North Central Self Study
Chapter 7: Criterion 5
UNK demonstrates integrity in its practices and relationships
Although it certainly is important to have appropriate policies and procedures, institutional integrity cannot be demonstrated simply by an inventory of declared policies and procedures. In the end, actions that align with declared commitments reveal fidelity to principle. At UNK, the record amply demonstrates institutional integrity.
Focus on Programmatic Excellence. The last decade's investment patterns and operational initiatives demonstrate a sustained effort to achieve excellence in mission-central capabilities. These initiatives have been detailed earlier in this self-study. In academics, responding to the University of Nebraska-wide goal of achieving top-30 status among similar institutions:
- We have identified and invested concertedly in priority academic programs.
- We substantially augmented the general education curriculum and, to some extent the entire academic curriculum, to inculcate thinking/writing skills and to acquaint students with the cultural diversity of the world in which they will live and work.
- We thoroughly transformed the academic infrastructure by building new facilities, renovating and modernizing older facilities, and applying information technology.
- Faculty credentials have improved overall, student-faculty ratios have now approached those of top-flight public universities in our category, and faculty workloads reflect new policy and procedures promoting scholarship within the teaching university model.
- The faculty compensation system now enables us to reward outstanding performers.
In student life, notable initiatives include several that help new students adjust to university requirements and opportunities.
- We established several successful freshman-learning communities.
- We have created a successful and growing first-year experience program, designed by faculty.
- We have improved student advising by providing both regularized student contacts and an office to coordinate the advising effort.
- We have spent millions of dollars on residence hall renovation and plan to invest additional resources to improve the campus living environment.
- By expanding and renovating the student union, we have revitalized student life at the physical center of our campus.
For our employees, we have strived to create and maintain an exemplary workplace, through:
- Instituting a Staff Senate to consolidate and formalize staff (office/service and managerial/professional) representation and communication in campus governance.
- Establishment of a Mentoring Program, administered by the Staff Senate, to help new employees adapt to campus policies and procedures.
- Employee recognition programs, including:
- a Staff Award for Excellence presented annually by the Chancellor
- an Employee of the Month program
- a Department of the Month award recognizing exceptional service
- Developing a variety of employee support programs, including:
- well-workplace initiatives
- specialized counseling assistance through an Employee Assistance Program
- institution of Parental Leave and Family and Medical Leave programs
- a crisis leave donation program for employees who have exhausted their leave balances and are experiencing a family emergency
- Establishment of a Child Development Center on campus, which provides early childhood care and education programs for dependents of students, faculty, and staff.
Facing Challenges. UNK's record on fidelity to principle also includes concerted attention to (1) problems inherited from the Kearney State College era, (2) challenges associated with the last several years' contraction in state support for higher education, and (3) progress in reshaping the university to reflect our diversifying central Nebraska community and American society at large.
At the outset of this self-study report, we noted that at the height of Kearney State College's drive to reach university status, planners had identified serious difficulties caused by enrollment growth. One of those concerns focused on academic quality, particularly with respect to off-campus offerings. Another noted KSC's poor student retention and graduation rates.
The institution has dealt head-on with academic quality issues as indicated above and elsewhere in this self-study report. University standards were applied to regulate academic programs and the credentials of faculty, and to govern the admission of students. The laudable qualitative results are noted elsewhere in this self-study. However, as those new norms took effect, headcount enrollment dropped - necessarily, as course offerings were cut back and students not meeting admission requirements were turned away. Although some elements of the surrounding community and other publics have raised continuing concerns about this decline, the institution has steadfastly maintained its commitment to the University of Nebraska standards which made substantial decline inevitable.
External pressures for a return to large enrollments did not cause the institution to compromise or depart from core principles. In fact, UNK has since 1999 taken a tight and careful line with respect to admit-by-review freshman enrollment candidates, because student performance data indicated that only about 50% of those enrollees survived to return for a second year in good standing. Another 30% only survived the first year on probation. At the same time, concerted work to recruit students to programs reflecting UNK's central role - primarily undergraduate, residential education - has attracted about 1,500 University-qualified new full-time freshman and transfer students every year. This has stabilized UNK's enrollment at 6,000+, despite increasingly intense competition from other institutions.
Moreover, UNK's firm adherence to qualitative standards, combined with maintenance of a long-standing commitment to teaching excellence, has produced all-time records in student retention/graduation performance. As noted elsewhere in this report, UNK's freshman retention rate compares favorably with top-tier public institutions of our type nationwide. Similarly, the graduation rate has improved. In fact, the number of UNK degrees awarded in 2002-03 exceeded levels reached in six of the twelve years UNK has belonged to the University of Nebraska, and that number was not far below the 1991-92 figure. So in terms of numbers of graduates, UNK's contribution to Nebraska's (and the nation's) economic life approximates now the levels that KSC attained in its final days of record enrollments. In other words, determined and uncompromising focus on excellence in UNK's educational mission has removed qualitative impediments that had loomed large during the institution's transition to University status. In fact, in the space of a little more than one decade areas of obvious weakness have been turned into areas of growing strength.
Additional Special Initiatives: Gender Equity and Cultural/Ethnic Diversity. UNK also inherited special challenges with respect to the composition of its faculty and student body. Notably, in 1991, women held only 20.4% of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor appointments, and only 2.4% of our enrollment was non-white. We, of course, recognize that universities must value diversity, broadly defined to include diversity of experience and perspective. Still, these gender and ethnic balance numbers indicated significant shortcomings in key dimensions of a truly diverse community. More importantly, the under-representation suggested some qualitative limitations in the perspectives and range of experience that would inform our teaching and student interactions. Principles of fairness, and of educational quality, were clearly implicated.
By 2003, the faculty gender-balance situation had markedly improved, as indicated in Table 2.6. In addition, ethnic diversity among the faculty had increased, although the numbers remain small. In 1991, UNK faculty was 96.2% Caucasian. In 2003, the situation was marginally improved: 91.9% of the faculty were Caucasian. Plainly the diversity challenge is one that the institution must continue to address. Nevertheless, we have made considerable progress as a result of concerted recruitment and retention initiatives.
With respect to students, cultural diversity has also increased, considering both US minority and international student representation. In 1991, American ethnic minorities constituted 2.4% of our student body, while in 2003 that number was 4.2%. International students composed 1.3% of our student body in 1991 and 5% in 2003.