Drive to 25 metrics, sub-goals, tuition and student capacity, student retention, and measuring impact

Q: Can you give your thoughts on how the Carson College can contribute to the metrics that are listed, the CMUP metrics listed currently on the Drive to 25 document—specifically, the team one.

Kirk Schulz: So, anytime I pull out specific ones, I run the risk of really making people upset. So, I’ll do it anyway, right?


KS: One of them, for sure, will be something around fundraising and annual giving. If you look out there, you say, ‘If I have to choose a college with graduates that may have done well financially, what are the colleges you’d like to be part of?’ Business is almost always in most institutions one of the top couple, along with engineering and things like that. So, annual fundraising is going to be one of those metrics. As we go out and raise money for a new building, this college can contribute widely to that.

The second thing is, one of the other metrics that is not listed as CMUP, but will certainly be part of those top 10 or 11 has to do with citations. And some of the national citation indexes—and that’s an important part of the research program in this college in particular—is people publishing in A-level type of journals and things as part of your research portfolio. And some of the folks in this college are very highly cited and that’s another area that you’ll be a part of.

I like to think, if we put those metrics out there, and knowing this is a strategic thinking college, I will guarantee that by next year you all will have found a way to contribute to every single one of them. So, thank you.

Dan Bernardo: Yeah, I would also just really quickly add increasing doctoral education—something this college has been focused on increasing. That’s an AAU tier one metric. And also, another one is something we’re thinking about in terms of the undergraduate experience, and there likely will be a metric around student participation, and undergraduate research scholarship, or creative activity. Again, something this college does really well is engaging their students outside the classrooms.


Q: We have the metrics and then the goal for the Drive to 25, but are there any sub-goals to see how we’re doing, for example, in two years, four years, six years accomplishing the goals, or are we on the right track?

KS: Right. Let me start, and I’ll let Dan talk about this, too. One of the things that Dan mentioned that I think is absolutely critical is it used to be that sort of mode of operation for a new president to come in, scrap the strategic plan that the predecessor did, and start over from scratch. As I look nationally now, most of the time, the strategic plans that are done by institutions have had lots of faculty and staff involved in engagement. I would say over the last 10 years, the work is higher quality than what was done before, where it used to be you’d have a small group of people do it. Now it’s got a lot of community involvement. So the bottom line is we already have in place kind of an annual reporting process of looking at the strategic plan, where that is.

So, we will certainly map each year, and when I come around to do this next year, instead of introducing the Drive to 25, it will be progress made on the Drive to 25, where we’ll talk about each metric and the kind of things that we did in those particular years. What I hope then, is that each college will adopt some of those metrics and set college-level goals to say, ‘Hey, we want to contribute to it. And here’s how we think in the next year the College of Business, the College of Engineering, CAHNRS, can support those particular metrics.’ And each campus can say, ‘Hey, this is our particular part.’ So that’s what I would anticipate would be part of the way we do an annual set of measurements on progress made.

Now, if you said, ‘Well, Kirk, where we are now, we’ve got 2030, I could go in two-year increments and pretty much figure out if we think we’re going to make it somewhere, this is where we’ve got to be.’ I think there would be some of that. Once we identify those metrics to sort of give a sense, I think it’s interesting to say, if your research volume is going to be a top 25 university, what do you expect that number might look like? And are you making any progress on that at all? Those are the kinds of things I think will be under development. Dan, you want to add anything?

DB: No, I think that’s great.

KS: But that constant feedback and us being out and measuring ourselves each year has got to be part of it.

Q: Thanks for coming today. Have we developed, or could we list, some initiatives that we’re going to have that are related to each of those measures? Let’s say, these are resources and things that we’re doing that should enable us to hit those numbers that we’re looking for?

KS: I think that as we go through the year, that needs to be part of it. First, though, I thought we had to do a couple things. One is we had to be out doing this, talking about the overall goal, getting feedback. If I came out and said, ‘Well, we’ve picked the metrics. Here they are. Here’s the stuff we’re doing under each one. What do you think?’ You’ll say, ‘Well, Kirk, hell, you’ve already done it all and you’re asking our input on something that looks pretty complete.’ So to me, this is all kind of part of what we need before we get to that next set of things.

