Building on our experience with the 2004 Quality Enhancement Plan, we involved many constituencies within the institution from the onset of the planning. We were determined not to approach the current QEP as a problem to be solved and forgotten, but as an opportunity to improve student learning across a wide spectrum of curricula, programs and support systems.
Our last QEP was directed at improving undergraduate student engagement, particularly in the first year, and resulted in wide changes to both the infrastructure of the university and the entire first-year learning experience. The primary outcomes of that process were higher first-year retention as well as higher levels of student academic performance in the first year. Another primary accomplishment of the 2004 QEP was the development and implementation of a three-tiered core curriculum within the university’s general education requirements. The first tier (Focused Inquiry) incorporates a yearlong course, taught in small seminar-style classes, that emphasizes seven skill areas (oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, information fluency, quantitative literacy and an understanding of ethical and civic responsibilities). The second tier includes courses in three content areas (the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities) that re-emphasize three of the core seven skill areas. The culmination of the core, Tier III, is a capstone experience in each major.
The first tier of the core has been fully implemented with the formation of the University College, which opened its doors in the fall of 2006. The UC houses universitywide programs and resources that help to enhance students’ undergraduate experiences, especially during the critical first year. Through academic advising, tutoring, writing assistance, group study sessions, orientation programs and courses introducing students to the demands of a university education, the UC provides opportunities for VCU students to achieve greater levels of academic success. After instituting this intensive first-year experience, VCU’s first-year retention rate rose from 83 percent to 87 percent over a five-year period; however, that progress was not matched in second- and third-year retention rates, which stand currently at 74.6 percent and 69.6 percent, respectively. There is considerable concern over the lagging second- and third-year retention rates, particularly a third-year rate that is below 70 percent. These lower retention rates indicated that the transformation realized in essential components of the first-year experience, particularly in the cohort-based Focused Inquiry classes, did not extend into the next stages of undergraduates’ academic careers. It was evident that we should look again at the core curriculum, particularly the second tier of general education, in which students transition into work within various disciplines and their forms of inquiry. At the same time, we recognized that the systems approach to the first-year experience taken in the 2004 QEP indicated that a similarly inclusive approach should be pursued in this QEP, with attention to the graduate- and first-professional levels as well.
This information was presented at a senior leadership retreat (VCU’s vice presidents, deans and vice provosts) in the summer of 2012. (See Appendix I for a summary of the presentation). The intent of that presentation was to elicit suggestions from university leaders regarding how we might frame our QEP both from an institutional perspective (retention and graduation rates) as well as from the perspective of individual learners and their learning goals. The group, which included 40 participants, convened in smaller discussion groups charged to develop suggestions for defining student success broadly as well as recommending specific student success metrics. This group of university leaders endorsed a focus on student success in the next QEP and emphasized that student success was vital to all levels of students, including first-professional and graduate students.
The format at this retreat was repeated throughout the fall with other groups that gave us feedback on what student success meant to them as well as how student success might be improved throughout the university. These groups included the Faculty Senate as well as the University Council and the student government associations for VCU’s Monroe Park and MCV campuses. (See Appendix II for the list of stakeholders and dates of meetings.)
In the fall of 2012, the provost convened a meeting of vice provosts and their direct reports to discuss university needs and proposed ideas for a QEP topic. Additionally, VCU’s QEP director at that time, Joseph Marolla, Ph.D., the vice provost for instruction and student success at VCU, made a similar presentation to the Council of Deans and again opened the discussion of how we might improve student success. In both meetings, the larger groups broke into smaller groups and worked on defining student success and proposing platforms for student success, as well as new and creative ways to encourage student success. (See Appendix III for a summary of notes from each work group session.)
After distilling all the reports from the above groups, the QEP director presented data on identified challenges to improving retention and graduation rates to the Alumni Council in early February 2013 and to the two student government associations at one meeting in late February. (See Appendix IV for the student meeting notes.)
On Feb. 28, 2013, the director convened the first meeting of the QEP Steering Committee. This group included faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni and retired faculty, as well as community representatives. The charge for this group was to consider what constituted student success from both an institutional and student-learning perspective and to recommend how we should develop a full QEP proposal. The group met four times throughout March 2013 and eventually adopted a working definition of student success as well as four pillars that could support a student success initiative. (See Appendix V for the minutes and other notes from the Steering Committee meetings.) During this time, the provost appointed Associate Professor Jeff South to serve as a co-director for the QEP.
Throughout April and May, the Steering Committee was divided into pillar work groups to advance proposed strategies and actions in each of the four pillars: general education with a focus on tiers II and III in the core curriculum, online learning, academic advising and career planning. The work groups were challenged to develop action plans that included both processes and learning outcomes for each area. More than 40 faculty members, staff and students were involved in these work groups. On May 10, the QEP co-directors presented a progress report to the VCU Board of Visitors. The board approved the topic of improving student success as the focus of the next QEP.
During the summer of 2013, the QEP co-directors at that time, Marolla and South, integrated the suggestions that had been made by the four work groups into a single draft document. In August 2013, VCU appointed a new vice provost for learning innovation and student success, Gardner Campbell, Ph.D., as Marolla announced his retirement effective Nov. 1, 2013. Since the implementation of the next QEP will be co-directed by the new vice provost for learning innovation and student success, the provost worked with new members of the academic affairs administrative team to provide opportunities for incorporating new perspectives on student success, resulting in a further revision and refinement of the draft QEP document.
This draft document was circulated among members of the QEP Steering Committee and the work groups in fall 2013. Additionally, open hearings were conducted to give faculty, students and other members of the VCU community the opportunity to react to the various components in the proposed QEP. Feedback was obtained from several entities, including the Faculty Senate and the student government associations. Stakeholders were also given the opportunity to respond anonymously via an online survey.
Changes were made in response to this feedback: The pillars were renamed to reflect concepts and actions more vigorously; elements in the pillars as well as supporting programs were introduced or modified; connections among the pillars were strengthened. Two of the most important pieces of feedback were that the pillars ran the risk of becoming silos and that the theme of student success ran the risk of being too much about institutional metrics and not enough about learning outcomes. Accordingly, the QEP moved to its current focus on learning that matters within a culture of generalizable education, with “generalizable education” defined as “an education that has substantial and lasting impact beyond any particular course, major or degree.” The VCU focus aims to empower students, faculty and staff to discover and create connections among seemingly disparate or unrelated aspects of their learning, and thus to bring the entire university into a stronger, more dynamic and more influential conversation about its mission and future direction. In that respect, as in others, this QEP is very strongly aligned with the university’s strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, as well as many of the identified university-level initiatives that specify bold commitments to academic excellence and intellectual leadership for all members of this community. The QEP draft was presented to the president’s cabinet and was approved for placement of the draft QEP on our SACSCOC Reaffirmation institutional website (sacs.vcu.edu). The final document was edited and revised during the remainder of the fall 2013 semester and submitted to SACSCOC in mid-January 2014.
The institution has developed an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that includes an institutional process for identifying key issues emerging from institutional assessment and focuses on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution.
The institution has developed a Quality Enhancement Plan that (1) demonstrates institutional capability for the initiation, implementation, and completion of the QEP; (2) includes broad-based involvement of institutional constituencies in the development and pro posed implementation of the QEP; and (3) identifies goals and a plan to assess their achievement.