Strategic Scheduling for Student Success Initiative (S4I)

Some of my most salient memories from my first year at Utah involve our talented and hard-working students – students like Teresa, a working mother of three who came to my office with the request that we help her finish her degree by improving the logistics of our course schedule (she had required gateway courses that were scheduled both early in the morning and late in the day), and Mitch, who was arranging special permission to take the two remaining courses that he needed to graduate even though they overlapped about 20 minutes. I imagine that Mitch’s professors were as horrified by that request as I was, but even more concerned about deterring his aim of degree completion if they did not approve the request.

When I met Teresa and Mitch, I recognized the scheduling challenges that every major university faces. Departments build their own schedules, often without consultation with other academic units (because there is no central mechanism for such consultation), and driven by faculty and space availability. A key difference, though, is that our students face unique challenges as they strive to complete their baccalaureates. Nearly all of our undergraduates are working, and many have family commitments while earning their degrees. More than other research universities, we need a coherent academic course schedule, one that makes use of the vast data that we have about student enrollment patterns and builds a predictable, empirically-driven academic schedule that facilitates student success. Complete College America includes structured, predictable blocks of courses (i.e., related core courses offered in efficient time sequences that adhere to a scheduling grid) as one of their “game changers” in accelerating full-time enrollment and promoting degree completion.


We are fortunate to have an exceptional team of leaders working to enhance strategic scheduling at the University of Utah. Co-chaired by Professor Ann Darling and Assistant VP Sharon Aiken-Wisnewski, talented department chairs, advisors, faculty, and other staff members are working to build a better schedule for our institution. You can find the charge letter and team members at the following link. This is challenging work, and the S4I team is depending on our help to implement their ideas for enhancing the student experience. Here’s a quick note from Ann and Sharon on their progress to date. To date, the committee has focused on detailed process and data analysis, addressing questions such as:

• What are the most common course enrollment patterns for our undergraduates?
• How does the course scheduling process work at the U and could it be improved?
• How does the availability of classroom space interact with scheduling patterns?
• What are demonstrated best practices nationally in scheduling that promotes student success and degree completion?

As the S4I team continues their work, subcommittees will consider options for (a) creating efficient scheduling blocks, (b) improved scheduling for high enrollment courses and majors, and (c) an integrative and collaborative multi-year process for developing the campus course schedule.

Thanks for your partnership in this important Student Success effort! Stay in touch for more information about the S4I effort, and thanks in advance for your efforts to promote student success.

Supporting, Serving, and Celebrating Transfer Students

Parker Erickson

Parker Erickson (shown left) is a remarkable undergraduate student. He is a center on the Utah football team who has earned a 4.0 GPA. With the full endorsement of the university, he recently submitted a Rhodes Scholar application. Parker is also a transfer student, joining the U after studying at both Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) and Snow College.

I suspect that you recognize that the University of Utah serves many transfer students, primarily from SLCC but including a wide range of institutions. Last year, transfer students earned roughly half of the baccalaureate degrees awarded by the U.
What you may not realize is that transfer students are highly successful at the U, with graduation rates of nearly 70% for those who join us after completing 58 or more credit hours at another institution.

Transfer students bring remarkable and diverse talents and backgrounds to the U, and they face unique challenges as they work through the logistics of transfer in pursuit of their academic aims. I’ve recently asked a working group of faculty, staff, and students to help us improve the transfer process, work effectively and creatively with partner institutions, and meet the needs of this high talent, high potential population. The group is chaired by Professor Kent Ono and Associate Director Teri Clawson, and includes leaders from across the campus. Here is the working group’s charge letter.

Working Group

Like Parker, I transferred institutions twice on my path to a baccalaureate degree, surely an unconventional journey for a future higher education leader. In the process, I learned quite a bit about the challenges associated with attending more than one institution, from navigating degree requirements and transfer credit to building a sense of belonging in a university. My own experiences as a transfer student motivated my work with Lumina Foundation on implementing strategies that facilitate transfer and success for community college students moving to research universities.

