By Linda Lockhart
The spotlight is shining brightly on Ohio University’s regional campuses.
The five campuses scattered across the southeast quadrant of Ohio are a major asset in the university’s quest to increase access to and affordability of higher education, a point made repeatedly during presentations and discussions at this week’s Board of Trustees meeting on the Eastern campus in St. Clairsville.
In a presentation to trustees Thursday, Executive Dean for Regional Campuses Dan Evans shared powerful numbers attesting to the impact of the campuses. Nearly individual 10,000 students registered at regional campuses last year, from 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties. More than 340 came from 18 states other than Ohio and 12 from foreign countries. And more than 600 were dual-enrolled high school students.
“Literally tens of thousands have gained access to education through the regional campus system,” Evans said.
Several discussions during the two-day meetings centered on regional campuses, the contributions to the system and what the future holds. The consistent message was one of passion for students and the ability to provide them with opportunities.
“We have chosen to work here,” Evans said, speaking on behalf of the faculty and staff of all regional campuses. “It is a passion for us to be involved in the regional campuses. The work we are doing is good work, and it is important work …. and for me, it is personal.”
Over the past year, a focus on the future of the regional campuses -- in Lancaster, Zanesville, Chillicothe, Ironton (Southern campus) and St. Clairsville (Eastern campus) -- has resulted in several recommendations. Implementation of some of those suggested actions will begin immediately, while some require more strategic planning, according to Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl.
The bottom line is that regional campuses must be optimally aligned structurally, administratively, programmatically and financially within the university to play a key role in the way Ohio University meets its fundamental commitment to academic excellence and University System of Ohio goals.
“We’re not serving only the communities where our campuses are located, we’re serving citizens across the state of Ohio,” Krendl told trustees. “We are meeting with considerable success. I think the regional campuses are paying big dividends to Ohio University and to the state of Ohio.”
A year ago, the Task Force for the Future of Regional Campuses set out to identify just what the regional system future may look like. Following receipt of the group’s report, Krendl and several Athens campus administrators spent fall quarter traveling to each campus to discuss the findings with the faculty and staff and to gather feedback. At a December regional campus faculty retreat, Krendl presented specific steps to be taken in response to the findings. That information was shared with and expanded upon for the trustees this week.
Major issues that arose during the campus visits were categorized into three areas based on the timeframe of their implementation and their relationship to strategic planning approaches.
Communication and collaboration are central themes that fall under short-term goals, which should be implemented within six months. These include such things as encouraging greater interaction between faculty on the Athens and regional campuses, linking student leaders in Athens with those on other campuses and coordination of safety and security services across the university.
The mid-term category includes several items that directly impact regional campus students and are achievable within one year. These include such things as student access to drop-in babysitting services, scholarship programs for adult and part-time students and strategies for enrollment management, retention, and tuition and competitive pricing strategies.
On the long-term list -- beyond one year to implement -- the focus is on strategic planning, including expanding program offerings and more effective course scheduling. Also on the long-term list is the possibility of creating a College of Regional Higher Education. Such a college would unite the five campuses and possibly include University Outreach, which coordinates off-campus opportunities for instruction online and in other formats.
Three teams have been named to facilitate continued progress toward the recommended actions. A short-term recommendation implementation committee will start work immediately to formulate action plans for each item on the list. A team charged with determining the advantages and disadvantages of a regional college administrative and academic structure is slated to complete that task by April. A third team focusing on strategic vision will look at ways to ensure a sound future for regional campuses, with work to be completed by June.
The current plan is for a comprehensive strategic plan and implementation strategy to be completed during 2009-10.
Krendl emphasized that the future of the regional campuses is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but an evolutionary model.
“Each (campus) has a unique set of challenges,” Krendl said. “The model allows each campus to realize its own potential in its own environment. It’s not a rubber-stamp approach.”
All campuses form “one university,” Krendl said, and a holistic approach is needed to serve the region and give students more choice and more access at a competitive cost.
President Roderick J. McDavis echoed those sentiments at today’s full board meeting.
“We may have six campuses, but are one university,” he said. “We do the same work. We’re all about the education of students. We should never forget that each and every day, it’s all about the education of students.”
Personal experiences speak to impact, quality
During the various discussions about regional campuses, shared stories of personal experience added a bit of color and testified to the potential and level of achievement of students with regional campuses connections.
Eastern campus Interim Dean Rich Greenlee told -- in story and song -- of growing up in a small town near the Eastern campus, emphasizing that the local culture did not encourage aspiration to (or even consideration of) higher education. Weaving his personal experience with the story of the region, Greenlee illustrated to the Board of Trustees the importance of providing not just a campus with open access to all students, but an environment that is conducive to overcoming barriers and pursuing education. He referred to it as a service of “helping people walk through their anxiety.”
Similarly confirming a personal dedication to regional campuses, Krendl said, “I guess it goes back to my days of teaching high school, but I’ve been a strong advocate for access for a long, long time.
“When Dan (Evans, executive dean of regional campuses) uses the word passion, he uses it legitimately,” Krendl said. “I would characterize it as a labor of love.”
While the importance of providing access and opportunity was widely acknowledged, discussions also addressed the importance of quality.
“Can you tell us that the students who make it through (on a regional campus) received as good an education as they would in Athens?” Trustee Larry Schey asked.
The resounding answer: Yes.
“We are one university,” Evans said, explaining that faculty credentials are the same for the Athens and regional campuses. “Some regional campus faculty may not have as strong an interest in pursuing a research career, they may have a stronger interest in teaching. But our faculty are outstanding, and they are especially committed to students.”
In light of information that as many as one-third of regional campus students need some remedial courses, often in math or English, Greenlee explained, “Some start behind, but they finish in the same place. They catch up.”
Summing up his impressions, Schey added, “You aren’t selective about who comes in (as a regional campus student), but you are selective in who graduates.”
And personal experience backed up that observation: Board Chair C. Dan DeLawder began his education on a regional campus. Board Secretary Tom Davis, also a former regional campus student, said Trustees M. Marnette Perry and Sandra Anderson also have ties to regional campuses. And student trustee Tracy Kelly completed two years on the Lancaster campus prior to relocating to Athens.