President Greg R. Weisenstein: West Chester University of Pennsylvania Annual Report
West Chester University continues to build on its well-earned national reputation for excellence, value, and student success. The University is one of three Pennsylvania schools ranked in the top 100 Kiplinger "best buys" among 500 public four-year colleges and universities, recognition that WCU has earned for five consecutive years. In its 2013 rankings, U.S. News and World Report names West Chester University among the best regional universities in the North. The University’s national accreditations are another sign of institutional excellence. Among the highlights for this past year, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design awarded accreditation to the University’s art program, and WCU’s business programs were reaccredited for the next five years by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
In a further reflection of excellence, the strong enrollment demands that the University has been seeing are continuing. WCU received 14,354 applications for the 2,304 spots in this year’s first-year class and received 3,665 transfer applications for an entering transfer class of 1,271. The regularly admitted students who entered WCU in the fall of 2011 brought a grade-point average of 3.56, were in or near the top quarter of their high-school class, and had combined SAT scores that exceeded the 2011 national average by 103 points and the Pennsylvania average by 120 points.
Over the past year, to maximize and guide its ongoing excellence and progress, the University has been engaged in strategic planning. WCU's new strategic plan, Building on Excellence, is now in the final stages of development and will guide the University over the next decade. The current strategic-planning process has included development of a facilities master plan as well as extensive academic planning. The emphasis in all cases is on student success. Guided by the facilities plan, the University seeks to transform its aging campus to support fully the outstanding initiatives of WCU faculty, staff, and students; meet enrollment needs; and advance the new strategic plan. Academic strategic planning is a major initiative to ensure that the University’s academic programs continue to be fully relevant to current and prospective students. The academic strategic-planning process is proactively considering economic trends and labor-force needs well into the future. West Chester University is committed to preparing students so that their WCU education aligns well with the rapidly evolving lifestyle and work environment.
More than 2,500 individuals have had direct input into the current strategic-planning process, which has included many and varied opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to share their ideas and dreams for the WCU of the future. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee made a notably successful effort to engage all constituencies in the planning, including the region’s leaders in government and in business and industry, and to ensure the process was highly inclusive on campus. This level of engagement will continue to the completion of the Building on Excellence strategic plan during the 2012-13 academic year. The new plan will succeed the Plan for Excellence, which has focused on achieving excellence. As the Plan for Excellence has since 2001, Building on Excellence will guide every area of university operation, from budgets to program assessment, and will directly support progress on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education accountability measures and the areas of accomplishment they represent.
The Plan for Excellence Student Success Transformation affirms that student success is West Chester University’s defining characteristic, and Building on Excellence will reflect the same central focus. The WCU faculty, administrators, and staff are dedicated to the success of all of the University’s students. As an outcome of this dedication, WCU’s four-year and six-year graduation rates continue to rise, even as the size of the student population also rises. The University’s current four-year graduation rate of 43.84% and six-year rate of 68.53% substantially surpass the national averages for similar institutions and are the highest in PASSHE. WCU’s overall four-year graduation rate is 8.1% higher than it was five years ago, and the six-year rate has risen by 9.5% over the same period. West Chester University also leads the State System in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded and in the bachelor’s degree-to-enrollment ratio.
Among the campus efforts supporting strong retention and graduation rates are several recent and current initiatives designed to enhance academic advising. To help inform these initiatives and identify areas for improvement in the University’s advising system, an academic-advising survey was developed by the University Academic Advising Committee, the provost, and APSCUF representatives. Almost 95% of the responding students indicated they had met with their assigned advisor at least once during the past year, with 83.3% reporting that the academic advising offered by their department had met their needs adequately (32%), more than adequately (27.6%), or exceptionally well (23.7%).
To enhance other important support for student success and faculty effectiveness, major revisions have been completed in the structure, organization, and navigation of the University’s Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Connection Website, and resources for faculty have been increased in the areas of teaching, learning, and assessment. In a related initiative, in March 2012, the University Assessment Advisory Committee hosted the first annual Best Practice Summit of student learning assessment. Faculty members from across the colleges shared their strategies for determining and measuring key course or program learning outcomes. In addition, they demonstrated how they have used the data to improve student learning.
