Improving graduate education at UW-Stout

Action Project

Institution: University of Wisconsin-Stout
Submitted: 2002-09-23

Planned project kickoff date:
Target completion date:
Actual completion date:
A. Give this Action Project a short title in 10 words or fewer:
Improving graduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout
B. Describe this Action Project's goal in 100 words or fewer:
The primary goal of this project is to increase the number of graduate students enrolled at UW-Stout. This will be accomplished through a) the development of new graduate programs, b)increasing enrollments in existing programs with capacity for growth, c)increasing the number of courses and programs that are delivered in non-traditional formats, and d)increasing the retention rates of graduate students. A second goal of this program is to improve the quality of communication and service provided to graduate students and the faculty members who work with these students.
C. Identify the single AQIP Category which the Action Project will most affect or impact:
Primary Category: Understanding Students' and Other Stakeholders' Needs
D. Describe briefly your institution's reasons for taking on this Action Project now -- why the project and its goals are high among your current priorities:
During the past five years, graduate enrollment at UW-Stout has declined in several programs, and the university has been experiencing intense competition from other providers. There have been changes in the graduate school administration and high turnover among graduate program directors. These issues were discussed by the Chancellor's Advisory Council during their annual summer 2001 retreat and Graduate Education was brought forward as a university priority in a series of facilitated budget priority sessions in the fall. During December 2001, a consultant was brought in to review graduate enrollment concerns. The UW-Stout Educational Support Unit Review Committee also reviewed the Graduate School Office during this same time period. Several recommendations were made and resources were allocated for this priority. The campus is now ready to make further changes that will result in increased enrollments and enhanced student satisfaction.
E. List the organizational areas - -institutional departments, programs, divisions, or units -- most affected by or involved in this Action Project:
This project will primarily involve faculty and staff in the following areas:  enrollment services, university relations, the graduate school office, continuing education, international education, and the three academic colleges (graduate program directors, graduate faculty, deans and associate deans).
F. Name and describe briefly the key organizational process(es) that you expect this Action Project to change or improve:
Critical processes include academic program design and delivery; marketing/advertising and student recruitment; admissions; registration; retention; assessment; and benchmarking.
G. Explain the rationale for the length of time planned for this Action Project (from kickoff to target completion):
UW-Stout would work through existing organizational and governance structures, such as the Provost's Council, the College Councils, the Graduate Council, and the Faculty Senate to carry out this project. Key support offices, including the graduate office, would also be involved. Activities and progress would be reported every six months to the Chancellor's Advisory Council and also shared with the entire campus.
H. Describe how you plan to monitor how successfully your efforts on this Action Project are progressing:
Number of student inquiries, number of student applications, number of graduate courses and programs delivered in non-traditional formats, growth in graduate program offerings  (degrees, certificates), number of advertising/recruiting activities, number of complaints from graduate students and faculty.
I. Describe the overall "outcome" measures or indicators that will tell you whether this Action Project has been a success or failure in achieving its goals:
Graduate enrollments, retention rates of graduate students, graduation rates of graduate students, level of graduate student satisfaction with programs and services
J. Other information (e.g., publicity, sponsor or champion, etc.):
Benchmark programs and processes with other universities with similar size graduate enrollments
Develop and implement an inquiry/application tracking system Redesign and implement processes for offering services to graduate students
Increase advertising/recruiting activities by 25 percent from 2001-2002
Offer one additional program in a non-traditional format
Develop baseline measures for student and faculty satisfaction with graduate programs/services2003-2004
Increase applications over 2002-2003
Increase graduate enrollments five percent over 2002-2003(includes campus, customized instruction and continuing education)2004-2005
Increase one-year retention rate for graduate students in all programs by 10 percent
Administer student and faculty satisfaction survey
Offer 50% of graduate programs/courses in non-traditional formats

