North Central Self Study
Chapter 1: UNK and the University of Nebraska:
The First Years
Overview and Outlook
In sum, the years since 1991 have witnessed important advances and challenges at UNK. The campus's role within the University has been defined in plans, programs, and budgets with increasing clarity and confidence. Within that role, we have made substantial progress on key measures of institutional quality, notably in student retention and graduation rates, academic infrastructure improvements, and curricular innovations.
There remain, of course, substantial challenges ahead.
Planning and Budgeting for Quality in Hard(er) Times
The re-accreditation process -- and the associated in-depth self-study -- will inaugurate a new strategic planning cycle at UNK. Leaders expect to develop a new plan that will be informed by the self-study and final report and will also address certain key changes in UNK's circumstances, including a likely protracted period of lower state appropriations stemming from Nebraska's recent economic downturn. It will be important to sustain the consensus that has emerged in the last ten years regarding UNK's core values, mission, and functions within the University; so that strengths can be preserved as forced reductions in structure and operations are institutionalized through further planning.
Outreach vs. Retrenchment
Continuing fiscal stringencies will inevitably cause some contraction toward the campus's functional core - undergraduate residential education. Yet the overall University of Nebraska mission includes a commitment to making university-level education accessible to place-bound students. It is clear that this outreach will take new forms in the future and that traditional means of delivering instruction will be substantially reduced. It is less clear that the publics formerly served by the traditional delivery means have adjusted their expectations to the new realities. University leaders will likely be challenged to develop a new compact with citizens about the outreach role of their university and each of its campuses.
Fulfilling the Residential Promise
One of the major tasks ahead of this residential campus is to renovate its residential and campus life infrastructure, even as such work continues on academic facilities. While the expanded Student Union has added important new dimensions to campus life, and although UNK has refurbished student dormitory facilities (notably room and common area furnishings), most residence halls need substantial additional modernization. For a university like UNK, this must be a major strategic objective. This will certainly be a multi-year effort whose funding will be dependent mainly on proceeds of the revenue bond program. UNK's outdoor recreational and sports facilities need similar attention.
The campus has made substantial efforts to recruit and retain an ethnically diverse student body, staff, and faculty. Some progress has been achieved. UNK has also endeavored to promote multicultural education and appreciation on campus, and the increasing diversity of the population in communities in our region, especially with respect to Hispanic peoples, has been better positioning the campus to attract non-white students and employees. But this planning priority will require sustained attention.
Stabilizing -- and even increasing -- UNK's new student enrollment numbers will be a continuing challenge. There is cause for optimism in the many programmatic improvements the campus has achieved in the last decade, which present to its constituencies a much-improved (and more appealing) educational product. But the recruiting environment has become increasingly intense, both within and outside of the university. And public concerns about rising tuition and the impact of severe budget reductions may make other educational alternatives seem more attractive in the near-term.
External Funding: Acquiring the Resources for Excellence
In some respects UNK has made great progress in acquiring external funding. When Kearney State College became the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the resources of the KSC Foundation (then valued at about $6 million) were merged with those of the University of Nebraska Foundation (then valued at about $300 million). Today, the University of Nebraska Foundation's assets approach $1 billion. While its resources support the entire University of Nebraska, UNK nevertheless has benefited considerably from the Foundation's broad reach and substantial discretionary resources. Substantial increases in extramural funding, described elsewhere, have also occurred. Going forward, and especially as public funding sources decline, it will be increasingly important to emphasize private sources of support for student scholarships, endowed faculty posts, and other mission-central improvements as well as external funding for faculty and student research, training and service programs.