By Linda Lockhart
A presentation to the University Academics Committee of the Board of Trustees about the future direction of the regional campuses Thursday spurred lively discussion, stimulated questions and led Trustee and committee chair M. Marnette Perry to comment, "I think this is critically important to our core mission."
Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl gave the overview of a year-long process that has examined the position and role of the regional campuses within the university and at the state level.
"I really believe in this mission. I really believe in this mission wholeheartedly," Krendl told the trustees as she spoke about the service and educational opportunity provided to southeast Ohio through the regional campuses. "Two words Ohio University stands for are access and excellence."
In May 2007, the regional campuses began to report directly to Krendl. In order to begin the process of identifying issues of importance to the regional campuses, she held a retreat of regional campus leaders in August 2007. As a result of the retreat and in response to work that took place during the fall on how the regional campuses fit into the University System of Ohio, Krendl created The Task Force on the Future of Regional Campuses.
"For the first time in a long, long time we had peer-to-peer conversations," Krendl said in describing to the committee the work of the 27-member task force, representing all six campuses. The group took an in-depth look at how to facilitate the goal of having one Ohio University that still honors the individual campus circumstances. The task force was headed by Dan Evans, executive dean of the regional campuses.
"It's a complex set of relationships and a complex set of activities," Krendl said in describing the dynamics of the multicampus system. "One of the things that happened (as the task force worked) was a lot of the stereotypes began to fall away as intellectual engagement took place," she said.
Krendl told the trustees that when the task force was concluding its work, "everyone, all 27 people, came together and said what a wonderful experience this was. It convinced me we need to have a continuing group of this type" to carry forward the work.
The task force's efforts culminated in a report proposing dozens of recommendations and raising several questions for further study about the future direction regional campuses.
"The task force report is the first step of a process that will ultimately end up as a strategic plan for the regional campuses that will be incorporated into the Five Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan process," Evans said. "It was prepared with a vision of where the regional campus system should be over the next several years."
"We want to mirror some of the changes the (Ohio Board of Regents) chancellor has initiated with the University System of Ohio," he said, adding that the task force's report gives suggestions to better align the regional campuses with the goals of the USO plan.
The task force divided into five subcommittees to evaluate specific broad areas: finance, faculty relationships with departments in Athens, academic program development, auxiliary and student services, and administrative and reporting structure. In April each submitted a report to Evans highlighting recommendations along with questions or opportunities for further study. The reports were compiled and sent to Krendl for her review before being presented to the Academics Committee.
"The task force had a large job to undertake in a short period of time and they performed it well," Krendl said.
Financing the future
The task force's subcommittee on finance addressed the subject of regional campus tuition rates in detail, work that led to the decision to begin examining affordability.
The current regional campus comprehensive tuition rate at the Eastern and Southern campuses is $1,443 for lower division hours -- which applies to students who have earned fewer than 96 credit hours -- and at all other regional campuses it is $1,505. Tuition for upper division hours -- over 96 credit hours – is $1,562 at Eastern and Southern and $1,656 for the other regional campuses.
"Each campus will test some initiatives to address affordability and target markets," Evans said. "These pilot efforts hopefully will help us to roll out a more formalized plan for next year." He said details of the individual plans are still under development.
The subcommittee acknowledged that financing ties between the Athens campus and regional campuses have become increasingly complex through the years, and recommended comprehensive reviews and further study to determine the most effective models and appropriate rates. On the table will be overhead charges, reserve funds, carry-forwards and the relationship between Athens and regional campus faculty salaries.
The group suggested studying best practices in other regional campus systems.
Communication and relationships across campuses
A common thread through all five subcommittee reports was the subject of communication and ties between the regional campuses and the Athens campus.
"If I were to put a theme on the report it would be that better communication would be first and foremost," Krendl told the trustees.
To better understand the communication issues, a subcommittee surveyed faculty on all campuses, focusing on relationships and communication, course clearance process, hiring and promotion, and tenure. The results indicated a desire across the university to strengthen communication among regional faculty and their counterparts on the Athens campus.
The group cited the School of Nursing's communication methods between regional and Athens faculty as a model for other departments to replicate and made 11 recommendations to help improve the flow of communication among all campuses' faculty.
"I think the most important part of the survey and of all the committee work was how clearly both Athens faculty and regional faculty desire a better working relationship," said Jan Schmittauer, associate professor of English at Chillicothe and co-chair of the subcommittee. "The survey results showed a genuine commitment to being 'one' university in fact, not just in theory."
The survey also indicated agreement among respondents that decisions about faculty hiring and clearance of courses should be joint. However, opinions diverged in regard to offering more bachelor's degree programs on the regional campuses, with regional campus faculty overwhelmingly in favor while Athens-based faculty were cautious due to limited resources.
Academic program decisions
Cooperation and coordination between Athens and regional campuses varies among academic departments, according to the report by the subcommittee on academic program development. The subcommittee raised several questions for further exploration with one of the core issues being who should determine what programs are offered on regional campuses to meet the needs of the local community, regional education and economic development.
The question goes to the heart of the regional campus mission, which focuses on access, affordability and service to the region through high quality higher education.
The report states, "With few exceptions, degree programs and course development emerges from the Athens campus. As a result, opportunities that take advantage of the clientele served by and the situations faced by the regional campuses are neglected.
"There is a need for coordination and control.... The question arising from this situation is how best to achieve (it) while respecting the different missions, needs and circumstances of the various campuses."
Among the group's eight recommendations was a suggestion to unify the five regional campuses into one college to create greater efficiencies of scale and enhance the role for regional education within the existing Athens governance system.
Providing a 'Bobcat Experience'
"Students at the regional campuses appreciate and expect, for lack of a better term, 'A Bobcat Experience,'" the report stated. While acknowledging areas of excellence, such as classroom technology and access to library materials, in their analysis of current services to regional campus students, group members also considered more than 35 issues where improvements could be made.
A subcommittee identified four primary areas to address in the report: strengthening relationships between student services on the Athens and regional campuses; expanding opportunities for regional campus student services; enhancing student ties to the Athens campus; and identifying existing areas of excellence.
Recommendations included linking groups at the Athens campus, such as Student Senate and Education Abroad. It also stressed the need for enhanced career and counseling services.
The committee would like to see group-rate services for health insurance extended to regional campus students.
Several recommendations were made to bolster retention of students who begin at a regional campus -- or another institution -- and subsequently transfer to the Athens campus, a group referred to in the report as transitioning students.
During Thursday's Board of Trustees University Academics Committee presentation ,Student Trustee Tracy Kelly, who began her education on a regional campus before transferring to Athens, commented about the importance of such efforts.
"From a student perspective, many of the things listed (in this part of the report) I experienced personally," Kelly said. "It was a difficult transition (from a regional campus to Athens)."
Administrative and reporting structure
A subcommittee considered what administrative and leadership structures could best serve regional campus students and the region. The group recommended the current structure be maintained, with regional campuses playing a larger role in determining curriculum and program offerings on those campuses.
The next step is a deeper look into the feasibility of recommendations and to answer questions that have come up.
"The regional campus task force has been very effective in documenting a number of areas we need to study further," Krendl said. "It will help us prioritize the areas and questions we need to focus on to help improve our ability to provide the educational opportunities that are needed in the Southeastern Ohio region."
The full Report of the Task Force of the Future of Regional Campuses is posted on the provost's Web site.
If you wish to speak with a media representative about this story, contact Linda Lockhart at 740-597-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.