Last Action Project Update: 2004-09-08
A. Describe the past year's accomplishments and the current status of this Action Project.
Describe the past year’s accomplishments and the current status of this Action Project.
Substantial progress was achieved on this action project during the past 12 months.  Progress was made on each of the project goals including:

a) The development of new graduate degree programs.
Two new programs are in various stages of development and approval by UW System. An M.S. in Manufacturing Engineering was approved by UW System and is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2005; an M.S. in Communication Technologies has been developed and is waiting for approval from UW System. These programs will utilize a variety of delivery systems to reach new student audiences. However, a proposed Master of Fine Arts degree has been put on hold pending further discussion involving the adequacy of resources for development and implementation.

b) Increasing enrollments in programs with capacity for growth.
Enrollment targets were developed for each program. Base funding was provided for student recruitment and several new recruiting strategies were initiated, including targeted mailings and advertisements; “Chat University” software, hotlinks and other online recruitment tools; and travel to universities, conferences and career fairs. Funding was also allocated to update all graduate program publications and web pages. Total graduate enrollment increased from 794 in 2001 (when this issue was identified as a University priority) to 882 in 2003, reversing a decade-long decline in graduate enrollment trends. Enrollment numbers for fall 2004 are not available at this time.

c) Increasing the number of programs that are delivered in non-traditional formats.
More than half (8 out of 15) master’s degree programs will soon be available in non-traditional formats, including Career and Technical Education, Training and Development, Hospitality and Tourism, Guidance and Counseling, Vocational Rehabilitation and Technology Education. In the fall of 2004, the master’s degree in Education will become available online and the master’s degree in Management Technology will become available in a weekend format in locations throughout the state. The number of total graduate courses offered in non-traditional formats (weekend, interactive television, online) increased from 89 in 2001-2002 to 107 in 2003-2004.

d) Increasing the retention rates of graduate students.
UW-Stout began examining retention rates of graduate students in 2000. Retention rates continue to vary greatly among programs. For example, currently three master’s degree programs (Marriage and Family Therapy, Risk Control and Applied Psychology) have first-to-second year retention rates of 100 percent; while programs that serve primarily educators typically have retention rates below 50 percent.  This is most likely due to the fact that annual retention rates are officially measured from fall semester to the next fall semester and many teachers are part-time students who take courses primarily in the summer terms.  Seven-year graduation rates tend to mirror the one-year retention rates; in general, programs with full-time traditional students have much higher graduation rates than those with non-traditional or part-time students.  Overall, there have not been significant increases in retention or graduation rates since this Action Project began.  Compared to one year ago, retention rates have increased in approximately 50 percent of the programs and decreased in approximately 50 percent of the programs. Increasing retention rates for all graduate programs must continue to be a priority.