Interestingly, when we were putting together some of the marketing materials—I use a collective we—I basically took credit for the work everybody else did. The interesting question was this: What things do we currently do that are top 25? And if you said, ‘Where did you go look for it?’ There was no real listing of that. And so part of what we’ve tried to do is collect some of the things out there that already are kind of part of top 25, because there are some areas where we’re already in the top 10 in the country.

So I think next year we’ll be talking a little bit about some initiatives in each area. So let me use it as an example. Let’s pretend we said one of the goals is graduation rate, which I think is, how many students are we finishing in six years? Pick four or six, whatever. We’ll use six years. What are the implications of doing that? If you said, ‘Well, we’d want to increase that,’ that means our freshman or sophomore retention rate has got to be better. That means, is our recruiting doing what we need to? Do we have advising programs and things in place to make sure that students are moving through their academic programs and they deliver in getting the kind of counsel that they need to do that?

Those are the kinds of things that, once we identify some of those, are going to be sub things underneath there that are not just measurements, but they’re places we have to put resources into that. It may be people, may be money, may be private philanthropy. And I think that’s going to be where the fun really hits, is when a college goes, ‘Hey, we want our graduation rate to be better. What do we have to do in the Carson College to make it better?’

DB: And I think there is a lot of activity already focused on what likely will be some of the metrics. Kirk mentioned graduation rate. Well, we have a series of initiatives in place to try to improve student success, improve retention. One of those actually is to increase the academic preparedness of our undergraduate freshmen, the freshmen coming in. I think if you didn’t hit delete, you might have read a message from me about that. I know there’s a tendency to hit delete when the provost sends emails. But that’s one initiative.

We also have several student success initiatives to really try to drive that. We’re in a good position on whichever research metrics we choose as a result, not of the Grand Challenges, but the 120-day study which really, a lot of you participated in and identified shortcomings of our research infrastructure. That’s not just labs, it also includes datasets, it includes high-speed computing that some of you need, etc. So, a lot of those things are in motion, but once we have the metrics identified, we should be in a good position to really move quickly forward.

KS: I did want to say, too, that picking eight to 10 items to say that we’re institutionally going to elevate as things that are important, you can say, ‘Well, does that really make much difference?’ I think it drives campus dialogue around some of those types of things. So often, for example, people say it’s all financial, every student only drops out because of financial reasons. We got some interesting data at my previous institution that said that was the number one, but a close number two was lack of basically feeling part of the institution, and it had nothing to do with dollars. It was folks would come in and feel disconnected, for whatever reason.

As we get data and information, I’m convinced every faculty and staff member can play a role, because there will be a lot of staff sitting in the room that have just as much interaction with students as some of our faculty do. All of a sudden, you might see a student and think something doesn’t look quite right, they clearly are down, there’s some particular issue. And if you know somebody, you say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And you find out they’re having academic difficulties, something happened at home, they’ve got a relationship issue.

I want this to be the kind of environment where you say, ‘Hey, there’s somebody I know that can help you with that, and let me make sure that happens.’ That can be part of what happens over time as we pick these things out and we make them institutional, and everybody says, ‘I want to contribute to it.’ Sometimes we always worry about money. A lot of it is, if you get our faculty and staff all thinking, ‘These are things we can do collectively together,’ we’d be amazed at what we can accomplish.


Q: Earlier, you mentioned that we’re becoming more and more tuition-driven. And what occurred to me is trying to understand how we can affect that number, if that’s what we’re driven by. If that’s what we’re driven by, to what extent are we at capacity in terms of the student body? And also, to what extent should we be looking at out-of-state students and try and market our services to them for the increased revenue?

DB: I’ll take that one. That’s a great question. I mean it’s pretty easy accounting, right? Tuition equals price times quantity. So we can affect it by changing the price, but right now in the environment in the state, that’s not a real effective strategy. The legislature’s reducing tuition, and we don’t want to swim upstream trying to increase it at our level.

Retention is the number one device to increase revenue, because you can recruit them, but if they don’t stay here, you get that tuition check for one year. And that has been a major, major cost to us. It’s a real source of inefficiency. I love talking to these guys, because you can use business and economics terms without people getting all freaked out about us running the University like a business.


DB: So retention’s one. We are putting more resources in out-of-state recruitment, and in fact, if you’ve looked at our out-of-state recruitment, it’s increased significantly in recent years, mainly because, guess what? We put some recruiters down in California, and we get high quality California students. And we can recruit, because we can actually graduate them in four years, and the Cal State and UC systems are literally telling them that they can’t graduate in four years. So we are putting more resources there.