We are a university enriched by our transfer students and by our relationships with partner institutions of higher education, particularly our colleagues at SLCC. We also want to be a “transfer friendly” university, implementing best practices as we recruit and educate transfer students who become noteworthy alums. Thank you for your contributions to enhancing this vital aspect of the U of U mission.

Rising Stars at the U

Andrea Bild Lincoln Davies Dave Huebner
Jake Jensen Beth Krensky Matt Might

Getting to know all of you – as many of you as possible – has been one of the great pleasures of this first year at the University of Utah. I’ve met the amazing people in all corners of the university, faculty and staff from the main campus and in health sciences, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. The statement that a university is only as good as its people could not be more accurate, and I can say with certainty and from experience elsewhere, our people are tremendous.

It is a special privilege, then, to tell you about six rising star faculty members. These scholars come from many different segments of the university, with varied roles, responsibilities, and profiles. They share the special distinction of excellence in scholarship, education and/or outreach at their career stage. Because of the generous support of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, we are able to recognize these six rising stars as Presidential Scholars, a newly created distinction for early- to mid-career faculty members. Nominated by department chairs and deans, and selected by a small review committee, each individual will carry the Presidential Scholar recognition for three years. In addition to this special designation, they receive discretionary support to advance their scholarship. The inaugural cohort includes:

• Andrea Bild, College of Pharmacy
• Lincoln Davies, College of Law
• Dave Huebner, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
• Jake Jensen, College of Humanities
• Beth Krensky, College of Fine Arts
• Matt Might, College of Engineering

Please join me in congratulating these stellar faculty members and in celebrating the excellence of the institution that attracted and retained these talented mid-career scholars. I am particularly grateful for the support of the alum whose steadfast dedication to the success of the University of Utah facilitated this gift. This support will positively influence our faculty, supporting their productivity and our ability to attract and retain talented scholars, for decades to come.

As we look to the future, turning toward the next fundraising campaign even as we celebrate the success of Together We Reach, a focus on attracting and retaining faculty talent is essential. We have scores of remarkable faculty, and too few tools to recognize and reward scholarly excellence. I look forward to partnering with you and our donors to build capacity to recognize and reward excellence.

Student Success

I often have the opportunity to talk with alumni groups and faculty members about their experiences as undergraduate students. When asked about factors that influenced their success, many people highlight particular individuals who demonstrated a special interest in them – a faculty member who involved them in scholarship, an advisor who reached out to help at a time of need, a donor whose scholarship made it possible to attend college, a staff member who genuinely cared about their well being, or members of a network from a residence hall or sorority who became “friends for life.”

As a campus, we strive to ensure the success, through graduation, of all of our students. We all have a role in promoting retention and graduation of Utah undergraduates, from those of us who recruit talented students to the U, to those who advise and teach students, to those who engage students in high-impact experiences like study abroad, service learning, or leadership, to those who provide support services throughout the university, to those whose jobs give them the opportunity to be a welcoming presence on campus. With an “all hands on deck” approach, we have formed a Comprehensive Task Force on Enhancing Retention and Graduation Rate, bringing together faculty, staff and student representatives from units across the campus to study our data and develop a set of critical recommendations to increase retention and graduation rate. Associate Vice Presidents Martha Bradley Evans and Mary Parker are leading the Task Force; the charge to the group and members are provided here.

As we focus together on enhancing the success of our students, I hope that you will remember the role that you play in this effort. You may be the one, recalled some years in the future, as a person who contributed positively to the success of our undergraduates, as that person who showed a special commitment to student success. Thank you for all that you do to support positive outcomes for Utah undergraduates. Your efforts make a difference.

Plan to Finish

In the months ahead, you may hear the phase “Plan to Finish” and see the graphic, below, around campus.

