Office of the President

The Top 20 Questions of Fall 2014 (II)

Posted by: Thomas Krise Date: December 18, 2014 In:
Students walking in Red Square

At PLU’s Fall 2014 Conference, I invited faculty members, staff and administrators to share questions – any questions – they had about the strategic direction of the university. I received 131 questions, many of which fell into similar categories. I’ve decided to address the top 20 most frequently asked questions here, over the next several weeks. Here is the second set, you can click each question for an answer. I look forward to reading and hearing your comments and additional questions.

Here is a link to the first set in the Q&A.

What kind of specific recruiting changes are we making? Will we move away from a local to a more regional presence?

A: Regional colleges and universities like PLU must actively seek students to first learn about the university (inquire) and then submit an application. An internal review of each application then determines which of those students to admit. Most applicants are admitted to multiple institutions, and some applicants will make deposits to multiple institutions as well. The number of applicants who actually enroll is typically a few percentage points smaller than the number of deposits (an effect called “the melt”). The “yield rate” (the number of students enrolled as a fraction of the number admitted) has declined in recent years for nearly all institutions in the country, as it has become much easier for prospective students to apply to multiple institutions at little or no extra cost.

Yield rates from 10 years ago were in the 40% range compared to 22-25% in recent years. The principal reason for the decline in the yield rate has been the ease of the Common Application and how it allows applicants who might be less serious about attending PLU to nonetheless apply at no cost and with no commitment. In addition, there is the matter of perceived value relative to the public institutions in the region and the quality of university facilities also play heavily into student choice.

In terms of what specific recruiting changes we are making, several of our new strategies are focused on expanding the size of the inquiry pool with the goal of building sustainable and repeatable freshman classes in the 600-650 range. In addition to the size of the inquiry pool, the overall quality of that pool is another aspect that is getting special attention with new strategies. We are expanding our “high school senior search” for prospective students so as to bring PLU to the attention of academically gifted students in ways that have not been done previously.

Among the several cohorts of prospective students receiving new and special attention are Lutherans. Self-identified Lutheran students, as a group, both yield and retain at higher rates than average students. Our recruiting staff has also spent more time on the road both in the region and beyond than in past years. In fact, the largest growth in the inquiry pool to date over last year (in raw numbers, not percentages) has occurred in California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota and Texas. Additionally, freshman inquiries in total have reached the highest levels we’ve seen since 2010, up 11% over last year and up 28% over 2012. But, I caution that it’s still early in the recruiting cycle.

Another consideration is the diversity of the inquiry pool. The geographic region from which we recruit most of our students is become racially and ethnically diverse, and this has been reflected in our entering classes the past several years. We need to continue to address the needs and expectations of students in our region and make improvements in key areas. Also, how we might broaden our geographic reach (including new efforts for recruiting international students) and how we might do so in a cost-effective way is a matter of current work.

Further enhancements are being made in many areas of the admission and enrollment process including significant changes in staffing, creation and dissemination of print and electronic communications, effective delivery of on-campus visit programs, personal connections with prospective students and families via high school visits, college fairs and other outreach opportunities in their communities, and effective awarding of merit-based and need-based financial aid. Simply knowing about PLU is the first step for many prospective students, and we now have a first-class marketing capacity, the previous absence of which has held us back in driving the size of the inquiry pool.

Are there ways our HR functions, practices, and processes can be more homogenous and align better with PLU’s goals and strategies? How can managers work on supervising, developing, and providing constructive feedback to our staff and faculty? Can HR align efforts with departments and provide more training and resources to managers, so we can all effectively manage our talented employees?

A: Successfully managing and retaining talented employees is key to being a University of the First Rank. The Leadership Seminar is a year-long cohort program that began in 2000. Managers from across campus receive approximately 60 hours of leadership development. Supervisor training is regularly held on campus and consists of three, eight-hour-long sessions. Professional Development Day is held annually offering a variety of topics, including delivering and receiving constructive feedback, communication skills, conflict management, time management, and performance management.

In early 2015, Human Resources will be rolling out a new performance management system for staff and administrators. This new online system will emphasize process and will provide managers a systematic way to check in and set goals with employees throughout the year. We are making a cultural shift from optional performance reviews to a mandatory process. The HR website includes additional resources on topics such as hiring, training and performance management. HR is available to coordinate department specific training and workshops in addition to the programs and resources already in place.

