Cleveland State University
A Message from the President

President's Message
November 19, 2012

At the beginning of the last academic year, we formed a joint Faculty-Administrative committee to develop a student success plan. We began this effort to chart a course to improve our retention and graduation rates, which are near the lowest in the state. Anticipating that the state was planning to launch a statewide initiative to challenge universities to adopt policies to improve retention and graduation, shorten the time to degree completion and hold down costs, the joint committee was ahead of the curve in producing recommendations to meet these goals.

Approximately six months ago, the Governor and Chancellor of Higher Education formed the Complete College Ohio Task Force to recommend policies to facilitate student success. OSU President Gordon Gee and I were appointed representatives of the university sector. In addition there were representatives from the leadership of K-12, community colleges, vocational programs, the legislature and the Governor's office.

Last week, the report of the Task Force was released at a conference of trustees from university and community colleges. (Ohio College Completion Task Force Report) The Task Force report contained 20 recommendations and charged each university Board of Trustees with developing a plan that incorporated the recommendations that were most salient to the goal of dramatically increasing success rates. Our Board Chair, Robert Rawson, and several Trustees attended the statewide conference. Our Trustees asked to be kept apprised of those initiatives related to student success that were under consideration, and what their potential impact might be on students and the institution as a whole. The Academic Affairs Committee of the Board therefore reviewed a presentation on current issues under discussion, including the topic of 4-credit courses and the state's recommendation on a 120-credit-hour cap for bachelor's degrees at the November 7 Board meeting. Karen Farkas from The Plain Dealer attended the Board meeting, and asked a number of questions about the data presented at that time; she followed up by writing an article about the credit-hour issue that appeared in the November 18 Plain Dealer. Last week, Chairman Rawson asked me to develop an initial set of policies that incorporate the recommendations of the Task Force that best reflect our institutional challenges, for presentation to the Board in January.

Among the most important academic initiatives, the Success Committee recommended that every college examine moving from the dominant 4-credit course model (70% of the courses at CSU are 4 credits) to a dominant 3-credit-hour model for both the general education courses and the overall curriculum and to set the requirements for baccalaureate degrees at 120 credits except for programs in which accreditation requires the curriculum to exceed this threshold. At the beginning of this academic year, the Faculty Senate was asked to consider these recommendations and suggest a path forward.

The University Curriculum Committee was asked to draft a recommendation to the full Faculty Senate. Our initial goal was to have a recommendation ready for the November meeting. The latest projection is that the UCC would make a report to the full Senate in February or March. I encourage the Faculty Senate to have a voice in this serious policy consideration. However, it will be essential for them to complete this work one week prior to the January 16 Board of Trustees meeting to meet the Board request for an initial plan from the administration. It is now imperative to make changes that will allow students, who face a multitude of challenges, to have a clear and student-friendly pathway to graduation.

Throughout this faculty consultation, I stressed my belief that the SSI formula for funding universities was going to be altered to enhance the weight given to retention and graduation and diminish funding that is now heavily weighted to enrollment. On November 30, the Governor will announce the details of the new formula, which dramatically changes how universities will be funded by linking funding to the overall goals that informed the work of the Completion Task Force.

We have made progress in developing a student retention strategy well in advance of these developments and have a foundation to improve our current retention and graduation rates. However, it is essential that we make changes in academic programming to maximize our chances to improve on the metrics that will increasingly govern our budget. This new formula will be implemented in the next biennial budget, which severely compresses the time we will have to make the needed changes.

For the last six months we have met with the Governor's senior leadership team to document the steps we have been taking to improve student success, prior to any state mandate. Our work on developing a student success plan has been an important element in changing the administration's view of the University, which, based on the data, was not viewed favorably in Columbus. If we continue to demonstrate progress, we will continue to strengthen our position in Columbus, produce a more integrated and rational academic platform for our students, fairness for the faculty and stabilize our long-term funding.

Our goal has been to anticipate these changes, buffer us from the short-term impacts and develop a foundation for CSU to improve student performance going forward. I will continue to communicate with all faculty on these critical issues.

Ronald M. Berkman
Cleveland State University

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