Plan to Finish

The U is joining with other institutions in the state in the shared agenda to increase four- and six-year baccalaureate graduation rates. The U’s Plan to Finish campaign is tailored to the unique talents and needs of our students, with five components:

  1. The New U Student Experience – expanded opportunities for Utah undergraduates to engage in high-impact learning experiences, such as learning communities and capstone experiences
  2. Academic Planning – resources to build adaptable academic plans from the first days on campus
  3. Advising & Mentoring – access to ongoing advising and mentoring as academic plans change and new opportunities arise
  4. Flexible Scheduling – expanded course opportunities to meet student needs and promote completion of 30 hours per academic year, with new scheduling options, such as more summer courses, more hybrid and online options, and weekend course opportunities
  5. Financial Incentives and Awareness – new scholarships designed to reduce students’ work obligations, increased education about economic consequences of protracted time to baccalaureate degree completion

Our Plan to Finish campaign is under the leadership of Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Studies, Professor Marti Bradley Evans. With her colleagues in Undergraduate Studies, Marti is guiding this project and serving as our liaison with the Utah State Higher Education office. There may be opportunities for you and your unit to engage in the Plan to Finish effort, perhaps by teaching in an alternative format, implementing a new advising model, or adding a capstone experience in your major. We hope that you will be part of this effort in a way that fits your unit, and facilitates the goals of the Plan to Finish initiative.

Listening and Learning to Develop Campus Strategy

Dear Colleagues,

Since joining the campus on August 1, I have had the pleasure to meet many of you during visits to the colleges and departments. I appreciate the warm welcome you have extended as I join the University of Utah, sharing with me your current goals, your perceptions of strength and challenge on campus, and your aspirations for the future. What I see is a University with remarkable opportunities built on a sound foundation of excellence and innovation, and a tremendous spirit of good will among colleagues. I am deeply impressed by the vision, energy, creativity and talent of our people, and excited about our potential to partner to advance the University of Utah to even greater levels in the years ahead.

As an academic leader for the main campus, my role is to build a vision for the future based on our shared aspirations, guide and enable continued excellence, identify and facilitate critical opportunities, and implement strategies and infrastructure investments that ensure innovation and vibrancy in scholarship, education, and outreach.

There are several consistent themes in the input that I heard during my listening and learning tour around campus, for example:

  • Many units are actively committed to the success of our undergraduates. You are creating scholarships to attract top talent independent of financial background, implementing course-based interventions to increase graduation rates, and promoting engaged learning experiences that prepare leaders and citizens for the 21st century. Taking these efforts to a more uniform and comprehensive level may be the next step. The importance of sufficient support to attract the best graduate students was also highlighted in several college visits.
  • Colleges are working to attract and retain top faculty talent to work within and across disciplines. Interdisciplinary efforts can face barriers, and recruiting and keeping strong scholars requires sufficient compensation, peers in related areas, and diversity to advance the institution. As the flagship university, we have a particular responsibility for the generation and dissemination of knowledge that is relevant to societal challenges.
  • Several units asked about a strategic agenda for educational technology, indicating that it would be timely to evaluate our campus plans and opportunities for using technology to enhance learning and promote graduation rates for on-campus students, increase access to a U education for those who cannot relocate or leave employment to attend, and build new programs that meet demands.
  • Needs in infrastructure were highlighted in several dialogues, such as reconsideration of the current campus budget model, enhancing physical facilities, and developing a plan for long-term financial health in a public research university.

These themes, arising from conversations with you, can help form the core of our work together. To refine how to proceed, several working groups have been formed, among them a Campus Budget Principles and Process working group, a Task Force to Enhance Graduation Rates, and a team focused on enhancing private support for the U. Thanks to all who are lending a hand in these working groups; you strengthen our university for years to come through your contributions.

This semester, I hope to refine these early ideas as we develop a strategy for the future vitality of our campus. Your input is key. I extend special gratitude for all who participated in the listening and learning effort in Fall 2013, and look forward to hearing from many more of you in the months ahead.

Thank you for the warm welcome to the University of Utah.