WCU student success extends beyond the classroom. Two of the University’s athletic teams—baseball and women’s field hockey—won national championships, and WCU’s women’s lacrosse team came within a goal of joining them. At the end of June, the PASSHE Board of Governors honored the field hockey and baseball teams in Harrisburg for making WCU the first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference university to win two NCAA championships in the same academic year. Later in the day, the coaches and players were honored with a citation on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate. At the same time that WCU students were setting records in competition, they were also setting an academic record with 369 student-athletes named to the WCU Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll for the spring semester. Continuing their success, during fall 2012, the WCU Women’s Field Hockey team (20-2) tied the school’s single-season record for wins and earned its second-straight NCAA Division II national title—the sixth national championship in program history. West Chester’s back-to-back NCAA championships mark the first such accomplishment for the University in any sport.
As expressed in the Plan for Excellence and in campus-wide policies and practices, West Chester University is committed to attracting, enrolling, and graduating students from a wide variety of educational, cultural, and economic backgrounds. The members of the University believe that among its many important attributes, a diverse community promotes a stimulating intellectual environment, increases its members’ understanding of different cultures and perspectives, and prepares students to live and work in a multicultural, global society. Effective programs designed to eliminate gaps in the success rates for any segments of the student population are a central part of the University’s strong commitment to diversity.
The University is pleased to have met both the baseline and the benchmark goals for graduation by African American and Hispanic students. At the same time, however, WCU is working to ensure that the success rates for these student cohorts parallel WCU’s high and continuously rising overall student retention and graduation rates. It is notable that while the four-year graduation rate for African American and Hispanic students declined this year, the six-year rates rose to 57.99% and 60.61% respectively, suggesting that more students in these cohorts may now be stopping out for a period of time, perhaps for financial reasons. Preliminary results from a study of unmet financial need reveal a statistically significant decrease in retention for those students whose financial needs are not being met. The six-year graduation rate for African American students—the highest in PASSHE—is now 6.9% higher than it was five years ago, and the six-year graduation rate for Hispanic students has risen 2.6% over that period. WCU’s second-year retention rate for African American students—85.93%—also leads PASSHE and is close to the University’s overall second-year persistence rate of 86.08%, again the highest in the State System.
As part of its focus on academic success for students of color, WCU is participating in the Center for Urban Education (CUE) Equity Scorecard™ process. The process identifies gaps in educational outcomes for student demographic groups, assesses instructional and academic-support practices affecting the academic success of students of color, makes appropriate changes to those practices, and evaluates the effectiveness of interventions. In the project, WCU is working with the PASSHE System Office to gather data (“vital signs”) in four areas—access, retention, completion, and excellence—to identify barriers to student success for underrepresented-minority groups and to make recommendations for process improvements to remove these barriers.
Another among the several ongoing initiatives in support of success for disadvantaged students at West Chester University is the Academic Development Program (ADP), a special-admissions initiative for selected students who do not meet current admissions requirements but who show the potential to succeed in higher education. ADP serves a diverse population of students. Students admitted under the program include Act 101 participants (students whose family incomes are below 150% of the national poverty level) and non-Act 101 participants who are educationally disadvantaged, having both SAT scores and grade point averages below those of regular admission criteria. ADP students who qualify for Act 101 receive such additional services as financial assistance for the summer session that begins the program, access to specialized cultural activities, and additional tutoring. The 2005 cohort of Act 101 ADP students has achieved a six-year graduation rate of 73.8%, which exceeds the overall WCU rate.
The diversity of West Chester University’s student population continues to rise, and the University is working hard to sustain and expand this diversity. Developing and sustaining a diverse and qualified administration, faculty, and staff are also a priority for WCU. The Office of Social Equity works collaboratively with each search committee so that the recruitment process is understood and executed effectively and fairly. In its role of ensuring fairness in hiring, Social Equity has created outreach initiatives to increase the diversity of applicant pools. Recruitment resources such as diversity recruitment plans, diversity recruitment consultants, and recruitment teams have helped to increase the full utilization of women and of persons of color. The relative lack of turnover in administrative positions limits the impact the University’s extensive recruitment resources and strong policies, programs, and procedures can have in that area, but during 2011-12, these efforts resulted in the hiring of seven faculty of color within the 33 successful tenure-track-faculty searches (21%). Of the 154 staff members hired during the 2011-12 fiscal year, 65 identified themselves as belonging to underutilized minority groups. Among WCU’s professional staff members (non-faculty), 61.42% are women, a percentage that leads PASSHE.
