STATE REGENTS RESPOND ENTHUSIASTICALLY TO USAO PLAN
OKLAHOMA CITY – John Feaver received a positive response – and applause -- when he presented to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education his ambitious Mission Enhancement Plan on May 27. His plan seeks national prominence for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, where he has served as president since 2000.
"USAO has demonstrated a level of leadership and vision that will allow it to be among the best public liberal arts institutions in the country,” said Dr. Paul Risser, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. “They have an excellent foundation to build upon and I look forward to continuing to work with President John Feaver and others to help them attain their long-range goals."
A team of researchers, led by USAO Vice President Sanders Huguenin, worked behind the scenes for months to develop the plan, a set of marching orders that could advance Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college in significant new ways by 2015.
The immediate reaction by Oklahoma’s nine-member policy board for all colleges and universities was applause.
“Thank you for a wonderful job,” said State Regent John Massey. “I was in the legislature in 1965 … and I’ve observed the school down through the years. Today I see you at the top of the chart. … Thank you for a job well done.”
“Their response pleased and surprised me a little,” said Huguenin, who joined Feaver in delivering the 12-minute multi-media presentation that outlines USAO’s 10-year goals. “It was extraordinary, given our expressed plan to raise the bar at USAO in academics, student life and private support. We had prepared ourselves for tough questions, so we were pleased instead to hear applause and positive feedback.”
For the presentation, Feaver and Huguenin were armed with a list of successes and positive trends in student achievement, private giving and national rankings. They carried an enthusiastic endorsement from the USAO Board of Regents as well.
USAO Regent Teresa Adwan of Tulsa called the plan “ambitious and important.” “I think it’s an incredible opportunity for the state to open an important door for students to a kind of education that is in high demand. This is a challenge that USAO has proved it can meet.”
“The time is right,” said USAO Regents Chair Malyne Hilburn of Chickasha. “USAO has positioned itself to move forward in significant ways. A solid faculty and good leadership have come together to make an institution making national headlines. It’s time for Oklahoma to get squarely behind it.”
The heart of this plan, said Feaver, is to capture greater statewide support for strengthening USAO’s nearly 100-year-old mission as Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college.
“Across America, other states are now joining a national trend toward the creation of public liberal arts colleges – as if it were a new idea,” Feaver told the State Regents. “Yet in Oklahoma, one college has served this unique role for almost a century. In fact, USAO not only holds the longest uninterrupted mission in the state -- besides the University of Oklahoma -- it is one of the oldest public liberal arts colleges in America.”
Understanding that trend, Huguenin said, is critical in Oklahoma higher education. “Public liberal arts colleges are not some sort of obsolescent holdover from the past; they are in fact a burgeoning trend in higher education and a sensible response to the rising tuition of small, private colleges,” Huguenin said. “In the last two decades, Missouri, Georgia and Massachusetts have seen this need. Now 25 states have one. If Oklahoma didn’t have an institution positioned to fill this need, it would probably have to create one.”
Tough times in a difficult economy in recent years have only strengthened USAO’s resolve to achieve excellence, Feaver said. Despite bruising budget cuts since 2001, USAO has continued to build on past successes.
“Over the last five years,” Huguenin explained, “graduation rates are up; freshman retention rates are up; the percentage of USAO freshmen in the top quarter of their high school class has risen significantly; and the average ACT has risen in recent years by almost a point. Even more, in the last ten years, the student body has changed dramatically towards a profile that better fits USAO’s mission as a residential liberal arts college. We are attracting more residential students and more traditionally aged students.”
But students are not the only believers in USAO’s growing reputation for quality, says Huguenin. “Private giving has increased significantly and the USAO Foundation has grown. In the past seven years, the endowment has increased from less than $2 million to more than $7 million. Over the past four years, we’ve averaged more than $900,000 annually in gifts of all kinds.”
“USAO's mission,” Feaver said, “making liberal arts and science education accessible and affordable to all citizens -- is being reinforced in unprecedented ways through innovative and entrepreneurial partnerships with business and private investment, generous alumni and public support, aggressive development strategies, a mission attractive to corporate and foundation giving, and proven leadership in the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. USAO's many recent successes provide a powerful foundation for our vision to establish a national reputation as a center for excellence in Oklahoma.”
Feaver praised Oklahoma’s community colleges, regional colleges and research flagships for serving their niches in Oklahoma. But USAO is different from all of them, he argued.
“Just as you distinguish and reinforce public centers of specialized excellence otherwise – the college of veterinary medicine, the college of medicine, the college of law – I am asking you to identify, endorse and reinforce a public center for specialized excellence devoted wholly to undergraduate study in the liberal arts and sciences,” Feaver said.
With no graduate programs, USAO has, for a century, focused its energies exclusively on the undergraduate classroom experience.
“Since 2001,” Feaver said, “USAO has been ranked as the No. 1 public, comprehensive baccalaureate college in the Western United States in U.S. News’s America’s Best Colleges. For three of those years, it was ranked in the second tier for its Carnegie classification and was placed on U.S. News’s list “Great Deals at Great schools,” one of only 200 schools in the nation recognized for offering a combination of academic quality and reasonable price.”
USAO’s Mission Enhancement Plan is a four-stage, 10-year strategy designed to strengthen academics, student life, recruiting and fundraising.
Central to the plan is an elevation of USAO’s admission requirements to a level at least equal to the highest existing standards of any state institution, Huguenin explained. This change would be phased in incrementally over five years and accompanied by a more aggressive focus on attracting students who meet the higher admission standards and whose goals and expectations fit USAO’s unique mission, curriculum and culture.
The plan outlines specific goals for 2010 and 2015. If successful, USAO will lower student-faculty ratio to 16:1, reach an average freshman ACT of 24 and increase freshman retention to 70 percent. Among the other long-term aims is a more efficient campus with a larger enrollment. The college will remain firm in its commitment to keeping a liberal arts and sciences education accessible and affordable for all citizens.
“USAO’s goal is to more fully realize its mission as a public liberal arts college and make itself into a quality peer of similar schools in other states,” Huguenin said.
Across America, only 37 other public liberal arts colleges exist, many of them created in the last 25 years.