Letter from the vice provost for undergraduate studies
September 1, 2017
This is my first quarterly update for the 2017-18 academic year.
Some good news. In addition to the extraordinary gains we have seen in overall first-to-second year retention and four- and six-year graduation success, K-State undergraduates have also increasingly engaged in education abroad, internships and other forms of experiential learning and undergraduate research. Regarding just the last, the Office of Planning and Analysis recently calculated that the percentage of undergraduates participating in substantial, meaningful undergraduate research increased from 6.4 percent in 2015-16 to 7.3 percent in 2016-17. This snapshot suggests a substantial effort. Kudos to the students and their faculty, postdocs, graduate students, staff and external mentors!
The overall quality of an undergraduate program depends on both quantitative and qualitative factors. If I were to hazard a concrete description of land-grant "excellence," I would say that our K-State 2025 goals of 90 percent first-to-second year retention and 70 percent six-year graduation are on the mark. I would also say that the understanding implied in Student Life's new K-State 360 program is on the mark. High-quality undergraduate experiences typically involve considerable student engagement and one or more high-impact practices, e.g., undergraduate research, education abroad, internships and co-ops, leadership, service learning and so on. Employers as well as graduate and professional school admissions committees more and more expect graduates to present undergraduate degrees enhanced by co-curricular learning experiences.
Lest it appear taken for granted, let me underscore that undergraduate quality rests foremost on a solid base of challenging, pedagogically sound coursework. If high-impact practices are frosting, even expected frosting, then the curriculum is the cake. Thankfully, K-State faculty regularly combine teaching, research and service in ways that are genius. Just look at the many faculty who participate in K-State First instruction. Note those who teach Developing Scholars, Edgerley-Franklin Urban Leaders, University Honors students and the students who compete — often successfully! — for nationally competitive scholarships. Look at Dr. Chris Sorensen's recent ambitious solar eclipse undertaking and its beneficent impact on undergraduate students, not to mention on the larger community. Note also that aspects of Dr. Mike Wesch's work appears in an important new book: Cathy Davidson's "The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux." Countless examples present themselves. K-State is home to dedicated, innovative, and sometimes renowned educators. Who benefits more directly and more often from this than our many thousands of undergraduate students?
Undergraduate excellence also requires diversity and inclusion. The quality of learning — the quality of discussion in class; the quality of learning beyond the classroom; the quality of faculty research; the vibrancy of the community as such, etc. — depends critically on student, faculty and staff diversity. It is not a nice-to-have. Here, as we all appreciate, K-State has work to do. Achievement gaps are closing but we need to continue to work to close them. Take for example the graduation rate gap that reflects the challenges faced by those who are striving to be the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. We are preparing to build on past success in this area to further strengthen efforts universitywide to support first-generation students. Programs like the First Scholars Program, supported by the Suder Foundation, have helped lead the way. So, too, does use of EAB's Student Success Collaborative, which empowers the advising community's proactive efforts to help students succeed academically. Vice President Bosco represents K-State on the Kansas Board of Regents' first-generation task force, and K-State Student Life professionals contribute as much as any group to closing achievement gaps of all kinds. As I heard Dr. Bosco remind us recently, we are the school that made the remarkable and widely disseminated film, "A Walk in My Shoes: First-Generation Students." People all over the country and world understand that K-State is among the most focused on first-generation student success.
As the fall semester picks up steam, I want to wish everyone the best for a productive and enjoyable academic year. It seems to me that we are closer than ever to our K-State 2025 goal: recognition as a nationally leading land-grant research university. I would offer that, among our many strengths, we are gaining recognition for increasing student success, the rigor as well as creativity of our educational program, and our land-grant commitment to perpetually renewing for each new generation of student-citizens the higher education wellspring of democratic society.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies