What’s the best way to transform your institution? It all begins with good data—just ask Jon Young, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Fayetteville State University (FSU). The University’s focus on continuous improvement increased degree productivity from 15 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2015. The American Council on Education (ACE) recognized this achievement with its 2016 Award for Institutional Transformation for schools with more than 5,000 students. FSU’s early efforts relied on imperfect data sets and laborious hand tabulation, but implementing on-demand reporting from Activity Insight has transformed FSU’s efforts. Let’s take a closer look.
Fayetteville State University’s roots reach back to 1869, when Fayetteville’s two schools for the black community combined to become the Howard School. In 1877, the Howard School became not just the first public normal school for African Americans in North Carolina but also the first state-sponsored institution for the education of African-American teachers in the South. After a series of name changes, it became Fayetteville State University in 1969. Today, FSU is committed to excellence in teaching, research, scholarship and service, and extends its services and programs to the community and other educational institutions throughout North Carolina, the nation and the world.
Spurring Continuous Improvement
Two key events combined to set the University on a course toward continuous improvement: a drastic state funding cut and the self-study required for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation. During the 2008 economic recession, FSU lost 22 percent of its state funding and cut 150 faculty positions as the costs and benefits of the University of North Carolina system came under public scrutiny. To survive, FSU had to improve its degree productivity on a substantially reduced budget. The University implemented the Continuous Improvement Report (CIR), a tool for finding and rewarding academic departments’ performance on metrics related to FSU’s mission.
FSU doubled down on continuous improvement after its 2012 SACS accreditation. “We spent two years getting ready for SACS, so the question for us was, how do we continue the energy and attention to the kinds of issues you address in SACS self-study after the accreditation process ends?” Young said.
Implementing CIR required FSU to measure metrics ranging from persistence of students to faculty research activities and service. “Developing CIR was an iterative process. One of the biggest challenges was measuring research, scholarship, service and community engagement. We couldn’t leave them out, but how do you measure them?” Young said. “The first metric we tried was a departmental self-assessment, which was useless. So what was the right way to measure it? We didn’t want to measure just by counting.”
Over several iterations, FSU developed a framework for those activities, a compendium of activities within each area and a minimum expectation for faculty to meet rather than setting goals or targets.
Doing More With Less
Initial efforts relied on manual data gathering and calculations in spreadsheets. This got the job done, but took a lot of time and effort across departments. Then Young reached out to Digital Measures Senior Engagement Specialist Andrew Wiech in search of a better method.
Andrew evaluated the CIR reporting requirements. “Faculty research and creative activities and service data were already in Activity Insight,” Andrew recalled. “All we needed to do was dial in the criteria and build a custom report in their instrument.” Andrew worked with Jon to design the needed outputs, refining the framework for faculty accomplishments and contributions, providing key distinctions, and adding fields to allow FSU to collect additional data. The custom reports also perform calculations, eliminating the need for spreadsheets and reducing the potential for errors.
A Cultural Shift
ACE’s Award for Institutional Transformation was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period. But transformation isn’t magic—it requires a cultural shift across the institution. “When you introduce a tool, some people resist for a variety of reasons,” Young said. “We’ve sent the message all along, if you do something great and it’s not in Activity Insight, it’s not counted—not for you, your department or the university.”
Since the CIR results in additional budget for departments who meet the required metrics, faculty trust in the process and embrace the system. “When faculty realize you’re not using the tool to look over their shoulder or use it against them, they begin to accept it as part of the expectation,” Young said. “What has happened at FSU is that department chairs are consistently asking faculty to submit their annual reviews or CVs through Activity Insight, and it sends the message that having all of their information there is in their best interest.”
Collect Data Once, Use It Infinitely
With seven to eight years of faculty activity data now in the system, FSU is well positioned to report to multiple stakeholders. “In the past year, we’ve taken a leap forward in terms of clarifying range of accomplishments, and now faculty put them into Activity Insight with the promise that if we do that consistently, we get the automated reports [rather than repeated requests for the same information],” Young noted. The University is currently using its new reporting capabilities to complete its SACS fifth-year interim report. It’s also well positioned for professional accreditation processes such as Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
“Faculty accomplishments are an incredibly important component of institutional responsibility. I really appreciate the responsiveness of Andrew and his team in helping us build these reports,” Young said. “They’re better and more effective than I originally envisioned.”
In the spirit of continuous improvement, FSU isn’t stopping there. Next up is an initiative to create comparable reporting capabilities in the area of teaching.