Tag Archives: Building on Excellence

A Time to Consider SDSU’s Future

San Diego State University is currently in the process of reaffirming our accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.  This intensive process, which we last underwent in 2005-06, has multiple components.  To date, we have created an institutional report, undergone an off-site review, and received an off-site review report (all available at wasc.sdsu.edu).  The off-site review report presents 12 commendations and four major lines of inquiry that set the stage for the March 22-24 accreditation visit by a distinguished review team.  This team will provide important guidance and counsel regarding SDSU’s future.

While one of the central goals of this process is to reaffirm our accreditation, the process also provides us with opportunities to reflect on our educational mission and the state of our university.  For me, it is an opportunityDome of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University. Photo by Paul Lang to think about the broad outlines of our university’s future and how we will create that future.  This is especially timely for us as we are in the third year of implementing our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence.”

“Building on Excellence” was created in a time of enormous financial challenge – near the end of one of the longest recessions in our nation’s history.  Appropriately and necessarily, it focused on the immediate challenges of the coming three- to five-year period.  Foremost among the plan’s initiatives were very specific efforts to increase revenue and to improve the university’s academic and co-curricular programs.

While the work of “Building on Excellence” is ongoing and these issues remain critical, it is also important to consider a broader perspective on our long-term aspirations.  I believe there are three touchstones that can be part of a broad vision of our university’s future, and my hope is that we can, as a community, consider them as part of the reaffirmation process.

First, maintaining and increasing the quality of our academic and co-curricular programs is essential.  This focus continues the decades-long tradition established by my predecessors Presidents Day and Weber and our dedicated faculty, staff, and students, who have made aspiration and achievement central to our campus’ ethos.  Many may debate the meaning of quality.  For me, the key is that quality academic and co-curricular programs prepare students to contribute broadly to the society they will enter.

Today, quality programs must include a general education curriculum that helps students develop a broad range of abilities and understandings, a major program of study that immerses students in an academic discipline and professional preparation, and exposure to cutting-edge research and the vibrancy of the creative Members of the San Diego State Rocket Project assemble a rocket before launch.arts.  Quality programs must also provide our students with opportunities for holistic development. These include high impact practices such as international experiences, entrepreneurship, internships, mentoring, leadership development, service learning, cultural diversity, engagement at national and international conferences, interaction with national and international leaders, and numerous specialized co-curricular opportunities.

Second, we must be a campus that welcomes students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds, and we must ensure that students from all backgrounds succeed at the highest level – intellectually, personally and professionally.  In doing this, we continue one of our university’s proudest traditions and serve a critical public purpose in our region and throughout California.

Third, we must be financially strong.  We are in an era in which universities – especially public universities – are under enormous and continuous fiscal stress. Nearly every day we read of the financial challenges and controversies affecting universities and colleges across our country.  Our financial strength will provide the resources necessary to maintain the quality of our programs and serve our diverse students.  Our efforts must involve increasing revenues from public and private sources, as well as prudent and effective stewardship of these revenues.

These three elements – a focus on quality, service to diverse students and financial strength – are broad outlines for an enduring and successful university that serves its students and our society.

Each element, of course, raises many questions and can be pursued in multiple ways.  Let’s use this spring’s accreditation review as an opportunity to discuss these broad perspectives and consider how we can use them as guidelines to create the future of San Diego State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Rankings Matter

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the academic year has its own unique seasons and rhythms.  At the beginning of October, the admissions process begins and another notable period, the rankings season, ends – and it has been quite a rankings season for San Diego State University.

Business Insider:  Why SDSU is Soaring Higher in U.S. News Rankings Most notably, U.S. News and World Report named us to its list  of top “Up-and-Coming Schools.”  We were ranked #14  nationally on the list of universities “making the most  promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics,  faculty and student life.”  In an analysis of this year’s rankings,  the Washington Post reported that we have increased our  overall ranking the most of any university in the country since  2011 (31 places).

Other rankings also recognized our efforts.  For example, Washington Monthly ranked us #6 nationally for the economic value of our degrees.  Similarly, individual programs and colleges were also recognized in national rankings.  Our International Business program was ranked #8 in the nation by U.S. News, and our College of Engineering was ranked #15 in a national survey of the economic value of engineering degrees.

This national recognition is a testament to the dedication and passion of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters.  By highlighting the university’s excellence, it will attract new students and add value to the degrees of our current students and alumni. These distinctions are especially noteworthy given the significant challenges that are transforming public higher education in California, and they occasion many questions.  The two I get most frequently are “Do rankings matter?” and “How did we move up?”

My answer to the question of whether rankings matter is a decided “yes.”  Put directly, rankings reflect (and create) prestige – a reputation based on achievement and success – and achievement and success matter to students, their families, our alumni and prospective employers.  The rankings are especially important for students and their families who are not familiar with the university.  Colleges and universities are complex, hard-to-understand places, and attending a college or university requires a very significant investment of time and money.  The rankings try to help students and their families understand the investment they are about to make.  No ranking can fully characterize an individual university or quantify the match between the needs of an individual student and the strength of a specific university, but students and their families find the rankings to be a useful starting point.

The question of why we have moved up in various rankings has been analyzed in detail by Business Insider.  Three factors were cited as critical:  our campuswide efforts to support student success that improved our retention and graduation rates, the growth of our research efforts and their overall impact on our academic programs, and the success of our first comprehensive fundraising campaign which has raised over $425 million to date.  Each of these factors has contributed directly to metrics used in rankings and, indirectly, to the overall reputation of our university.

There is, however, more to it.  Underlying each individual factor is something more fundamental – a spirit of innovation that aspires to make our university better and always seems to find a way to do so.  It is this spirit of innovation that underlies our efforts to improve student success, advance research and build our culture of philanthropy.  This same spirit – this can-do attitude – motivates the ambitious initiatives proposed in our recently completed strategic plan “Building on Excellence,” and I am certain that it will propel us forward as we pursue these initiatives and advance our university.

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