Involving online students in research, the Drive to 25, reorganizing marketing and communications, the medical college, electronic textbooks, and more

(Dave Cillay, vice president for academic outreach and innovation, read the questions submitted online).

Q (Dave Cillay): President Schulz, one of the participants is wondering if you have any thoughts on how we might engage online students or our Global Campus students in WSU research projects?

Kirk Schulz: That’s a great question, and the answer is, I don’t know. I hope not to say that for every single question. I think we’ll have some faculty members throughout the system doing research projects that folks can be involved and engaged in without being physically present in that particular spot.

One of the metrics that we’re considering using in the Drive to 25 is percentage of our students involved in undergraduate research and scholarship. And for that to work, that’s not just resident campus students in Pullman, that’s going to be across the system and it needs to be students that are actively involved in our Global Campus. So I think it’s a discussion we’d like to have. I would welcome suggestions from our Global Campus community on ways that we might be able to facilitate this. But that clearly needs to be part of our discussion over the next year on how we can make that work well so that it’s a gratifying experience for both the faculty member and the research project, as well as the student participant.

Q (DC): The second question highlights a similar subject. Primarily, how do you see the Global Campus fitting into this Top 25 initiative? What are we going to see for the Global Campus students from this achievement?

KS: Well, ultimately, the Top 25 ranking adds value to our diploma in the marketplace. That’s a WSU diploma, that’s not a diploma just at the Pullman campus or the Vancouver campus or anywhere. I want people, if they walk into anybody’s office around the world and see Washington State University, to think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you went there to school. That is awesome!’ And we need to elevate the whole institution that way. So, at the end of the day, that’s the strongest benefit, is that marketplace value around the Washington State degree experience.

The other thing, though, is when we talk about the Drive to 25, we want to elevate our entire campus. We want to elevate our undergraduate experience, our graduate experience, our research and scholarship, everything. And a lot of strategic plans that were done 10 years ago, at that time Global Campus, online education, continuing education, call it what you will, was maybe kind of an afterthought or an add-on. I think almost all of us today recognize that the university of the future, the use of technology, the fact that we’re going to have more and more students that are not place-bound at a particular college campus, that means that that’s going to be an integral part of our planning ahead. I encourage our Global Campus students, faculty, and staff to contribute in ways that the Global Campus is an integral part of us being successful, in being recognized as a Top 25 public research university.

Q (DC): I love this question. Now remember, this is being recorded. Are there any new infrastructure dollars planned for the Global Campus?

KS: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. No, I’m just messing with you. I think that’s an interesting question. Right now, we’re reviewing the way we do budgeting across the entire university. And I think that there was a time when—and Vice President Cillay and I have talked about this—that instead of reinvesting back in global education or online education, people kind of used it as a profit center; skim the profits off and use them to do other things. And this was not just here, there are lots and lots of places.

Well, the marketplace has gotten very competitive now. And if we’re going to have a relevant Global Campus experience for Washington State, we’re going to have to reinvest dollars back into infrastructure, instructional training, asking our audiences what types of things they want, what works well. I want us to be at the front edge of this and that’s going to require resources. That said, I don’t want anybody thinking that means that we’re going to snap our fingers and have this magic money appear in the next three months. But I think if we have this conversation in two to three years as we modify our budgeting process, we clearly have to be investing in the strategic infrastructure areas.

Q (DC): Angel writes, ‘I love the goal you’ve set to reorganize marketing and communication across all campuses into a centralized, forward-looking unit. Can you share some practical ways you’d like to see that happen?’

KS: Certainly, and that’s a great question. And at least somebody read my annual goals, so I’m pleased with that. The first thing is that I don’t have a grand master plan stuck in my office drawer that I’m just not sharing with everybody. My general philosophy is to hire outstanding leaders, bring them in, ask them to spend quality time looking at the organization that people have around them, and then make suggestions on how we can do things. Number one, we’ve got to hire an exceptional vice president for communications and marketing that’s a collaborator, that’s going to work well across the campus community, and most importantly, work with the 52 or 53 professionals that we currently have in University Communications.

I think that what happens is people gravitate towards exciting units and things that work well. If that new vice president comes in and he or she has that unit humming along, people across campus look and say, ‘Hey, that looks like something I’d like to be part of.’ Then at that point we reach out to the colleges and other units and ask them how we can work together and how we can cooperate. I think there’s some folks that when they read that goal, think that we’re going to go hire a vice president and then go yank all the communications professionals from across campus and force them into a single unit, and I really don’t have that intention. We’ve got a centralized set of people that, in my mind, are working across the University. And this vice president needs to be working with the communications professional at each of our campuses and each of our colleges.