International students, we are engaged in some discussion, some of you are involved in that, with an enterprise private-public partnership that we’re evaluating. They’re on campus this week, where we could increase our international student body quite significantly as well. So are we at capacity? I don’t think so, but we’re going to have to be more efficient in the resources we have, we’re going to have to increase the faculty if we’re going to increase the student body, and we’re going to have to better utilize the facilities we have and the excess capacity that lies across the institution. There are certain colleges and programs, and campuses where we have significant excess capacity. And we can recruit to those gaps, too.

KS: I think one of the challenges is that today, college is like buying a car—nobody pays full price. And we tend to think of out-of-state students, as we look at that out-of-state tuition number, and say, ‘Well that’s great, you get more of those, look what they’re paying.’ Well, the fact of the matter is they want scholarship support, and tuition waivers, and all those kind of things as well. It may still be some additional net revenue, but it’s not quite as crystal clear as that. The other thing, and Dan’s leading this effort, is there’s a lot of art and science in financial aid. We want to give people enough money to allow them to come to school in an affordable way, but not more than that, right?

So we had a program, for example, that if you came to a single Washington State University recruiting event, you got a $1,000 scholarship. And you would say, ‘That’s great for your freshman year.’ We were doing it sophomore, junior, and senior year as well. We looked at it and said… I say, ‘we’—Dan made the recommendation, if you don’t like that—if you had a kid that went to that and all of a sudden cut it off and you’re like, ‘Oh, that was a great plan.’ But we looked at that and said we probably don’t need to do that for the sophomore, junior, and senior years, because it’s not strategic use of resources. We can take those dollars and apply them to a different area of student financial aid or something like that.

So the reason I’m making a big deal out of this is we have to be very deliberative about how we use our resources. Is being that bigger necessarily generating more revenue? Sometimes it’s not—it’s the net leftover and not the gross. And sometimes we do all the stuff on gross, and we figure out, well, those last hundred students we got cost us more money, and we would have been better off not drawing a line there and being careful with student financial aid.

There’s going to be a lot more analysis in this particular area, and I think we need to be careful on how we move forward. It is nice to talk to Washington legislators, and talk to them about how 80% of our students are Washington residents. Our colleagues at the University of Washington cannot say the same thing. So the balance point we also have is, if we get too far out of state, you got a lot of folks saying, ‘Why are we sending you all this money to educate Californians. What about Washington students?’ So, I think we’ve got a good balance, but we’re going to be looking at that.

DB: Right. And we still have a long ways to go before we even get 80%, and I don’t know what the magic number is. I think we’ve had too many in-state students in a sense. It does signal quality to some extent—the number of students who will come here from out of state. For those of you that work in the quantitative arena, we’ve done a lot of really cool limited dependent variable modeling on all of this, and we’ll see how it works. I always get a little scared when you start using too much econometrics to manage an institution.


KS: But even this has been a change for land-grant universities. When I went to Virginia Tech and graduated in 1986, we had 75 chemical engineers graduate. All of us were Virginia residents. There wasn’t a single out-of-state student.

Q: Retention is, of course, a double-edged sword, especially when you have a relatively open admission policy. The students that we’ve retained that lack the capability are probably a net cost to us. I think they are the students you admit who would end up costing you more. When we look at our retention challenges, where are we losing students?

DB: Yeah, it’s a great question, and I think we’re going about solving one significant issue. So we looked at our retention rates by basically high school grade point average bandwidth, and we looked at it by SAT and every Q-score and everything else. But the bottom line—and I make no apologies about it—that’s why enrollment management is over in the provost office. We can’t, and I consider myself to represent the faculty in the halls of French Administration, we can’t be responsible for retaining students if we don’t have input into who’s coming in. And so when I asked for input, President Floyd gave me the whole bundle.

So we found that, getting back to your question, that there was a large set of bands of GPA where we were retaining 50% after one year, and those people are not in here. They are not at WSU this year, or last year. And that’s going to help significantly. But when we track six-year graduation rates, we have to be prepared to see a decline because those students from six years ago, and five years, and four years ago, some of them aren’t here and you can’t graduate people who leave after one year.

