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Trend 4 Subcommittee works to find
balance in educational access, cost
Fourth in a series
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Finding the right balance in providing access to Slippery Rock University, including a student population representative of the region and Pennsylvania, are among the list of topics under discussion by the Trend 4 Subcommittee working on development of the University's new Strategic Plan.
Headed by Eliott Baker, executive director of the Office of Academic Records, Summer School and Graduate Studies, the 20-member committee plans to have its White Paper Report and recommendations completed by the end of spring semester.
"While it will be important to discuss ways in which we can improve access - admission - to the University, our primary goal will be to suggest ways in which we can improve ways we support our students so they can succeed and eventually graduate," Baker said.
He said the subcommittee, one of five, would not be working to micromanage either the University's Admissions Office or the University Advancement division in reaching its conclusions. "We want to develop strategies that provide access to SRU from all economic levels, and we want to maintain affordable costs to students," Baker said.
The subcommittee's work is part of a master plan set in motion by SRU President Robert Smith who has called for the University to develop a new strategic plan that provides guidance for the University through the year 2025. The plan is being based, in part, on the "7 Revolutions" outlined by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The revolutions are being used as guideposts in developing the overall University plan.
When all reports are submitted, work to blend them into a single, comprehensive plan will be undertaken. The end result will be a long-term strategic plan for the University.
The project was launched by Smith at his fall semester Academic Assembly. Smith's charge to the Trend 4 Subcommittee noted, "Access to higher education is the principal mechanism for making American's unwritten social compact work: to provide genuine equality of opportunity. Public funding is always a concern in higher education. Federal financial aid has undergone two major changes: shifting overwhelmingly toward loans, rising from about half to about three-quarters of all federal aid creating a negative effect on those of low- and middle-income because they fear heavy debt to pay for a college education. State financing of higher education continues to lag behind costs demanding strategies for cost containment. Public funding changes are shifting the social compact to more dependence on the individual's ability to pay risking affordability for a large segment of the population's access to higher education. How do we prepare our students to cope with these trends?"
Baker said his subcommittee would examine such issues as improving degree attainment by first-generation, low-income students. "Another major issue will be the affordability of SRU and how scholarships, both need and non-need based factor into the issue," he said.
"We know we must maintain affordable costs to students. We will also have to look at the data, and possibly begin collection of new data, to fully understand the issues and find workable solutions. The average loan load of graduating students from SRU is $22,900, and we believe that is too much," Baker said. External funding sources will have to be found if SRU is to make a college degree affordable to low-income students, he said.
Baker said his subcommittee would also strive to make sure its final report is specific enough to be understood as it relates to the outlined strategies, yet general enough so individual offices and departments can feel part of the strategy. "We will also provide a 'to do list' recommending specific actions that members of the University can undertake to accomplish the strategies," he said.
"Topics such as what elements, both in and out of the classroom are factors that add value to student learning to become productive members of the workplace will also be on the table," Baker said.
The subcommittee is expected to create a number of research questions then organize into sub-groups to complete reports on the specific questions. Baker said data information from admissions, enrollment services, academic records, financial aid, institutional research, student accounts, retention services and other areas would be needed as the committee moves forward. "We will have to determine if we have the appropriate tools to help students succeed at earning an SRU degree or what new tools are needed,: he said.
The committee is also expected to review existing documents and reports, including "The High Costs of Higher Education," from the Pennsylvania Partnership for Children, "Pell Institute's Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students," and a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial titled "Higher Cost Education," among others.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.
Eliott Baker, chairperson
executive director of Academic
Records, Summer School and
associate provost, enrollment services
director, University Advancement
assistant to the president, President's
assistant vice preisdent, diversity and
executive staff assistant, University
associate professor, political science
coordinator, student room
professor, elementary education/early
interim director, Academic Services
W. C. Vance
director, undergraduate admissions
associate professor, nursing
associate professor, School of
director, Institute for Community,
Service-learning and Nonprofit
assistant director, University
director, Office of Grants and
director, Office of Financial Aid
assistant professor, special education