I do believe, if you have a high performing group, at some point some of the colleges may go, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do my own deal anymore. I’m happy to have somebody else do that for me.’ And that may occur, but I think we’re looking at a three to four year process to assimilate and really have a cooperative forward-looking dynamic communications effort at Washington State.

Q (DC): This question deals with the new Gonzaga-UW Medical School partnership. Do you see that impacting WSU’s new medical school in any way?

KS: So it’s an interesting question. The bottom line answer is, I don’t think it’s going to hurt our medical school in any way in the short term.

If you really look out there at a lot of dialogue that’s been occurring recently in the news media, you’ll find that there’s not a lot of UW-WSU bashing on each other. As a matter of fact, UW president Cauce and I have appeared at one or two business forums and spoken together about working together institutionally. This means each of us having our own pathway to excellence and actually supporting each other’s pathway to excellence.

I think there’s some lingering worries out there that the feud over us having the medical school is still brewing so actively that this is really going represent an issue for the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine. We’re working closely together. I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue. I would say that the next part of this is if you look at who’s the winner in all of this, it is eastern Washington and Spokane, Washington. They’ve gone from zero medical schools to two. And I think as we look at this area of the state growing, that medical education, that research medical education component that both universities are going to bring to Spokane, is outstanding.

Where the challenge for both of us will be in the future is with residencies. One of the key things that we’re working for across the state of Washington is residency spots for all of the physicians that are going to graduate out of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, as well as the Gonzaga-UW College of Medicine. And that’s probably the biggest concern I’ve heard.

And you know what? That can be a place where all of us can work together to get more of those residencies out there because as the state of Washington grows, we need more physicians. We’re going to need physicians to take residencies in the state of Washington because statistics show that if you do your residency in a state, you tend to stay after the residency. So will it affect us negatively in the short term? I don’t believe so at all. I think in the long term is when we’ve got this opportunity to work together on the residency challenge. And we’ll see how things go.

Q (DC): So this question came in. And I think it’s directed more at me, but if you’ve got some thoughts, President Schulz, please add them. So the question is regarding student research. What tactics or methods will the Global Campus implement to assist in accomplishing that goal?

DC: I think that’s at the heart of the Global Campus being an identical degree to Pullman, Vancouver, Tri-Cities . . .. We need to work to make sure we’re providing the same curriculum and experience for our students. In terms of specific tactics, I think that’s something we’re going to have to explore and figure out just like we did with extending degrees. How do we build a quality student experience that mirrors what’s happening on our other physical campuses?

KS: I think it’s a challenge, but it’s a doable challenge. One of the experiences I’ve had moving from Kansas State University to Washington State is at K-State, we did not use AMS and some of the video conferencing stuff, as an example, as frequently as we do here. The reason I mentioned that is I think there are more faculty, staff, students, and administrators here that are more comfortable doing things in a virtual environment, as opposed to everybody always happening to be physically present at the same time. That being said, there are going to be some research projects and some experiences that lend themselves very well to a virtual format. There are going to be other experiences that have to be physically based.

So instead of worrying too much about the physically based ones, let’s focus some time, effort, and energy in virtual projects where people, regardless of location, can be integrally involved.

And I say, second, we’ve got to make sure that those experiences are available regardless of academic discipline. So, whether somebody’s majoring in engineering or liberal arts, or whatever they’re doing, I think it’s incumbent upon Dave Cillay, me, and other leaders to make sure that if there’s a hole there, if we see an academic area with a large Global Campus of representation that doesn’t have some opportunities there, that we need to be proactive about identifying those.

So we need suggestions, but this conversation’s got me thinking a little bit about how we can go about doing that. And if you have ideas or if you talk to other folks… If anything, this campus and these students and you all are more attuned to the competitive nature of the Global Campus than probably anybody else. And if you know that there’s another institution that’s doing this really well, we don’t mind going to borrow what they’ve done and done well.

DC: Right, and building on that, I think when we do this, it differentiates us in the marketplace. It makes us a very appealing and quality place to gravitate towards.

Q (DC): This next question has to do with one of your goals dealing with electronic textbooks, and how you see that or do you see that connected or different than the University’s work on open educational resources?