Is there an initiative to establish services for high-risk students? Do we know who our at-risk students are?

A: As a top producer of Fulbright Scholars, PLU is typically known for graduating academically successful students. However, it may surprise some people to know that not all students who attend PLU come from backgrounds that prepare them for the rigors of college.

During our early years in the 1900s, PLU enrolled students for whom English was not their first language, who did not have much money for college, and who did not have the best primary academic opportunities to prepare them for college. Yet these students, who arrived initially apprehensive about their ability to succeed in college, were able to persist to graduation. And to this day, PLU is committed to providing students who may not have been given the best opportunities to prepare for college with the additional skills and support they need to reach graduation and achieve success with their degrees.

Prior to admitted students being enrolled in their classes, the Office of Academic Advising identifies students who may be “at-risk” for succeeding in college through a holistic review of their admission file. Students may be identified for targeted services based on their academic background, financial aid status, prior experiences, or other factors that are shared by the student in the admission process. For students who may benefit from targeted services, there are three unique resources at PLU to assist in their success.

First, students are assigned a professional Academic Advisor. Academic Advisors at PLU are committed to assisting students as they discern their vocation as a student and define their educational, personal, and emergent life goals. The advising relationship is a collaborative partnership through which students may gain an understanding of academic disciplines and university resources, and be supported and challenged to become contributing members of the community. Academic Advisors work to support and strengthen students’ development as they progress through their academic journey.

Second, students are provided the opportunity to enroll in a one-credit college transition course called “Career and Educational Planning.” The course is designed to assist students in developing a set of academic attitudes and behaviors to succeed in college. Students also learn how to develop their personal strengths and how to utilize campus resources for academic success.

Third, students are assigned a Student Services Counselor who works with the student throughout their educational experience to assist with the financial aid process. The Student Services Center is a centralized location that simplifies the lives of students by providing services through registration, financial assistance, account financing, and veterans’ assistance.

In addition to these resources, students are also invited to utilize other offices designed to help them transition into college life, and remain successful at PLU: Academic Assistance (tutoring), the Center for Community Service and Engagement, the Counseling Center, Commuter & Transfer Student ConnectionsDisability Support Services, the Diversity Center, Student Employment, Student Involvement and Leadership, Veterans Affairs, and the Women’s Center.

We are moving steadily toward a team approach to student support—something we might call “Integrated Education” in which each student has a team of people—an academic advisor, a faculty advisor, a Student Services Counselor, an Admission Counselor, a Career Connections counselor, and perhaps an athletic coach, a club advisor, a Campus Ministry chaplain, and others—who collaborate to support his or her success. Helping each of these mentors and advisors know about the others and be able to communicate about the individual student’s progress would not only strengthen the likelihood of success, but also be more fully consistent with PLU’s culture of care.

What does the use of online classes for PLU look like? What are the goals? How will we maintain PLU values?

A: The PLUTO (Pacific Lutheran University Teaching Online) Institute began in Summer 2014 and was made possible by a grant from the Benson Family Foundation. The goal of PLUTO is to train faculty to provide online and hybrid courses in a manner that is consistent with our mission and that reinforces the high-quality student faulty relationship that is a defining characteristic of a PLU education.

The PLUTO Institute evolved from extensive study and assessment of similar programs at other institutions, and has been designed by PLU’s instructional technology experts to provide this type of training and support for our faculty. PLUTO is part of a larger set of initiatives that is focused on faculty development and is consistent with the PLU 2020 initiative to broaden our efforts to support the evolving use of technology in our academic program.

Ten faculty members participated in the first June 2014 workshop, and all are either offering their courses now (in Fall 2014) in hybrid format or are scheduled to do so later this year. Our first courses are all fully enrolled and include the following: Business Finance, Principles of Marketing, Public Relations Writing, Principles of Microeconomics, Money and Banking, Technology and Teaching: Lab, Music and Culture, Personalized Fitness Program, Elementary Spanish, and Resource Management.

We’ll offer additional PLUTO workshops for faculty members who wish to offer a purely online course in summer 2015, with a plan to direct these courses toward students who are completing their first year at PLU with the goal of improving freshman retention.