Campus Climate and International Initiatives
Excellence at West Chester University includes advancing a campus climate in which every student and faculty or staff member can thrive and accomplish his or her best work. In WCU’s departments and offices and through campus-wide action steps, the University has continued to strengthen its campus climate in response to the 2010 Campus Climate Survey. Examples of steps taken over the past year to ensure a welcoming climate for all members of the campus community include adoption of an internal-recruitment policy to provide greater opportunities for upward mobility, the Office of Social Equity’s retaining of a faculty member to provide faculty and staff training on the topic of diversity and conflict, and the charging of the WCU President’s Commission on the Status of Women to determine how to move forward to improve the campus climate for women. In addition, the Office of Social Equity’s WCU for All series offered more than 70 programs this past year, many in collaboration with academic departments and the Student Affairs Division.
Among the students for whom West Chester University has enhanced services and other aspects of the campus climate are those who have served the United States. The WCU Veterans Center provides a place for students with unique life experiences to come together and support one another, as well as to be supported by the University. A Veterans Advisory Board is being established to assist the University in continuing to elevate services needed to ensure the success of veterans who are now WCU students. To advance the important national Troops to Teachers program, which prepares veterans to become educators, WCU has become a regional, multistate center and has already been acknowledged nationally for exceptional work.
International initiatives are another way in which the University is reaching out, fostering diversity, and expanding the outlook of the entire campus community. International programs are among WCU’s vital areas of growth. Adding to the recognition of WCU as a top-tier university, they bring opportunities for collaboration and exchanges with institutions around the world. The University has seen a tremendous response by its faculty and staff to developing and implementing international initiatives, and many WCU faculty and staff were involved in planning and hosting the Knowledge Crossing Borders conference held on campus at the end of May 2012. The conference hosted nearly 250 participants from a total of 20 countries. The members of the concurrent Global Presidential Conclave on the Future of Higher Education are preparing to publish and disseminate the Conclave’s recommendations. These recommendations call universities around the world to action in addressing the most critical issues of the age.
The Plan for Excellence Responsiveness Transformation affirms the University’s commitment to serving the region, including meeting its educational and cultural needs. During the 2011-12 academic year, WCU students served the region and beyond by contributing almost 345,000 hours of service to the community. The University’s students, faculty, and staff also continue to serve the region by contributing to WCU’s role as a cultural leader. This year is University Theatre’s 50th-anniversary season. Last year, more than 79,000 people attended campus cultural events, including more than 67,000 in the Adler and Asplundh Concert Halls. WCU’s leadership in the arts is spanning the globe, as well as the Brandywine Valley. The Department of Art, for example, has developed a new distance-education course in the history of western art that is being taught by WCU art faculty to students of Guizhou University, in China.
Through regional, national, and international leadership activities, President Greg Weisenstein is extending West Chester University’s sphere of service and recognition. Since coming to WCU, President Weisenstein has been appointed to the U.S. Army Committee on Education and the NCAA Division II Baseball Rules Committee. In addition, he is an active member of the boards of the American College of Norway and the Chester County Community Foundation, serves as treasurer for the Board of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), and is the vice chair of the Committee on International Education for the Board of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). He also chairs the International Editorial Board of the Humanities and Science University Journal, a multidisciplinary journal published out of the Alexander I. Herzen University, St. Petersburg, Russia.
The leadership and service that West Chester University provides have led to numerous significant partnerships. Establishing one such partnership, a memorandum of understanding for the Joint Principal's Certification Program with Cheyney University was signed in April 2012, representing the first formal academic collaboration between the two universities. Three faculty members from each university are serving on an educational leadership faculty council that will recommend requirements for admission to the program, assess courses, and evaluate applicants. The students enrolled in the Joint Principal Certification Program, which leads to grades-K-through-12 principal certification, will take classes at Cheyney one semester and at WCU the next semester. Collaboration with Cheyney University has also resulted in a combined program in marine biology.
As part of the University’s responsiveness to constituent and campus needs, distance education at WCU has moved ahead with the appointment of an executive director, development of a new distance-education Web portal, and the launching of an online/hybrid faculty-development program. WCU is particularly engaged in the strategic development and deployment of graduate programs in a distance-education format. Three programs are already offered via distance learning—the MBA, the MEd in special education, and a GIS technology certificate—while several others are moving towards distance delivery in the next one to three years.
