Looking Ahead to My Second Year — Moving Forward on Several Fronts

By Jonathan Levin, Provost

I’m excited to be entering my second academic year at UMW, and am hopeful, too, that we will be able to make considerable progress on a number of fronts. We’ve had a lot of change in the Office of Academic Affairs over the past several years, but I firmly believe that with my team fully in place, their leadership will play a major role not only in helping reverse recent enrollment trends but also, perhaps more important, in giving us a clearer, more potent sense of who we are and what we’re about.

We’ve begun a broad discussion of many critical issues, and they are both too many and too complex to take up in any meaningful fashion here. In lieu of that, I’d like to briefly address two issues—first year seminars and the summer session.

Before that, I’m delighted to include newsletter entries from Jeff McClurken (on the opening of the ITCC), Tim O’Donnell (on student success initiatives), and Kimberley Buster-Williams (on recent and new recruitment initiatives). As ever, John Morello has also penned some of the entries you’ll find here too, and I can never thank John enough for his wise and steady counsel.

And I want to say, again, how grateful I am that we are engaged in the important conversations that began after the completion of the Strategic Resource Allocation Task Force reports earlier this summer.   I know that finding solutions to the challenges we’ve been discussing will not be easy, but I believe this conversation can be transformational for us, and I look forward to our continuing discussions as the academic year proceeds.

Now, on to the two issues I said I would discuss.

First, I’ve had several conversations with my team about asking faculty to consider offering all First-Year Seminars in the fall semester, beginning in fall 2015. As you know, First-Year Seminars are prominent on the AAC&U list of “high impact practices” that engage students, deepen student learning, and contribute to student success. There is a growing body of evidence to support these claims.

At UMW, we have seen that retention is considerably higher among students who take the First-Year Seminar as compared to those who don’t (for a variety of reasons, over the past few years from 10-20% of the entering class has actually avoided taking the FSEM in their first year). In addition, those who take the class in their first semester have higher grade point averages after the first semester than those who don’t the class in that semester. About 2/3 of the students who take the course now take it in the fall semester, so the change is not as radical as it might at first seem.

Still, there will be some challenges in accomplishing this change, especially for departments already stretched thin in the fall semester. But the upside potential of this change is quite significant—improved persistence to the degree, and improved overall enrollment profile. I hope we can achieve this goal.

The other area we need to focus attention on is summer session. Summer session has a number of goals, but one of the most important is to help students complete their academic programs on time. While the Task Force recommendation—in this case, one from each Task Force—to centralize management of summer session may help us achieve this goal, we will still need the support of the faculty, who propose and teach the courses that make up our summer session. I hope all of you will look, first, to what courses students need to complete their programs.

To some extent, we know this on the basis of past summer enrollments, but there may be some areas in which we simply haven’t offered the courses students most need or want. Also, we should explore structured programs, or look to enhance or expand existing programs, as a means of further building summer enrollment. Perhaps some courses could integrate (or integrate more?) Washington, D.C. field trips.

In any event, we need to recognize that we’ve seen declining enrollments over the past several summers, and we need to make decisions very soon, as we begin to think about Summer 2015, that we can reasonably expect will restore these enrollments and contribute to a robust summer experience.

As I promised in my talk at the General Faculty Meeting, I will look for a variety of ways to provide open communication on a number of topics. This newsletter is not the last time you’ll be hearing from me! In the coming weeks, look for updates about the Resource Allocation Reports “open forums” and additional discussions of the 4/4 course system that I brought up in my talk last week. I will also very soon be announcing plans for the spaces recently vacated as various units moved to the ITCC.

Again, I welcome everyone back to campus. I know we have a busy year ahead of us, but I hope it will offer all of us a real opportunity to renew our commitment to our shared values and ideals, even as we work to address the many underlying concerns that have emerged in our conversations these past several weeks.


Good luck in the new semester!

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