NKU checks foundation

Northern Kentucky University has continued to grow over recent years. The continued growth has prompted the university to take a look at the whole university experience offered at NKU. Northern is partnering with the John Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and participating in the Foundations of Excellence program to explore the experience. The theme for NKU is dubbed “Students First: Building the Foundation.”

The university will undergo a “revamping process.” Foundations of Excellence has nine dimension focus areas: Philosophy, Organization, Learning, Faculty/Campus Culture, Transitions, Students, Diversity, Roles and Purposes and Improvement.

Some universities look at specific dimensions — NKU will look at all of them.

Each dimension will have its own representative from student affairs and academic affairs. The representatives will look at information collected from the freshman surveys, the freshman academic catalog and the recent Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation. Each dimension will make a report and be assembled with all nine dimensions.

Mei Mei Burr is director of first year programs at NKU.

“I think it’s a very proactive step and we are recognizing the importance of that first year,” Burr said.

The university is looking at better ways to organize, and accommodate strengths and weaknesses not only for students but staff as well. “I think they really influence student experience,” Burr said.

The Foundations of Excellence program started in 2003 and since then about 400 colleges around the nation have participated. Universities apply for the program and each university that is selected focus on their specific campus goals, strengths and weaknesses. NKU is focusing on the freshman experience and what is known as the “Freshman-Friendly Pedagogy,” or strategies that are particularly effective for freshman such as active learning, learning communities, smaller classes and interactive learning.

“One thing that we are asked to look at are the five courses that have the highest rate of D, F, W or I (grades) for freshman,” Burr explained. “We need to look at that in terms of resources, advising, instruction and trends of what students take and where they are successful.”

Although NKU is focusing on the freshman experience, freshmen coming in from high school is not the only concentration. The Foundations of Excellence program will also look at transfer students, students that have come back to college after many years and non-traditional students.

“We have a much more diverse freshman student population, not just ethnically,” said Vice Provost J. Patrick Moynahan. “We have students right out of high school, adult students, students that commute, students that live here, etc.”

Moynahan is the co-chair of the Foundations of Excellence program.

“We are growing rapidly and the student body is changing,” Moynahan said.

This does not mean any freshman classes will be easier or that tuition will rise. However, admissions may be slightly effective because NKU wants to look harder at the academic deficiencies of incoming freshman. The state has required this because of a new standard for ACT scores.

NKU is reshaping their resources to give first year programs and the freshman experience a face-lift. Moynahan hopes the program will help the university improve communication with students, accommodate students better and allow them more resources to faculty, advisers and staff.

“I’m a believer that if you are not moving forward, you’re sliding back,” Moynahan said.

Burr and Moynahan hope that the program will enhance student learning outcome, student retention and inventory every single element that effects freshman.

“A student’s first experience at the university shapes the years they have there,” Burr said.

Vice Provost Moynahan agrees.

“Some things that may work well for students may not work as well for others,” Moynahan explained. “For example, some students rely on e-mail for most of their communication, others on texting and still others on different forms of social media instead of traditional forms of communication.” Moynahan also said that one of the areas that will be closely examined is how NKU is making these first year programs known to students.

The Foundations of Excellence Committee is to start making recommendations in the spring of 2011.

Story by Jennifer Parker