The lack of growth in the University’s on-campus graduate population and decline in the ratio of graduate enrollment to master’s degrees awarded reflect national changes in graduate education. West Chester University understands and is addressing these changes through specific strategies that are either in place or are being developed. Graduate education in the U.S. is undergoing a significant shift, and this shift has resulted in declines in graduate enrollments overall as well as declines within specific program areas. Overall, graduate enrollments are declining due at least in part to the changes in financial aid available to graduate students. Programmatically, there has been a shift toward applied degrees at both the master's and the doctoral level. For many regional comprehensive institutions, the greatest decline in graduate enrollments can be seen in education programs. This decline is related to both legislative and school-district-based changes to expectations and incentive structures for teachers earning graduate degrees. WCU's enrollment trends in this area are no exception.
It is important to note that specific types of graduate programs are not part of the overall decline. Following national trends, enrollments in WCU’s applied programs (such as the MPA, the MSW, and selected fields in the health sciences) are continuing to grow from year to year, and demand for some of these programs far exceeds the necessary enrollment caps. West Chester University has a strategy in place to support more growth in these programs as well as to provide new opportunities for applied graduate degrees. The University is currently pursuing the development of a Professional Science Master's (PSM) degree in collaboration with a number of other PASSHE institutions. WCU also has graduate programs that have been or are being revised to have a more applied focus in response to employer and student demand. Additionally, WCU is pursuing the development of applied doctorates in a number of fields, including the Doctor of Nursing Practice and an applied doctorate in biostatistics. At a more micro level, WCU is revising its graduate-assistantship allocation model to provide more students with financial assistance in direct response to the cuts to graduate financial aid and is focusing marketing efforts on specific graduate programs that have the most potential for growth.
Resource Stewardship and Marketing
West Chester University is an effective steward of its resources of all types. Moreover, WCU’s planning and ability to control institutional enrollments put the University in an enviable position and provide it with a solid margin of control over its own destiny. The University is not, however, taking its strong position for granted. To help the region know more about the quality and excellence of West Chester University, WCU launched its Learn More marketing campaign in the fall of 2011.
The campaign was designed with the help of WCU Council of Trustees member Eli Silberman, one of the country's foremost marketing experts. Learn More focuses on the University’s impressive quality. The 2011-12 campaign included five television commercials and several ads that appeared throughout the region on billboards, on public transportation, and in other venues. Research suggests the campaign has had a notable impact, expanding an understanding of WCU’s quality among regional parents of college-aged children, prospective students, and alumni. Building on the success of last year’s campaign, the University has completed and is airing three additional Learn More commercials. With Learn More, WCU has achieved professional-quality advertising on a shoestring
The key university goal of resourcefulness is being met through a wide range of innovative initiatives and practices, efficient and sustainable operations, and strong fundraising. The current level of credit hours per FTE instructional faculty meets the University’s System Accountability baseline and national-benchmark goals. At the same time, this level represents a balance between efficiency and such considerations as program-accreditation and space constraints and discipline-related requirements for optimal student success. Fundraising is another area of strength for WCU. For example, donations to the WCU Foundation’s 2011-12 Annual Fund campaign totaled $1.7 million, exceeding the goal by 15%. Over the past year, a total of 8,663 donors gave gifts to the University, exceeding that goal by 8%. The University’s current annual total of $6,983,341 in private funds raised is the highest in PASSHE. To support the new Building on Excellence strategic plan and its components, WCU will be implementing an aggressive new capital campaign that will be announced at a later date.
Along with other resources, the University’s facilities assets provide vital support for programs and student success. The University’s Demonstration and Application Center and Classroom of the Future, both advancing technologies for the future, are the only such centers in the Mid-Atlantic and are drawing the interest of many of the most prestigious institutions on the East Coast. Also newsworthy this year is the opening of the University’s Student Recreation Center, which provides vastly expanded opportunities for WCU students to participate in healthful recreation and to socialize on campus. The Rec Center is a student-initiated and student-supported project. Since University funds are not being used to support the center, dollars remain available for other critical capital improvement projects such as added classroom and office space and upgrades. Among these upgrades is important work underway to transition Anderson and Ruby Jones Halls to geothermal energy—part of the campus-wide geothermal-energy-conversion project, which is among the nation’s most ambitious.
In brief, West Chester University is actively moving to achieve its strategic vision and identify new ways to build on its excellence. The steps already taken and in progress demonstrate the campus community’s innovative, entrepreneurial outlook and unwavering commitment to all aspects of the university mission. WCU is enhancing the quality of life for its students and region, returning significant value to its investors, providing leadership within the State System, and continuing to elevate its already strong reputation, not only in the Commonwealth and the Mid-Atlantic region but also nationwide.