KS: I think it’s a subset of the open educational resources part. This came out of some experiences I had in my previous institution where we provided some stipends for faculty members to write textbooks. They would write the textbook and then make it available online free of charge to students at the institution. And you can say ‘Well, Kirk, one or two textbooks, what difference does that make?’ Well, it turns out, we were able to document in the College of Education at Kansas State saving students somewhere on the order of $100,000 per semester in textbooks by really getting into open access materials. So, what I want to do is get a committee together to work on this, and you’re not going to take somebody who doesn’t believe in this and all of a sudden convert them. But there’s a lot of the academic community and faculty members that look at the appalling cost of textbooks and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do something about it and I’ve always wanted to write a textbook.’

So if they make it available online to students regardless of location, I think it’s just a step forward for us to take, and I think we’re going to see more of that out there. It will never probably be 100% of the books because not every faculty member’s going to want to do it or it would be some book that we don’t have the ability to access in that way. But if we can even get 75%, say… or 80% of the bookstore in our first or second year that is online and free of charge, I think that could be a notable way to reduce cost. Bottom line, I see this part of the open access, not over it, but a strategy that we could be looking at.

Q (DC): This question comes in from Joy. Many Global Campus students are coming in as transfer students and non-traditional students. What do you see as areas in which WSU can support this growing population of students who do not follow a traditional 18-year-old freshman model?

KS: Yeah, well the very fact that we have the Global Campus has allowed places like Washington State to appeal and work with non-traditional students, older students coming back for a degree program, transfer students. I was a transfer student myself back in the 1980s when there really wasn’t transfer orientation or anything. If you didn’t show up as a freshman, they just kind of assumed you figured out how to do everything.

We’ve come a long way since that time, but I think what some of the questions we answered earlier about experiences is, how do we ensure that our Global Campus students that may never set foot on one of our physical campuses have the same set of rich experiences that a resident campus student does? We won’t be able to duplicate everything, but there are a lot of things we can make sure we’re doing. Do we have an active student leadership group for Global Campus students? And I know we do, but these are the types of things.

Do we have research experiences? Are there ways to be involved and engaged with some of our campus clubs or things like that? There’s a lot of that, that as we look at the campus experience, it’s not just delivery of material, getting a degree, and that kind of thing. Or do you have meaningful access to some of the other things that we think are an important part of the educational experience?

The answer is, we’re going to have to work at it. Not everything’s going to work, but there’s a lot more things I think we could do, and I think your student government group and the fact you have one, means that these are some issues those particular groups can be taking up and leading those efforts with you all on improving that.
Q (DC): This one is more of a 30,000-foot level question, but I think it’s one we’ve talked about quite a bit. Do you see online education becoming more accessible or available to campus-based students?

KS: I think this is something that we’re going to have to figure out a better way to deal with. I have a son who’s a fourth-year student at Oklahoma State University majoring in engineering, and so, interesting as a parent, he’ll come and say, ‘I’ve got to pay extra for this class, and I’m already paying tuition and just because it’s online, what difference does it make?’ So I hear some of the kind of challenges that we sometimes have from both a parent perspective, as well as a president of a university.

A lot of the way we fund things and do things is historical. And as we talked about budget revisions, I think part of the things that we need to ask is, what does it mean for a WSU registered student to have access to online versus on campus? Should there be differences in costs between the two? And we’ve got to start off by saying, in a vision point of view, what is it that we want a WSU student to have access to? I think you start there. And some people online can go, ‘Well, that’s easy, Kirk.’ But I think we have to have that dialogue.

Once you figure that out, then can we put the financial models in place to let that happen. I do think ultimately, down the road, we have to have it. So if you’re a registered WSU student, you have access to just about everything in any format. I think that’s the direction we’re going to go nationally, and we’ve got to figure out some good creative ways to do that.

Q (DC): Tanya asked a question, and it’s probably one I’ll take first and then let you jump in. Is there a way in the future to allow Global Campus students to have access to classroom recordings in their program of study?

DC: Technically, there is a way, if the course is being recorded. There are two challenges that are in front of that.

The first is that these are two separate courses, just like on campus going to one faculty member’s course and then going to another faculty member’s course. You often times get different material, different assignments, and different activities. And so we want to make sure that you’re focused on your online Global Campus course.

And the second issue is a challenge as well: any audio or video that we post, we have to make it accessible, which means we close caption or transcribe, which can be very costly. And so if we post thousands and thousands of hours of lecture content, that can be a financial burden to make happen.

Q (DC): WSU’s financial system is horribly antiquated and modernization planning efforts are currently taking place. Implementation of a new ERP will have significant startup costs. What are your thoughts on how WSU will find the funds in order to bring our financial system into the 21st century?”

