The New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions
of Higher Education has reaccredited UConn for another 10-year term, noting in glowing terms the University’s decade-long transformation.
“The University has been successful in meeting the expectations of the students in terms of academic quality, effective teaching, a vibrant student and campus life, internships, co-ops and career guidance,” says the report, created by the Commission’s evaluation team.
“There is genuine trust among the campus stakeholders as well as mutual admiration and respect – faculty are engaged and demonstrate a genuine concern for students and their profession; staff demonstrate passion and commitment to excel and support the academic mission of the University.
“This enthusiasm and energy is infectious and permeates the entire campus,” the report continues, “and it is clear that the University has mechanisms in place to continue transforming and building the culture of academic excellence it has created.”
University President Michael J. Hogan says, “The reaccreditation team saw many things during their review that I saw when I decided to come here. This is a University that is poised for greatness, led by excellent and caring faculty and staff and supported by a state government that has repeatedly shown its commitment to the state’s flagship University. Our future is, indeed, bright.”
Despite the overwhelmingly positive report, future growth could be jeopardized, the report says, unless the University hires more faculty to keep up with student demand and reduce class sizes.
Additional staff are also needed, particularly in Homer Babbidge Library.
“Library staffing is already low compared to ARL [Association of Research Libraries] peers, and further pressure will exist if
there is additional faculty expansion,” the evaluation group said.
The reaccreditation report was compiled by Mark Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and chair of the nine-member evaluation team appointed by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.
It followed a three-year self-evaluation process led by Karla Fox, a professor in the School of Business. Fox coordinated the work of 11 committees studying various aspects of the University, based on the standards of accreditation.
The committees included faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, and representatives of the UConn Foundation.
Their efforts were reviewed by the evaluation team, which also conducted a site visit and interviewed faculty, staff, and students in Storrs, at three regional campuses, and at the Health Center.
They came away impressed.
“The University’s self-study opened its institutional overview by describing that period [1995-2005] in the following way: ‘The last 10 years have been ones of tremendous growth for the University of Connecticut, in terms of quality, reputation, and physical infrastructure. Indeed, the changes at the institution have been so profound that this period sometimes is referred to as ‘The Transformation,’” Nordenberg writes.
“Despite some initial skepticism, members of the visitation team came to conclude that this very positive label was not inappropriate – both because of the actual progress that has been forged and because of the transformational impact of that progress on the spirit of the people of the University,” Nordenberg adds.
Fox, who has been a commissioner on NEASC’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education for seven years and has reviewed more than 250 evaluation team reports, says it is rare to see reports this glowing.
“We are a shining example of a University on the move,” she says.
“We are actually changing the institution and achieving our goals. We have a wonderful story to tell. We’re unique in New England and in the country. We have done some marvelous things.”
The report also offers some advice.
“As might be expected, the evaluation team also found that, even though much already has been accomplished, there is more to be done if the University is to achieve its full ambitions.”
- A more fully developed academic plan is needed; the report acknowledges that this is currently underway;
- More faculty are needed, both for teaching and to enhance the research enterprise;
- Continued attention must be paid to the regional campuses;
- Continued attention must be paid to the Health Center;
- More attention must be focused on assessment and on private philanthropy;
- There are challenges to be met in the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and staff.
The commission asked University officials to report on their progress in those areas when preparing the regular fifth-year interim report, to be filed in
Initiatives highlighted by the evaluation team include:
- Creation of an expanded position – vice provost for undergraduate education and regional campus administration, currently held by Veronica Makowsky. The report says this is “a clear effort by the provost to more effectively integrate the five regional campuses and the Storrs campus, which was a concern in the accreditation visit a decade ago;”
- The University is striving to create a “culture of planning,” which is valued by leaders at all levels, and there is a shared expectation that the development of clear strategies coupled with rigorous implementation is critical to continued success;
- The University has implemented a number of steps to advance and improve undergraduate education. The report cites in particular the Center for Undergraduate Education; admissions and financial aid efforts that have increased
the number, quality, and diversity of incoming classes; and the
replacement, renovation, or
expansion of teaching spaces;
- The general education program “is thoughtfully designed to fulfill the broad objectives that have been set for undergraduate education;”
- On average, the report notes, the University redirects 18.3 percent of institutional dollars to financial aid, “which stands out at a time when many states are decreasing their appropriations to higher education, thereby leaving the cost of attendance to be absorbed more by the student and family;”
- The array of services and programs to help students – the Academic Center for Entering Students, First Year Experience, the Institute for Student Success, math and writing centers, and specialized assistance – have helped improve the freshman to sophomore retention rate from 88 percent to 92 percent;
- The University Libraries have been transformed along with the rest of the University during the past decade, and have a well developed culture of assessment. “The library is a leader in the area of assessment and is considered to be far ahead of most other libraries in New England,” the report says;
- When code violations appeared in some new buildings, the University “responded forcefully and effectively to legislative mandates regarding construction oversight. Mechanisms are now in place to ensure proper and efficient auditing of construction and renovation projects.”
“UConn will enter the next decade with assets ranging from the very tangible physical transformation of its campuses to the growing sense of high ambition that increasingly seems to be driving the committed efforts of most members of the University community,” the report concludes.
“With the right combination of adequate resources, careful planning, creative thinking, high energy, and hard work, the next decade can be another transformational period for the University of Connecticut.”