'Learning to a Greater Degree Contract'

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Dear Editor,
The University of Central Missouri’s Board of Governors took a bold and necessary step forward when it adopted the conceptual “Learning to a Greater Degree Contract” as a way to help ensure students stay in school, graduate on time, and leave the University with a degree that has more value in a rapidly changing workforce.
Amidst declining state support and our goal of keeping tuition increases as low as possible, UCM’s current enrollment-driven financial model requires strong measures to ensure student completion and success. Based on current trends, if some 1,800 students enter UCM as first-time freshmen this fall, at least 500 of them will not make it to graduation in five years, causing them to lose valuable time spent working toward a degree and depletion of their financial resources. With this new completion covenant or contract with students, UCM hopes to keep at least 100 more of these students in school and across the finish line with their baccalaureate degrees by 2017. This will not only contribute to their future success but have dramatic effects on our enrollment and the financial strength of the campus, which in turn is good for both our campus and local communities.
So how does UCM achieve its completion goal? The contract includes curricular, co-curricular and institutional initiatives that are directly aimed at student success. These initiatives will also greatly further enhance the value of a UCM degree with benefits that will serve students the rest of their lives.
We know that progress toward degree attainment depends on students who are committed to taking an adequate number of college credits each semester and maintaining regular class attendance, which national research shows is a strong predictor of their ability to complete a degree. The Learning to a Greater Degree Contract encourages students to average 15 credit hours per semester, follow a more focused course schedule for at least the first two semesters, and regularly attend class. Also, new for first year students is a defined course pathway that will assist in making registration an easier process but also help in putting courses together in the right sequence to help ensure success.
Proactive advisement is also essential to student success. While we expect students to see their academic advisor at least once a semester, the university will increase its investment in academic advising to ensure advisor loads are reasonable and consistent, implement eAdvising, obtain additional tools that complement advising, create an advisement infrastructure that fosters strong communication with students, and also help students to enter majors as early as possible.
Co-curricular initiatives will enhance the student experience at UCM. The university will provide opportunities for students to be engaged in a variety of experiences outside the classroom so they graduate with a student engagement portfolio that details their involvement in campus organizations and service opportunities that further enhance the value of their UCM degree. We are also going to help create more on and off-campus jobs that serve a dual role of providing work experience and financial support directly to students.
Considering national research indicating strong retention and academic performance by students who live on campus, UCM will extend its residency requirement from one year to two years, beginning with the 2013 fall freshman class. In addition, institutional initiatives will create a university environment that supports a growing campus student population, which includes opening by fall 2015 a new 320-bed state-of-the-art mixed-use residential and retail facility and ongoing renovation of existing facilities. UCM also will commit to providing more opportunities for students on campus that include dining, recreational, and other experiences that are suited to a “24/7” student population, while also keeping tuition, room and board costs as low as possible for students.
In today’s higher education climate, tough and focused decisions must be made to help ensure the university as we know it continues to thrive in the Warrensburg community. The value of a student’s degree from UCM will continue to hinge on the university’s willingness to innovate and embrace changes that are truly focused on student success. The national and statewide mandate is to help more students enter college, work to ensure they complete in a timely fashion, and enhance the value of the college degree to meet both the students’ and employers’ needs. With two consecutive record-setting fall enrollments and about 500 more students enrolled at UCM than three years ago, the goal of increasing the number of students entering this fall who graduate in four years in 2017 will move UCM to a new level of both performance and value. Thank you for helping this community and campus to take Learning to a Greater Degree for our students.
Joining You in Service,
Chuck Ambrose, President
University of Central Missouri