So the first thing is, we need to continue to improve the preparation of the students and have confidence that they can compete. Then we have to put the wraparound services around the students to allow them to compete. I mean athletics proves that if you provide the appropriate level of wraparound services, students that might not be as well prepared as they need to be can be successful and graduate. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re getting A’s in tackling drills; I mean they’re graduating with legitimate degrees. And the same with some of our minority programs like TRIO, etc. We have to improve those wraparound services.

And this year, how many advisors do we have here? Anybody? Yeah, advisors are absolutely critical. This year we’re calling the year of the advisor. I came up with that literally at a Chinese restaurant where they had that little placemat and I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t we call it the Year of the Advisor’ instead of the Year of the Dog or whatever. And we want to focus on celebrating our advisors, but also on improving the advisor position and what accountability means for an advisor. So all of this, as Kirk says, when you set that as a goal, it changes the dialogue and will elevate us. But it’s not only a lack of academic preparation. In fact that’s not it really, it’s not academic failure that contributes mainly to our retention problem with freshmen. Lack of connectivity is number one, finance number two. But finance often masks other reasons, right? And then academics, three.

KS: We talked a lot about the numbers and all that. I mean, one way to get retention up is simply to only recruit very elite students that are extremely well-prepared. University of Florida is a great example—they’ve got astronomical student retention rates. However, at the land-grant institution, and part of our DNA is, I believe, first-generation students, making sure that we have a diverse student population. So that always has to be balanced, I think, with where we want to be in terms of the size of freshmen, and I don’t think we want to bring in academically elite students to the point that a lot of Washington residents no longer have an opportunity to come to Washington State. That’s a fine line to balance.

Q: As far as the VP of communications, do you see that person utilizing social media more effectively? And also, do we have a hashtag for Drive to 25 yet?

KS: Well, I use the hashtag #DriveTo25 all the time, so I would say we have one.


KS: I would like the vice president to come in and work with campus to develop a social media strategy for Washington State University, and that isn’t the president tweeting more, as much as what are we doing institutionally to tell our brand story better. What is each college doing? What is each department doing? Things like that. So, I would say we have a lot of activity without a lot of strategy, and there needs to be some overarching strategy as we talk about that.


Q: There’s a lot of talk about the R&D, and about the research and the $330 million, etc. So, when it comes to measuring it, the measurements that I’m commonly seeing come in the form of disclosures, or patents. But can you speak to measures that we would use to measure the impact of the research on the economic and social vitality of society?

DB: You’re sure you don’t want to answer that?


DB: Maybe we shouldn’t have asked for one more question.


KS: I don’t think we’ve thought about that in a way that would provide a particular measure. I believe faculty research is largely driven by people who want to do relevant work that’s impactful and makes a difference. And I don’t think we always have a way of measuring that, those time skills can be different. Some people can do some things that are relevant or are immediately useful in one or two years, sometimes it’s 10 or 15. I think if you asked faculty what motivates them, they want to make a difference, and they want something that is going to be useful and impactful some time down the road.

If people have suggestions on how we might try and assess and measure that, I would welcome that. Because I think that’s part of the dialogue that I don’t know we’ve really talked about much. And I think one of the fallacies we have in higher ed is we think research is easy to measure. I mean, dollars are easy, the number of publications are easy, but measuring impact can be really hard. I think that’s one of the reasons sometimes you don’t see as many metrics around teaching, and classroom involvement, because it’s kind of messy and it’s hard to get great measures of. So, we would welcome some dialogue on this particular topic ’cause I don’t have an easy way to do that.

DB: We’ve done some work on the economic impact of WSU, but it’s straight economic multiplier work, right? The standard, ‘Here are the expenditures, run the multiplier models, boom! $3 billion.’ Well, first of all, it’s just one measure, and it’s much broader than that, what you’re asking. The other thing is, it completely misses the economic impact of David’s research, right? The true impact of that on the economy. In CAHNRS we tried to model that and failed dismally, but they’re economists. Maybe you guys have a better idea.


KS: Well, with that, I want to say thank you for your attention. It’s great to see terrific attendance. And we do want to continually hear input, not just at this particular town hall. You can fill out the comment cards in your Drive to 25 booklets or enter your questions online on the Drive to 25 website. You can also always send me an email.

Thanks, and Go Cougs!