Academic Programs & Outcomes Assessment
The University is a major research university, one of the four University Centers within the State University of New York. It offers a comprehensive and rich program of undergraduate and graduate education that encompasses the liberal arts and sciences and the professional disciplines of business, criminal justice, education, information science and policy, public administration and public policy, public health, and social welfare.
The foundation of the education of undergraduate students at any institution is the General Education component of the curriculum. The University at Albany's current program, established in 1992, requires at least 24 credits of coursework distributed among five general education categories and two semesters of writing. However, in December 1998, the Board of Trustees of SUNY passed a resolution establishing a core general education program across the SUNY system for all incoming freshmen as of fall 2000. Following this action, the University's General Education Committee was expanded and transformed into a Task Force and charged with developing a new curriculum in response to the Board's mandate. The recommendations of the Task Force were sent to appropriate Councils of the University Senate in December, 1999. The Councils then proposed legislation which was passed by the Senate. This recommendation is now awaiting approval by the SUNY System.
The Team recommends that the SUNY System work closely with the campus and the Board of Trustees in building a strong and trusting relationship. The recent general education issue has led to major concern on the part of faculty regarding their role and responsibility in setting curricula. The immediate problem is that questions regarding specific courses needed by students to fulfill the General Education Requirements are still unresolved. As a result, it is possible that new students entering in fall 2000 may not be given accurate and complete information about General Education Requirements. Our concern is that the students not be penalized because of lack of agreement among the campus, the System, and the Board. The other immediate issue involves the extent to which additional resources will be needed in order to implement new requirements. Most important, though, the Team recommends that all three entities work collaboratively to address the important role of faculty expertise in curriculum matters. (This is clearly a System-wide issue)
The University has made strides in improving the undergraduate academic experience through a variety of initiatives. Lower division advising, identified as a problem in the student survey s administered on a regular basis by Institutional Research, was reorganized. In addition, through student surveys, the University learned that contact with one individual, usually a faculty member, was a crucial element in student satisfaction and success as measured in student retention and graduation. It instituted an optional mentoring system, the Project Renaissance, and the Presidential Scholars Program, all in response to this need.
The University should be particularly proud of Project Renaissance and its contribution to the freshman experience. The educational impact on the students involved is unique and the opportunity it provides for faculty to rethink their commitment to teaching, to bond with students, and to incorporate innovative techniques into their work in the classroom is extraordinary.
Role of Technology
The campus recognizes that computing in general and the Web in particular can be used to increase the effectiveness of current modes of teaching. Individual faculty are developing new educational programs using the capabilities of the new information technologies. The Instructional Web Page Project offers service to faculty who would like a Web presence for their courses. Faculty have been provided with computers so they can take advantage of these opportunities and introduce these new tools into their classes. "Smart classrooms" are being constructed to provide the infrastructure to permit more use of technology in the classroom.
The strength of the University's departmental offerings in the sciences is augmented by the existence of several strong, new centers. The centers and the departments enjoy a healthy synergy that enhances their mutual interests. The Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management (CESTM) provides research space for physicists, chemists, and atmospheric scientists, and their graduate and undergraduate students. It is a state-of-the-art research facility that houses a variety of programs including the New York State Center for Advanced Thin Film Technology and the Focus Center-New York, among others. The University has been designated as a lead campus for a consortium of national institutions selected by the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to investigate the science and the technology of increasing chip speed and performance. Finally, CESTM supports the University's world-renowned Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, which recently received a large grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The University's new East Campus focuses on issues of public health and environmental studies while serving also as an incubator facility. The new facility for the Center for Comparative Functional Genomics is an important resource for the biological scientists. One collaboration between this center, the Albany Medical College and Taconic Biotechnology, which is housed in the East Campus incubator space, has resulted in a $3.7 million grant to create one of three mutant mouse regional resource centers in the country.
The CESTM facility and the development of the East Campus were possible because of entrepreneurial outreach by the University. They were secured and are maintained by combining funds from a variety of sources, including the University, Federal and State governments, other educational institutions, and industry. The East Campus is an extraordinary example of a University establishing an environment hospitable to both the incubator needs of companies and the research needs of its faculty. The University's President is widely regarded as the person who had the necessary vision and courage to pursue the development of this entity. In addition, the success of these facilities is the result of a strong spirit of cooperation and trust between faculty and administration, and competence and hard work on the part of both. The Team applauds the University, both faculty and administrators, on their success.
On the basis of interviews with the leadership of Rockefeller College, several observations can be made. Most obviously, the leadership of the College and its constituent schools is almost completely new. Their enthusiasm is manifest, and their view that the College is poised to capitalize further on the schools' respective and overlapping areas of expertise suggests a bright future. The School of Criminal Justice repeatedly has ranked number one in national reputational surveys, and the other academic units comprising the college appear to be doing well. The prospect is strong that the College can make a significant difference in State and Federal policy arenas in the years ahead.
The growth of additional research activities has meant an increase in research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. The involvement of more undergraduates in research is a stated strategic initiative. Graduate students must have research experiences in cutting edge research using state-of-the-art equipment. The centers, and the grants that are being generated through them, are important in providing the facilities, and in many cases the financial support, to enable students to participate in research.
The arts and humanities are not only essential components of students' general education of its students, but central to the liberal arts component of the University's mission. Research and scholarship of faculty in these areas not only contribute significantly to the education of students majoring in these areas but also to the cultural life of the campus. The University also is fortunate because of its proximity to major cultural centers in the northeast. An outstanding major center on campus is the New York State Writers Institute of the University at Albany, which brings the finest writers to campus to work with students and to give public lectures. Many other activities and conferences are indicative of the vitality of these departments.
Assessment and evaluation of the educational experience of students has been an ongoing activity of the campus since 1978 when the first of a series of student cohort studies was launched. The University has used these studies to make changes in its educational and support programs over the years. The recent changes in the advising of students, the introduction of the Project Renaissance, the Faculty in Residence program, and many other initiatives were suggested or influenced by these studies. Surveys probing what the students believe they have learned from General Education courses have been conducted, and methods for better assessing the new program are being considered. An assessment of what students are learning in the major is made by every department through a comprehensive test, a thesis or project, an internship, or some other capstone experience. The Institutional Research staff are starting to work with selected departments to construct questions for surveys of graduates to ascertain their perception of the program. As with the student survey results, these will be carefully analyzed to see what changes should be made to improve the program. The team encourages the campus to continue working on how best to assess student learning and to continue its practice of changing programs in response to the outcomes.
There is no systematic sampling of the experience of students in graduate or post baccalaureate professional programs. Given the University's aspirations in the direction especially of research, an assessment of the student experience in post-baccalaureate programs should also be conducted. The Team was advised that such plans are underway.
Given the importance attached to outcome measures by Middle States and in the larger environment of higher education, it would be prudent for the University to augment the use of surveys with other systematic means to assess outcomes. This suggestion is all the more relevant because the response rate to student and alumni surveys (18%) is relatively low. Although care is taken that the respondents are representative of the student body, in order to inspire confidence that the results from those surveys constitute adequate measures, redoubled efforts should be undertaken to obtain greater response rates. Moreover, the Team recommends that the University consider augmenting the use of student and alumni survey by employing other methods to measure outcomes.
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