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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

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Ohio University trustees focus on tracking academic quality and long-term planning


The Ohio University Board of Trustees discussed accreditation, assessment, institutional effectiveness and laying the foundation for major capital investments at its meetings today.

In the Academics committee, Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit reviewed the role of accreditation in higher education and detailed the methods Ohio University uses to measure academic quality and student progress.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has accredited the University and its programs since 1913. Ohio University works within the HLC's Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) framework to create short-term action projects – like developing a review process for academic support units – that help to keep the University focused on continuous improvement as a means of enriching the student experience.

Benoit discussed how many individual academic programs or colleges hold discipline-specific accreditation from external agencies such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Benoit’s presentation also included an overview of the many ways that Ohio University assesses academic quality. She outlined the work done by the Office of Institutional Research, which helps to collect and interpret various measures related to areas such as student satisfaction, retention, graduation rates and faculty productivity. Benoit noted that academic units, particularly those accredited within their disciplines, are responsible for assessing student-learning outcomes.

“Through AQIP and our ongoing efforts to assess institutional effectiveness we have the ability to continually improve the academic experiences of our students,” said Benoit.

At the Resources committee meeting, Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Golding shared the results of a report from the consulting firm Sightlines LLC regarding the condition and maintenance of general fund buildings on the Athens campus.

According to the Board of Regents-sponsored study, Ohio University has a deferred maintenance backlog of $355 million. That amounts to $71 per gross square foot of asset as of fiscal year 2010, with Sightlines estimating that the current figure is likely closer to $78. According to Sightlines, the ideal deferred maintenance backlog per square foot should be between $40 and $50.  

Reasons for this deficit include the age of the buildings on campus, low historical investment in infrastructure and recent cuts to the facilities operating budget.

The report commended the University for its strong preventative maintenance program and for successfully decreasing its energy output. From FY06 to FY10, the University decreased energy consumption by 9 percent.     

Sightlines recommended, among other strategies, that the University make investments to renovate current structures as well as increase the amount of money spent annually on day-to-day maintenance in order to prevent increased operational problems and costs over time. Sightlines’ calculated target investment rate for FY10 exceeded actual investments by more than $7 million, and the company projects that gap will nearly double if the University’s funding levels remain the same.  

Golding and the board members agreed that funding for significant projects must be issued only as part of a larger plan that takes into account the core academic mission and the long-term financial health of the University. This is in line with the University’s continued work on developing a Comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan.

Golding emphasized that issuing debt will be one of several strategies that the University should consider as part of any plan to reduce the deferred maintenance backlog and to modernize aging academic buildings and residence halls.

At the meeting, Board members approved a University debt policy that provides guidelines for utilizing and managing debt.

The policy, which advocates using debt strategically, prioritizes projects based on their relevance to the University’s core academic mission as well as the ability to generate revenue and access external funding.

It also stipulates that the University must continue to monitor financial ratios -- closely tied to those used by the state and the credit rating agencies -- in order to maintain acceptable levels of debt.

The Board also reviewed the University’s debt capacity as determined in conjunction with the PFM Group. PFM’s findings indicate that the University could issue from $245 million to $350 million in debt over the next five years while maintaining its financial position and strong credit ratings.

In other business, the Board of Trustees approved:

  • A resolution to authorize the University to develop construction documents, receive bids and award construction contracts for three planned construction projects: Athena Theatre classroom renovations, the second phase of improvements to the Central Food Facility and Southern campus entrance improvements.

  • A resolution to approve a fee schedule for the new online Master’s of Science in Nursing program. The program will begin in January 2012.

  • A resolution to award Norma Pecora the status of professor emerita of Media Arts and Studies.