013 for the university (131 students).  Think about where the university would be without the Graduate School this year!  The obvious answer is that without these new graduate students, the university would be posting an overall decline this year which would be the first time that has happened in over a decade.  In percentage terms, we grew this fall by 8.5% which exceeds our 5-year rolling mean of 5.34%.

The reason for our success is a simple marketing trick learned years ago – at the graduate level, programs attract students.  Add convenience to that and two of three parts of the equation are there.  The third part is quality.  Believe it or not, price is actually quite low on the list of marketing concerns!  We’re getting some good press lately about our online graduate programs and that is helping, but this third area of marketing is the one I feel the least confident about as we move forward.  Not that our professors aren’t excellent instructors and working hard to improve their programs each year, but rankings and perception of quality matter a lot these days with distance education programs.  Our courses and support systems for these students have to be high quality.  The perception in the general public is that distance education programs are still not of comparable quality to programs offered on campus.  We have to find a way to mix the best of distance education with the best of face-to-face instruction.  That’s our challenge and I’ll try to write more about this in future posts.  As Provost Gould teaches his deans often and well, distance education has entered the age of brands and it has become a competition not for who can “get there the firstest with the mostest” (quoting Nathanial Bedford Forrest) [we have already won that battle in our service region], but what brand with the best publicly perceived quality is in the marketplace.  Stanley Drucker’s timeless 1994 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Theory of the Business” should be on every academic leader’s desk for reference.

On the more practical front, the Graduate School has this week published an update to its thesis and field study guide.  The major addition to this is the requirement for IRB or IACUC protocal approval documentation to be included with the thesis or field study, if appropriate.  Thank you for sharing this with your students who are working on their thesis or field study this fall.

Enjoy your week ahead.

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Week of September 9-13, 2013

This week the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released its latest publication entitled Graduate Enrollment and Degrees 2002 to 2012.  This report is published annually as a joint project between CGS and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Board.  There are lots of data tables here that attempt to describe the contemporary landscape of graduate education in the United States.  The impact of distance education is not addressed well in this publication, but one can get a general picture of overall demographics of graduate programs in the US.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an article this morning attributing the small rise in graduate enrollments to foreign students, but the article notes…”The smaller gain in domestic students is worrisome, officials say, given the increasing need for skilled workers.”  So true, so true, says this graduate dean.

This week’s blog post is about the FY13 Office of Scholarship and Sponsored Projects (OSSP) annual report.

Fiscal year 2013 was an excellent year for sponsored projects at FHSU.  Our awards more than doubled compared to FY12 awards as they rebounded nicely from the threat of sequestration and Federal budget crises to return to levels we attained 2 and 4 years ago.  Our mean for the last six fiscal years has been $4.18 million with a standard deviation of $955,000 (click on image to enlarge).

grants awarded 2008-2013

The number of FY13 grant submissions increased 177% over FY12 levels to about 10% above our previous high levels of FY2010 (click on the image to enlarge).

grants submitted 2008-2013

Take a look at all the names of faculty and staff members listed in Appendix A and congratulate them on the time and effort they spent as grant writers on behalf of FHSU.  Our institution is a much better place for our students because of them.  Here is an overview of the number of faculty members who submitted their first grant between 2008-2013.  With grants becoming so competitive, most grant writers do not receive their first award until the third attempt.

new faculty grant writers 2008-2013

Recently, our new designated peers were announced by KBOR.  There are five peers and five aspirational peers.  Our office is going to begin work on a data project to compare FY13 new grants and contract awards to see how we compare to our peers and aspirational peers.  This will take some time because we will have to contact each institution for this data as no central clearinghouse exists with data that is comparable.  I hope to report this to you in the coming weeks.

Northwest Missouri State Univ Peer
Northeastern (OK) State Univ Peer
Southeast Missouri State Univ Peer
Colorado Mesa Univ Peer
Tarleton State Univ Peer
Eastern Washington Univ Aspirational Peer
Univ of Central Missouri Aspirational Peer
Univ of Nebraska at Kearney Aspirational Peer
Troy Univ Aspirational Peer
Morehead State Univ Aspirational Peer

In the coming week, I will meet with the Council of Chief Research Officers (COCRO) for the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) and may have more information about funded research in Kansas to report, as well.  As the OSSP report mentions, Dr. Paul Adams is a co-PI in a large NSF EPSCOR proposal that is pending which represents many Kansas institutions.  One thing you may note about our peers and aspirational peers is that there are no other Kansas institutions on this list.

A final note about the progress of our Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) initiative which closed off its FY14 internal grants competition last Friday.  As you can see, data from our FY13 URE work has done much to propel undergraduate research in general across academic departments at FHSU.  In FY13, departments reported a total of 854 students successfully completed an undergraduate research project.  This is a 499% increase over what departments reported in FY11 (171 students).

