PROMOTING STUDENT SUCCESS TO TRANSFORM LIVES

By Melinda Rogers

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles outlining the University of Utah’s four strategic goals, an initiative that began with dialogue sessions last spring.

When Barb Snyder arrived at the University of Utah nearly 20 years ago, the campus’ reputation could be summed up in two words: commuter school.

Students drove to campus for classes, but weren’t particularly interested in engaging as part of the campus community — whether that meant meeting up at the Marriott Library to study with friends, hanging out at the Union or joining in a pickup game of basketball at the campus rec center.

Realizing that trend, university officials grappled with plans to answer a big question: What should change around campus to make undergraduate experiences at the University of Utah more relevant?

The answer to that question is visible around a revived University of Utah campus, where life is much different today than in the past, said Snyder, vice president for student affairs.

BT-Plaza-2015 (28 of 81)Places that were once holes in the ground are now residence halls teeming with activity. The newly constructed Student Life Center is packed with students daily, enjoying a variety of events together. Unique learning and community service opportunities abound, rounding out students’ education in ways that weren’t common decades ago.

“There’s just a different vibe about this place than there was 15 years ago,” said Snyder. “We’ve worked very hard to make sure that we are recruiting the right students; that we’re recruiting students who can come here and be successful. And who should be successful. We’ve put all the right opportunities in place for them.”

“It’s a whole different environment. It’s a whole different learning experience for students,” said Snyder. “While we still have students that come to campus for class, more and more students are choosing to live here —which is what we hoped.”

There is mounting data that shows living on campus leads to greater academic success and a more positive overall student experience. Positive retention and graduation measures often correlate with students living on campus, Snyder noted.

The student body makeup is changing for the better as well.

Average ACT scores for students admitted to the university have gone up in recent years. The diversity of first-year students is also on the rise as are other indicators used to gauge the quality of universities. Joining the Pac-12 conference brought a new class of faculty and broader class of applicants to the university’s doorstep.

And while the university has made incredible strides to becoming a more student-friendly community that is home to an exceptional learning community, it also has plans to elevate campus even further. Among the top initiatives for the university in coming years is to promote student success to transform lives.

Goals include:

  • Expanding scholarship opportunities and strategically align scholarships with access, achievement and completion goals
  • Deploying data analytics and retention reporting systems to facilitate improvement in student support and services
  • Extending UOnline to increase access to U programs and promote completion
  • Increasing participation in high impact programs (deeply engaged learning opportunities)
  • Enriching and expanding learning communities to include honors, transfer, sophomore and living and learning communities

“We encourage students to have a deeply engaged learning opportunity, whether that’s participating in a learning community, doing study abroad, or participating in band,” said Snyder. A unique aspect of the university’s current student population is their involvement in volunteerism through the campus’ Lowell Bennion Community Service Center. The level of student engagement in hundreds of various community service projects that are coordinated through the Bennion Center outnumber student participation in the Greek system or in other activities on campus.

“That’s a hallmark of the community. It’s a Utah thing,” said Snyder.

She noted that the aforementioned goals will be accompanied by the pursuit of creating a “sticky campus,” the notion of spending time and energy creating a place that causes students to “stick” in Utah.

That means creating more places to recreate, live and hang out as the campus continues to change and grow in the future.

“There are lots of way to learn, and not just in a classroom,” said Snyder. “Students are graduating with a different sense of what the university presented to them, and we have a more committed alumni base because of that. Students are saying, ‘If I had to recommend this place to someone, I would.’”

The Northwestern Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) will perform a comprehensive accreditation evaluation visit to the University of Utah campus on Oct. 28-30, 2015. The NWCCU evaluation team, led by nine university faculty and staff from peer institutions in the NWCCU region, will meet with campus students, faculty and staff to evaluate the U’s accreditation status, in conjunction with the U’s recently released 2015 Year Seven Self-Evaluation Report.

In preparation for the October visit, the U invites members of the U community, as well as members of the general public, to provide comments regarding the U’s qualifications for regional accreditation. Comments should be sent directly to NWCCU by September 28, 2015 in order to be fully considered in the accreditation review. All signed comments will be forwarded, as received, to the UU, to the visiting evaluation team, and to NWCCU.

The University of Utah has continuously maintained its accreditation through NWCCU since 1933. Accreditation through NWCCU means that the U meets the Commission’s established standards of educational quality and effectiveness. The last comprehensive campus visit by NWCCU took place in Fall 2012, in conjunction with the University’s Year Three Self Evaluation Report. NWCCU subsequently confirmed the University’s accreditation status in February 2013.

Open informational sessions are Wednesday, Oct. 28, and will be held in the Gould Auditorium:

9:45-10:30 a.m. Staff Open Session with NWCCU visiting team
3 -3:45 p.m. Faculty Open Session with NWCCU visiting team
4:15-5 p.m. Student Open Session with NWCCU visiting team

A copy of NWCCU Policy A-5, Public Notification and Third Party Comments Regarding Full-Scale Evaluations can be found at the NWCCU website nwccu.org (via the Standards and Policies and then Operational Policies links), or by contacting the Commission office at 425-558-4224). All documents and correspondence associated with NWCCU accreditation of the U, including the Year Seven Self Evaluation Report, is available online at accreditation.utah.edu.

Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at melinda.rogers@utah.edu.