e) Increasing satisfaction levels of graduate students and faculty members.
  The Graduate School continued to make progress toward its goal of excellent service to current and prospective students as well as to UW-Stout faculty and staff.  To that end, the following were initiated or implemented:  a) automated admission correspondence; b) a Degree Audit pilot for 3 graduate programs; c) implementation of the Access Stout Communications Management utility (provides prospective students an easy online method to track the status of their application and receipt of admissions materials); d) the addition of specific program application materials to the Access Stout Communications Management utility; and e) automation of the degree application process. The Graduate School also continued to publish an electronic newsletter to communicate important deadlines and events.
  Research papers continue to be a challenge for graduate students so a thesis formatting template was revised and redistributed each semester.  In addition, the Graduate School collaborated with the Library Learning Center to offer thesis workshops.  The requirement for submitting the thesis in an electronic format was dropped, streamlining the thesis process for students.  In August 2004, the Graduate School will offer a new student orientation which will include presentations by faculty and staff, as well as a campus tour.  
  The third annual online student satisfaction survey was conducted in the spring of 2004; 290 students, representing all graduate programs, completed the survey. Respondents were asked to respond to Likert-scale questions dealing with the processes and procedures of the Graduate School Office and staff on a scale from 1 (not helpful) to 5 (extremely helpful).  The ratings for the various items ranged from 3.62 to 4.24.  It should be noted that rating for each item improved from the 2003 survey. Students were also asked to identify how they learned about graduate education at UW-Stout and to identify the reasons that they chose UW-Stout for their graduate studies.  Finally, respondents were asked to provide suggestions to the Graduate School Office.  Findings from this survey will be distributed widely and will be used to determine “next steps” in student recruitment and student services.
B. Describe how the institution involved people in work on this Action Project.
Describe how the institution involved people in work on this Action Project.
Several offices, individuals and groups have been involved in this project including deans, graduate program directors, graduate faculty members, the Graduate School Office staff, the Stout Solutions – Continuing Education staff, the Office of International Education, the Faculty Senate, the Provost’s Office staff and the Center for Assessment and Continuous Improvement. During 2003-2004, the Faculty Senate formed a standing committee on Graduate Education to address several areas including graduate curriculum, graduate policy and graduate program review. To keep the campus focused on this initiative, periodic progress updates on this project were provided to several groups on campus including the Chancellor’s Advisory Council, the Provost’s Council, the Faculty Senate, the Senate of Academic Staff, and the various college councils.
To support this Action Project and encourage faculty involvement, the campus allocated $25,000 annually for graduate student recruitment. Each college/school that offers graduate programs develops an annual recruitment plan. In 2003-2004 approximately 30 individuals, including the graduate studies coordinator, graduate faculty members and graduate students, participated in recruitment activities including graduate school fairs, professional conferences and visits to schools and companies. Graduate faculty members were also involved in new program development, program and course revisions and in offering graduate courses in evening, weekend and online formats. Base funding was also provided for a half-time information management specialist position, and training and professional development for Graduate School Office staff.
C. Describe your planned next steps for this Action Project.
Describe your planned next steps for this Action Project.
Although UW-Stout will officially retire this action project to move forward with new action projects identified through recent strategic planning efforts, initiatives in this area will continue as part of the campus culture of continuous improvement and will be evaluated on an annual basis by the Provost. In 2007-2008, the Graduate School Office will be formally reviewed by the campus Educational Support Unit Review Committee.
The next planned steps for this project during the 2004-2005 academic year (and parties responsible) include:

1). Continue development and implementation of the three new master’s degree programs (College of Technology, Engineering and Management; College of Arts and Sciences; Provost’s Office)

2). Share enrollment progress, retention data and survey results with program directors; assess the impact of recruitment methods used during the first two years of this project; and develop a campus-wide recruitment plan that addresses the top reasons students attend graduate school at UW-Stout. (Graduate Program Directors, Graduate School Coordinator, Assistant Vice Chancellor).

3). Continue to expand Graduate School Office services including an orientation for new students, more frequent publication of the Graduate School Newsletter, increased promotion of evening hours, implementation of the electronic degree audit for all programs and greater assistance to students seeking thesis advisors (Graduate School Office).

4). Continue to seek feedback from faculty, staff and students and develop a plan to implement the laptop/e-Scholar program for graduate students to begin in the fall of 2005.
(Provost’s Office; Graduate School Office; Budget, Planning and Analysis Office).
D. Describe any "effective practice(s)" that resulted from your work on this Action Project.

E. What challenges, if any, are you still facing in regards to this Action Project?
  What challenges, if any, are you still facing in regards to this Action Project?
  There are three continuing challenges associated with this project including:

1). UW System has increased graduate tuition rates more than 300 percent over the past decade; resident tuition is currently $346.00 per credit and non-resident tuition is $936.00 per credit. These tuition rates are higher than many area private universities which have recently expanded into UW-Stout’s target marketing area and make it especially difficult to recruit out-of-state and international students.

2). Graduate program director turnover is continual with five new graduate program directors assuming their positions in 2004-2005 (although some of these individuals have served as program directors in the past). These individuals will have to be brought “up to speed” on their roles and responsibilities.

3). In the fall of 2002, UW-Stout became an e-Scholar (laptop) campus for undergraduate students and it is planned to implement the program for graduate students in the fall of 2005. Although there are several benefits associated with this program, implementation will be challenging due to potential resistance by students who already have access to computers and because it will involve additional costs to students. Forums held on this topic during 2003-2004 indicate that there are very mixed reactions to the e-Scholar program from graduate faculty and students.
F. If you would like to discuss the possibility of AQIP providing you help to stimulate progress on this action project, explain your need(s) here and tell us who to contact and when?