Letter from the vice provost for undergraduate studies

July 12, 2016

 

Dear colleagues,

I write to offer the final quarterly update from the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies for the 2015-2016 academic year.

As public investment in higher education declines across the United States — and in other countries — public colleges and universities are correspondingly increasingly self-sufficient. In this new environment, undergraduate education emerges as a key driver of university growth and excellence.

Public and private universities are on a path, arguably, toward convergence. Like public institutions, de jure private colleges and universities receive government grants, comply with state and federal law, engage communities and serve public needs, and so on. And, as noted, public institutions are less and less supported financially by the public, more and more dependent on their students, alumni, friends, corporations, foundations, and other private, that is, nongovernmental, sources of financial support.

While everyone contributes — including faculty, staff and students who participate in institution-serving philanthropy — the greatest portion of annually available net revenue that can be effectively realized at self-sustaining universities, whether public or private, derives from the real and perceived value of their undergraduate educational experience. When appropriately priced and tempered by academically and financially sound scholarship and financial aid programs — which recognize and balance both merit and need — then the undergraduate program contributes the lion's share to institutionwide sustainability and growth.

Especially successful self-sustaining institutions are those which, in an efficient as well as smart and creative manner, offer a suitable range of high-quality undergraduate academic programs. These institutions feature state-of-the-art pedagogies, course designs and curricula; exciting co-curricular opportunities via education abroad, undergraduate research, professional internships experiences and etc.; as well as excellent advising, coaching, counseling, mentoring, residential education and other similar undertakings that render the institution fair and accessible and supportive of all students.

Such a litany should cohere as a distinctive K-State value proposition, which might be rendered thusly: "enroll at K-State — and yes, incur a cost of attendance similar to other top public national research universities — but do so with confidence that the educational opportunities with which you will engage and the degree that you will earn will be well-worth your sustained studiousness and the expense to you and your family." Any university could provide access to mediocrity. At K-State, a proud national land-grant, our mission is to provide access to excellence, that is, to demonstrably valuable learning.

K-State is relatively well-positioned to prosper in this new, much more competitive environment, as our undergraduate educational experience is arguably the finest in the state and already in many ways worthy of recognition nationally. Evidence for this includes our students' extraordinary success in nationally and internationally competitive prestigious scholarship competitions as well as their success in securing competitive professional positions in industry and government, their entrepreneurship, leadership and public service, and their admission to highly selective graduate and professional schools. This body of evidence also includes historically high and unmatched statewide first-to-second year and six-year graduation rates, and a relatively large number of faculty who are nationally recognized for their teaching, advising, and mentoring, this, in addition to many recognitions for scholarship and service. But, because K-State exists in a competitive and fast-changing environment, there is no time to rest on our laurels or past achievements. No self-sustaining university can or does.

The meetings I attend — like the Undergraduate Vice Provost, or UVP, group meeting hosted at Florida State University in June; or when, also in June, I co-presented at the University of Maryland with Suder Foundation's executive director Diane Schorr on K-State's first-generation students during NASPA's inaugural conference on "achievement gaps"; or when in May I collaborated with Charlie Nutt, NACADA's executive director, to help host our fourth annual summer institute for K-State's advising community, which this year featured a keynote by Brett McFarlane of the University of California-Davis — these meetings bring K-State's experience into direct comparison with peer and aspirant institutions.

Thus, when I participate in these meetings of fellow undergraduate education leaders, I am reminded that K-State is indeed well-positioned to cope with current and anticipated decreases in state appropriations. But that positioning comes with significant ifs; if we can sustain and build upon excellence in undergraduate education, and if — another big if — we can position and price the university so as to provide access to excellence. I think of it not so much as a chicken-and-egg as a goose-and-egg proposition, where the goose that lays the golden egg is named undergraduate excellence.

Please note that I now serve also as the interim director of the University Honors Program and that I office in 215 Fairchild Hall.

Very best wishes,

Steven P. Dandaneau, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies
Interim Director, University Honors Program