KS: Whoever wrote that question is absolutely correct. I mean, we are using a 1970s-era system—almost everybody has a shadow system or something that they’re using on the side to actually give them decent information. And as an academic leader, and this applies to anybody that’s leading a unit, if you have good financial information, you make better decisions. And I’m amazed the University’s been able to go as long as it has without updating that system in a substantial way.

Interestingly, we’ve got several of our regents that have lots of corporate experience with the ERP systems. And every single one of them has told us the same thing: the financial part of replacing it is the smallest thing you should worry about. And they say that from the perspective of—generally ERP systems don’t have issues because somebody didn’t identify the dollars—it was the training that wasn’t done right.

As one of our VP for finance and administration candidates said, poor processes that are automated with a new system are still poor processes. So are we doing the things we need to around campus to make sure that we have good processes in place, training in place, so that by the time we get an ERP system up and off the ground and running, we’ve done all the human resources-related things to make sure that it’s successful?

That being said, we’ve started about a four-year process to do this. We’ve been setting some money aside to help pay for this for several years, and as we look at some creative things with student enrollment and other things, we’re going to have to take some of the dollars off increased enrollments and other areas of campus, and apply them to some of these campus-wide infrastructure issues like the ERP system.

I’ll be glad when it’s done and people go, ‘Wow, I have better financial data, and it’s easier to use. I can spend less of my time doing this.’ But it’s going to be a four-year process to get us there, and I think we want everybody’s participation in how to do this well, so that at the end of the day it’s not, ‘Wow, what a boondoggle, spent all this money, have the same kind of crappy data to use, and my life is no better than it was four years ago.’ That would be, obviously, a situation we don’t want to be in.

Q (DC): Building on our conversation about incorporating student research, student engagement, connecting our students to campus, and quality education, the next question approaches this from the other side. What can be done to encourage or incent faculty to embrace this opportunity and participate in these types of activities to build a rich student experience?

KS: Well, I would say that our online Global Campus students bring a diversity that you may not see on campus. We just talked about it earlier that we have transfer students, we have placebound students, and we have non-traditional 18 to 24-year-old resident students that are going to bring a different background and different perspective. In a lot of research projects, people love to have teams of individuals with different perspectives that may go, ‘Hey, I have experienced some of this here and let me make some suggestions that would be different than somebody else might have.’ So I think there are going to be a certain number of faculty that will jump on the opportunity to engage the Global Campus students in research and scholarship.

I think we need to sell a little bit of, ‘Hey, it’s a unique set of students. It’s going to be different than you’re going to see traditionally on campus.’ There will be some faculty that as soon as we set this up and say, ‘Hey, we want to get more Global Campus students involved with scholarship,’ will be in Dave’s office within 24 hours saying, ‘Hey, I got some great ideas. I’ve got a project. Tell me how to get involved.’ So I think the thing to do is we’ll take the early adopters who are enthusiastic and get them involved first, and then as we learn from that, we branch out and we make sure we have a depth of experiences available for our Global Campus students.

Q (DC): Kelly asked, ‘What are your thoughts on competency-based education and alternative credentialing and how those may impact what we do at WSU?’

KS: I’m going give some unsubstantiated opinions, but just keep those in mind, and I can be taught. So, I‘ll just let the audience know that. The first is, I think there‘s been a history out there, nationally, of using work experience and other types of things to count towards degree programs at institutions that sometimes were not highly recognized and ranked. And I think that’s put a bad taste in the higher education community’s mouth at times about the fact that somehow it‘s a lesser experience or that‘s something that a fly-by-night institution would do.

There’s a lot of generalities here that may not be true, but that is the reality of some of the situation. We have a couple challenges. One is with accrediting groups. I think that can be overcome. But the second thing is, we also want to make sure that we’re preparing students to be successful and that we don’t grant credentials and say, ’Hey, you’re at this particular point,’ drop somebody into a class, and that student then is unsuccessful in the class because even though it looked like they should be there, the credentials really didn’t have the background and rigor that was needed to be there.

I think this is an area we have to continue to have dialogue and discussion on. And we have to decide ourselves, what is it that we think is appropriate to take? As an example, in engineering, somebody may have worked as an engineering technician for 20 years and could build a TV with a soldering iron and a few implements around, and we go, ‘Well, I know they want to get an engineering degree, but they haven’t had all these classes. And so these 20 years of experience and ability to do all this stuff is meaningless.‘

I don’t agree with that at all. The question is, how do we do this in a quality way so that when somebody sees that Washington State University diploma, that they don’t think that somebody short-circuited their way to getting that particular degree. I want a dialogue with this. I want us to think more carefully about it. I don’t want to ever say, ’We’re not going to do X, Y, or Z.’ But there are some institutional momentum issues with our faculty that we have to deal with, and I really think these 30 years of some of the other institutions that would take anything and count it towards a degree, particularly for-profits, has also made this a bit of a challenge in higher education.

