The City Beat always has the hardest time summarizing these state of the city or state of the university addresses, which is why today’s story about UND President Robert Kelley‘s story is so lame. Sorry. It took me hours to figure out how to write it.
For those not willing to slog through all the rambling I’m about to unleash, these are my key points:
- Dr. Kelley’s address spent way more time on students and enrollment this year compared to last year.
- It looks like he’s making a big push to improve the university experience to grow enrollment.
- The big push seems to be in the on-campus experience as opposed to the online experience. NDSU has been strong in growing its on-campus enrollment, but UND not so much. UND is stronger online. So I sense a willingness to challenge NDSU in this regard.
Back to the rambling:
Speeches of this kind are always a form of political theater where the speaker is simultaneously cheerleader and code-speaker. To the constituency, you give attaboys to those deserving, hint at deficiencies to those undeserving. To the broader audience, you give the general rah-rah to whatever state the institution is in without getting too rah-rah about it, because, if everything were 100-percent terrific, you’d be exaggerating.
(Update 3:58 p.m. Dec. 12, 2009: There’s another reason for speaking in code: Avoiding whining. I was yakking briefly today with a faculty member about Dr. Kelley’s speech and she said off-handedly that you always have to be careful with speeches like that. Everybody’s got their own ideas of how the university should run and getting too concrete will only open you up to criticism that you’ve emphasized certain things too much or, for other things, not enough.)
If a reporter’s lucky, there will be something concrete and newsy to put in the lede, which is the first paragraph in a story. For example: "UND President Robert Kelley says he wants to increase enrollment an unprecedented 7 percent next fall." I just made that up. He actually said this:
To this end, the academic plan of the North Dakota University System, a draft of which can be accessed online in the agenda of the November 19, 2009, meeting of the [State Board of Higher Education] calls for significant increases in enrollment, retention and graduation of individuals in the eleven institutions in the state system.
Success in meeting this expectation will require UND to continue to improve its efforts in marketing and advertising — one way of addressing enrollment enhancement and management.
But an additional priority, going forward, will be to increase UND’s retention and graduation rates. At present, based on data published by the UND Office of Institutional Research, slightly more than three fourths of UND’s students continue into their second year of study. And a significant percentage are unable to complete graduation within the traditional four years.
I checked the agenda from that meeting at Minot State University — the one dominated by nickname coverage — and the copy that I have doesn’t have any set goals in it. The percentage increases are still blank. (Unfortunately, the SBHE doesn’t have a copy online any more, so take my word for it.)
So I did the next best thing to a concrete, newsy lede. I interpreted.
Reading the text of this year’s address and last year’s address, it seemed to me that Dr. Kelley talked a lot more in 2009 about students, the quality of their experience at UND and enrollment than he did in 2008. But that’s just my impression and I spent a lot of time wringing my hands over how I could say that without inserting too much of myself into the story.
Well, I’m not the master of the spreadsheets for nothing. I did a word count of the sections of the speech in which Dr. Kelley talked about students and enrollment. In 2008, his speech was 5,728 words long and he spent 605 words talking about enrollment. In 2009, his speech was 3,407 words long and he spent 1,707 words on enrollment.
He definitely focused a lot more on students this year. Last year, being his first state of the university address, he spent a lot more time talking about how awesome the university is. This year, he talked in detail about what was needed to grow enrollment.
Actually, Dr. Kelley talked alot about how important it is to enhance the university experience, a holistic view that encompasses intellectual life inside and outside class, entertainment and extracurricular activities. Then he talked about growing enrollment with marketing and finding ways to retain students to maintain those enrollment numbers. He didn’t quite say that a good university experience will help marketing or help retention, so I didn’t link the three in my story. But I think that’s really the core of what his speech is about.
It’s like a business. The most important thing is to have a good product or service, then it’s keeping the customers you have happy, then you have to market to new customers.
I almost think of this speech as a call to challenge NDSU’s growth in enrollment, especially because in speaking of the university experience, what Dr. Kelley is really selling is the campus experience. A lot of NDSU’s growth has been with on campus students where a lot of UND’s growth has been with online students.
Here are some aspirations that Dr. Kelley spoke of in his address that relate to the university experience and you’ll note that a lot of them work a whole lot better when you’re on campus in person and not over the Internet:
- First and foremost, my vision of the future is one in which the UND student experience will make a demonstrable difference in the values, the talents, and the critical thinking and problem solving that graduates must be able to bring to a global society. UND will be a national leader in the integration of the liberal arts into the education of every student with the goal of providing the highest quality opportunity for individual growth and fulfillment in that global society.
- UND must also aspire to providing students with the highest intellectual and practical skills: inquiry, analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, ethical reasoning, quantitative literacy, information literacy and teamwork and problem solving.
- UND will continue to be committed to excellence in teaching and learning, and in the provision of activities and services that will make that possible. To this end, UND will be a national leader in the application of advanced technologies to teaching and learning, and, further, through an increased emphasis on learning networks within the experience of the university.
- UND will aspire to achieve the highest possible rates of student retention and degree completion, both undergraduate and graduate.
- And, in addition, UND will aspire to a significant international and multicultural presence, both on campus and abroad, with the goal of creating a learning environment that fosters greater curiosity and understanding in students regarding international and intercultural issues. The emphasis should be on student and faculty engagement with the big question, both contemporary and enduring.