North Central Self Study
Chapter 1: UNK and the University of Nebraska:
The First Years
The initial chapter of the University of Nebraska at Kearney's 1994 Self Study Report reviewed the campus's history of growth "in size and mission." As prelude to the 2004 Self Study Report, this chapter summarizes the part of the developmental story that in 1994 had only just begun: progress within the University of Nebraska.
Contours of the Post-KSC Leadership Challenge
In the 1970's and 1980's Kearney State College grew to become the largest of Nebraska's state colleges. By the late 1980's KSC had launched a concerted drive to achieve university status, an aspiration fueled by a sense that, within Nebraska, the campus was uniquely dynamic and that it already had evolved beyond the limited role envisioned for state colleges.
A 1986 long-range planning document, The Possible Dream, outlined how KSC might develop into an independent public university -- a teaching university distinguished from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln primarily in the area of research emphasis. The strategy included (1) sustained emphasis on teaching, in a small-class format and with a comprehensive curriculum centered on a general studies core, (2) more graduate programs, (3) improved financial support, (4) strengthened instructional outreach, and (5) concentrated investments to develop faculty, and produce departmental excellence; to modernize and internationalize the curriculum, pedagogy, and campus life, and to provide "whole person" development opportunities for students.
Planners were optimistic about realizing this vision, but they also recognized that in new university garb the campus must deal with serious issues that had emerged in KSC's last years, including qualitative strains created by larger enrollments and expanded off-campus teaching, and low student retention and graduation rates. The Possible Dream also foresaw that a maturing institution needed a better planning process, one that would make plans purposeful, consequential and effective.
Kearney State College formally became the University of Nebraska at Kearney on July 1, 1991. After joining the University of Nebraska, UNK planners at first ratified the KSC-originated strategy presented in the 1994 NCA Self-Study Report. However, other ideas more circumscribed and focused than this earlier vision have regulated the planning process.
- The Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education (CCPE), newly charged in 1990 to plan comprehensively for statewide postsecondary education, envisioned that UNK would remain centered on its state college heritage and focused on its traditional service area (the state's south central region). In the CCPE's design, UNK was to maintain primary emphasis on undergraduate education and seek to establish graduate programs only when need could be demonstrated and funds and staff were already on hand.
- Within the University of Nebraska, campuses were assigned deliberately differentiated and complementary missions. By 1995, the core mission concept for this campus stated: "UNK is primarily an undergraduate institution committed to quality undergraduate programs in a residential setting with a select mix of master's level graduate programs." The University of Nebraska at Omaha, by contrast, was the university's metropolitan university, with limited statewide responsibilities and a small number of doctoral programs. Nebraska-Lincoln had the most comprehensive mission: the statewide land-grant charter and primary responsibility for doctoral and research programs outside the health professions (the province assigned to the University of Nebraska Medical Center). Campuses were encouraged to seek focused excellence within their assigned missions, and indeed by 2000 the University enjoined each to strive for top-30 status among similar institutions nationwide.
- Campus leadership changed hands twice during the last decade.
- Starting in 2001-02 state appropriations for the university declined severely, reversing a substantial trend upward during the 1990's. UNK planners were challenged to tighten budgetary focus on core educational functions while reducing other areas.
As a result of these realities, the planning landscape now includes the following strategic challenges:
- To continue to develop as a university, but also as a distinctive campus within the University of Nebraska and consistent with the CCPE's statewide design.
- To seek excellence in undergraduate education while also nurturing complementary graduate programs serving demonstrable public need.
- To define and fill the role of a residential university while also serving students who live off-campus.
The following review summarizes developments in several major areas that were emphasized during this period: planning, academics, student learning and student services, campus infrastructure, and enrollment. It concludes with a brief survey of remaining leadership challenges.
Next: Chapter 1> Sections> Planning and Focus for Excellence