DC: I think there are some interesting opportunities with competency-based education if the outcomes are designed around accepted standards rather than past experience. Alternative credentialing looks very interesting from a non-credited side as we talked, President Schulz. We want to make sure that we don’t ever devalue our existing degrees, that if we put those competency-based degrees or alternative credentials in competition or in comparison with those degrees. We don’t want to be in a position of providing something lesser than what we currently do in a quality way.

KS: Yeah. I would also say that I don’t want people thinking, ‘Well, the president’s a stick in the mud. He doesn’t want to do anything different than what’s been done for the last 125 years.‘ I don’t want that at all. We just need to carefully consider how to do this, how to do it well, how to keep the quality of the degree up high. And I think we can do that but it’s going to require care, time, and thought as to how we do some of the alternative credentialing.

Q (DC): What are your thoughts on students leveraging summer session on campus and online to improve their time to degree.

KS: I think it’s a great idea. It’s interesting, many institutions have tried to move to say you can do a three-year baccalaureate degree by basically going three semesters or three terms a year. Dave, you know this in the marketplace, but for whatever reason that has just not caught fire. If I look at what’s available during the summer session today versus when I was in school, with appropriate academic advising, there’s a lot of degree programs that you can finish quicker than the traditional sort of four-year time frame.

I think it’s market demand. If there are certain fields and certain areas where there are people trying to move through as quickly as possible and we can populate those summer classes, I think that’s something that’s important for us to do.

But for whatever reason, this has just not been one of those things that a lot of people have embraced, and it has been around as a concept for a long, long time. I took summer classes as well when I was trying to broaden my degree program, get through some things a little bit quicker. As a transfer student, it allowed me to kind of catch back up because I changed majors. I think those have been traditional uses for it, but moving ahead, I think we need to continue to look and see that summer school’s largely market driven. We offer classes that have enrollment demands. We run into problems when we have student demand for a class and somebody goes, ’Oh, well, we can’t figure out how to do it;‘ that’s on us. We need to find out a better way to make that happen.

Q (DC): Do you see any need to balance between the online summer session, given our students and where they live, and on-campus summer session? Does there need to be a balance within those two delivery modes?

KS: I think, again, it goes back to where demand is. I think there are some advantages to summer classes being online from the perspective that hopefully some of our resident students are doing internships and other things that help enhance our educational program that put them in a better position to get that great job they want after graduation.

And my own son, the one at Oklahoma State, frequently during internships in Houston, Texas, or Kansas, has taken summer classes so that he could enhance some of what he was doing with his degree program and relieve some load during the year. He uses those online classes very effectively as a way to do that, and there’s no way that if those classes had not been offered online that he would have been able to do that because he’s not in one of those campus environments. If anything, we probably need to move a little more strongly online during the summer than on campus. And I think we just need to be deliberate about how that works.

Q (DC): How do you see academic outreach and innovation, which is video conferencing for academic meetings, summer session, and Global Campus, with the support services that run the gamut that we need to support those things fitting into the overall WSU system? What can AOI do for WSU?

KS: Well, we’re in a unique position of being in a state with a lot of our campuses in modest population centers, and the large population growth occurring largely on the west side of the state in the Seattle area. In my mind, we have a large set of supporters, people who are affiliated with our institution, that are going to be interested in lifelong learning, going to be interested in degree programs and things where maybe they can’t come to the physical campus.

As the population of our state grows, we have to have multiple delivery means for high-demand programs, and I think the Global Campus has to play a strong leadership role in that. I remember back when I was an undergraduate student in the ‘80s, distance education was a professor flying somewhere and offering that, or somebody sending videotapes that you would pop into a video player, and it was a sage on the stage that was talking. There was no interaction back and forth.

I look upon today’s modern online environment with interactions with a faculty member using technology in an effective way as a great learning environment. We just need to make sure as we look towards the year 2030, we ask ourselves how can we make sure that we are continuing to meet the needs of the state of Washington, using technology, using the Global Campus, and using our physical campuses to educate the broadest array of Washington citizens.

DC: Great. Thank you very much President Schulz, this has been very informative. I know we all appreciate you taking the time to address academic outreach and innovation with Global Campus students.

KS: Thank you. I appreciate everybody’s attention, and look forward to doing another one of these. This has been fun.