This should be a point of pride for our institution broadcast much more widely than it is.  At the moment, all the other Regents institutions look to FHSU as the leader in the state in undergraduate research, but our favorable position won’t last long as other institutions allocate resources and announce ambitious funding plans for the future.  Thanks to all faculty mentors who work with undergraduate students, the URE steering committee members, and Leslie Paige for her leadership.  Thanks to our Provost for being out in front again of his COCAO colleagues on a proven high impact practice for student success, but shame on us as an institution for not capitalizing on an institutional strength.  Provost Gould must feel like General Lee leading the Army of Northern Virginia – an army with the highest level of professionalism and morale that smashed its adversaries early, but was doomed to lose in the end to competitors with much greater resources after they mobilized. Higher education success races are not won by sprinters, but by long distance runners dedicated to our students’ improvement, retention, and competitiveness in a world that is more and more challenging every year.  That is why we need an army of faculty grant writers and URE mentors who are supported adequately.

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Week of September 2-6, 2013

This week’s blog post focuses upon two areas: self-reported employment data from our 2012-2013 graduates and Fall, 2013 graduate enrollment trends.

As I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, 18% of respondents (n=278) to our 2012-2013 Graduate School exit survey reported that they were currently “unemployed”.  Now, the meaning of “unemployed” can have various contexts for respondents beside the negative implication that one does not currently have a job.  Three explanations that come to mind immediately are that some respondents may not have pursued their graduate degrees for employment reasons in the first place (i.e. lifelong learning or the less charitable characterization of “professional student”), the respondent may not have been employed at the time the survey was administered (June, 2013), or the respondent may be pursuing additional higher education and has not yet entered the workforce.  There are likely other reasons that I am not considering, as well.  Next year’s exit survey will include some clarifying questions to try to learn more about these responses.  Regardless, this year’s baseline of 18% can be studied longitudinally in the future to draw conclusions.

I have drilled down within this data to see if any programs stand out in the analysis.  Here is a bar chart of the percentage of self-reported “unemployed” 2012-2013 respondents by program (click on the image to enlarge).  This is a percentage of total number of program graduates in this time period.

unemployment2012-2013%byprogram

Some of these data may not be surprising, but others may be.   Where do we go from here?  First, we need to take a longer look at these data before jumping to conclusions.  Second, if I were a faculty member in one of the programs, I would begin to seriously look at learner outcomes for these programs to be sure that they are meeting the needs of employers in our region.  This is not an easy task and the alignment of external entities with programs and curriculum is challenging.  Third, I would begin tracking these students who are not employed and follow up with them.  The career services office will not do this for you.  If you are a faculty member, program leader, or department chair, this is data on which you cannot afford to be ignorant.  The correlation between employment and higher education attainment (especially graduate level attainment) is historically a positive one.  However, gone are the days when society will be tolerant of unemployed master’s and education specialist graduates for long.  The investment is too large…especially when that investment is borne by taxpayers in the form of financial aid by our graduate students.

Now, for the flip side of this coin – enrollment growth.  This week the FHSU Graduate School hit a milestone with it’s 2000th enrolled student.   Contrast this to where we were a decade ago, as the Chronicle of Higher Education did this past week in ranking FHSU as the 2nd fastest growing university in the USA, and you can see where things are headed.  This year, our Graduate School growth rate has been 8.8%, which exceeds our five-year rolling mean growth rate of 5.44% by a healthy margin.  Most of the enrollment growth is occurring in our Virtual College programs and the Graduate School accounts for 33% of new Virtual College enrollments this fall.  Here is an analysis I have done of the fastest growing programs in our Graduate School over the past five years by looking at the standard deviation of enrollment data (click on the image to enlarge):

ProgramGrowth2009-2013

The premise of using standard deviation is that a higher standard deviation value can be an indicator of volatility – either an enrollment growth or decline indicator.  Examining these enrollment data longitudinally gives a picture of whether there is program growth or decline reflected by the standard deviation.  It is also an indicator of stability…programs which have maintained their size over time despite recent changes in demographics, programmatic decisions, and higher education in general.  Relative stability is a virtuous characteristic in itself for a program to have; sometimes we lose sight of that in these days where there is a lot of budgetary pressure predicated upon growth.  As you can see, our on campus graduate programming remains relatively stable with low standard deviation values over the years.  Our programs that are growing the fastest are our Virtual College programs.  We have 12 available in the Graduate School and the ten programs with the highest standard deviation values are Virtual College programs.  Where does the future lie?  Data like these help programs look to the future.  I hope you will discuss this in your department meetings this fall as we look toward 2014.  My caution, however, is to not lose sight of the data presented in the first part of this blog posting – we need to improve program learner outcomes and meet employment needs of the region we serve in order to be a successful university.  Fast growth which results in high unemployment rates is not a desirable outcome for our Graduate School.  Thanks for reading and your continued support of graduate education at FHSU.  Next week, I’ll highlight some of our recent research accomplishments from the Office of Scholarship and Sponsored Projects FY13 annual report.

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