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  October 25, 2004

Schools, Colleges To Develop New Benchmarks

Improved scholarly and research output will be a University priority during the next few years, with progress benchmarked against a new group of peer institutions.

A series of standards is currently being developed by each school and college to determine where the University is in relation to a new set of peers.

“UConn already has some competitive advantages with respect to these peer institutions,” says Suman Singha, vice provost for academic programs. “Our ranking in U.S. News & World Report and our student profile and retention and graduation rates already are among the best in comparison to our new peers. But there are a number of improvements we must make to improve our position with respect to research and scholarly productivity.”

The University has been successful in improving its physical plant, thanks to the $2.3 billion in the UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn programs. It has been successful in attracting high-achieving students – SAT scores have increased more than 63 points for Storrs students since 1995, and nearly 100 valedictorians and salutatorians enrolled this fall. And it has been so successful in improving undergraduate education that the University has bested its old set of peers, which included Colorado State, Louisiana State, and West Virginia Universities, and the Universities of Massachusetts and Nebraska.

So UConn has established a new set of peers, which it hopes to move beyond within five years. This set includes: the Universities of Minnesota, Missouri, Georgia, and Iowa, and Iowa State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Rutgers Universities.

“We believe these institutions define a standard of excellence and quality that UConn can attain and surpass by focusing its resources in areas that enhance scholarly productivity and undergraduate education,” Singha says. “We will use these universities to help us evaluate our progress, and to encourage and reward performance in areas that will be visible to the community.”

He says the metrics developed by the schools and colleges will also help determine resource allocation.

One of the ways to compete more effectively, Singha says, is to increase the number of faculty over the next few years. The proposal to hire 150 new faculty would allow the University to offer additional classes in response to the significant enrollment increases and ensure that students can graduate in four years. It will also reduce the student-faculty ratio from 18 to 1 – which is higher than most of its peer group – to 15 to 1, and to hire faculty in areas emphasized by the academic plan, such as life sciences, technology, environment, arts and culture, and health and human services.

Since about half of the 150 would be in the sciences and technology, the hires would directly support the state’s economic development, while enabling the University to increase significantly its research grant awards.

But the proposal will remain just that – a proposal – until the University is able to determine how to fund the positions. Potential funding sources include additional state revenue, tuition increases, private fund raising, and internal resource allocations.

Competing with the other institutions involves more than hiring faculty, however. It also will require the University to push students to graduate in four, rather than five or six, years, and to increase its annual external research expenditures – a standard measure used, for example, by the National Science Foundation – from $107,000 per faculty member to, say, $139,000 like Purdue, or $184,000 like the University of Minnesota. The amount spent on external research expenditures is determined by the number and amount of grants attracted by faculty at the University.

Institution-wide metrics include retention rates, the SAT scores of incoming freshmen, the six-year graduation rate, doctoral degrees awarded per 100 faculty members, alumni giving, and other factors. School and college metrics are not yet determined, but are expected to include the number of publications in important journals and citations of works by faculty members, among other factors.

Individual school and college metrics will also be introduced that will give each school or college indicators for comparing itself to others and to that unit’s own performance over time.

“Metrics only capture part of what we do,” says Ross MacKinnon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We are a complex organization, and simple measures don’t capture all of the nuances of what we do. But metrics are important for comparison and are one way to determine progress and see whether we are achieving our goals.”

MacKinnon says specific measures for CLAS are being developed now and will be in place for next year.

“We are working this semester to develop the benchmarks,” he says. “We are collecting data now, and departments are being asked for advice on how to define things such as the major scholarly journals in a specific field. We hope to have a working draft by the end of the semester, and to have the measures in place by the end of the year.”