Spring 2011 Convocation Speech

Chancellor Howard Cohen Chancellor Howard Cohen

Spring 2011 Convocation Address

Welcome back to Spring Semester 2011.

Spring is just around the corner, and spring also should bring us some clarification about our future.

  • We can expect that the Indiana legislature will provide us a biennial budget allocation. Governor Daniels has proposed an additional 3% cut in state appropriations—beyond the cut we took last year—but we are a long way from the end of the process.
  • If the state follows the recommendations of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), somewhat over 5% of our allocation will be based on “performance funding.” More concretely, some of our funding will depend upon our ability to support student progress and to produce more graduates. Once we have a state allocation, we will know the extent of Indiana’s commitment to “pay for performance.”
  • If all goes well, we should also know our campus allocation and our tuition rate sometime after the end of April—hopefully, before July 1.
  • Spring semester will also be the timeframe for (Purdue) President Cordova and the Board of Trustees to appoint a new chancellor for this campus.

At the moment, however, these are all unknowns.

As the campus prepares for these eventualities, it is worth taking a few minutes to answer the question: How are we doing so far?

Administrative transitions

Let’s start with administrative transitions. I understand that some among you are concerned about the fact that you will have several new administrators in the coming year. The campus will be replacing this chancellor, of course, as well as the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSA). Two searches for new academic deans also are on the campus’ plate.

I have no information about my replacement, having no part in the search. We do know who the search committee members are from the campus and community, and I believe the search is in excellent hands.

The search for a new VCSA is properly the responsibility of the next chancellor. Once the next chancellor is appointed, I will recommend a process for selecting an interim replacement.

The dean searches are, of course, the responsibility of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. I know he will be undertaking theses searches in the near future.

For those of you who are concerned, I am touched and grateful. What may feel uncomfortable to you, feels like a high compliment to me.

I don’t mean to make light of these concerns, but I want to remind you that Purdue Calumet’s successes, its direction, and its positioning for the future are all grounded in the strategic plans that we created together and that we follow rigorously. Those plans are the stable foundation that will smooth the path for our campus through these administrative changes.

Second, Purdue Calumet is a hospitable and a civil environment. You treated me warmly when I arrived, and you helped me transition into the university and the community. It is in the nature of this campus community to do that, and I am sure you will be welcoming to the next administrators. I am also sure that you will take the initiative, and that your efforts will be appreciated and reciprocated.

I have no doubt that you will find excellent leaders to fill these positions. There are many personable and talented administrators looking to become part of a great place like Purdue Calumet. I’m confident you will find one another.

On the institutional development front, we surely have made important progress over the past 10 years – progress we should all be proud of.

I would like to try to put this into perspective.

In comparison to our benchmark universities

At the most general level, we can compare ourselves to a benchmark set of public, regional universities of similar size and program array. This is the set of universities (there are 10 of them) we use as benchmark institutions in our strategic plan, and the set we use as a comparison group for our Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System feedback report – the standardized report required of all colleges and universities.


  • We are more diverse substantially than our comparison schools in ethnicity (17% vs. 10% Black; 14% vs. 4% Hispanic). With regard to gender, our student body is somewhat more “male” (45% vs. 41%).
  • We have fewer students overall than the median in our comparison group with a greater proportion of part-time students.
  • We award many fewer bachelor’s degrees each year. (843 vs. 1808)
  • But, most striking, our comparison schools do not award Associate degrees. (160 vs. 0)
  • At Purdue Calumet, the average net price of attendance is lower ($7,893 vs. $11,245) and financial aid is higher ($6,226 vs. $5,441)
  • Our graduation rate is significantly lower (29% vs. 46%), as is our full-time student retention rate (69% vs. 75%)
  • Our “transfer out” rate is significantly higher (36% v. 22%). Higher is not better for the calculation of graduation rate.
  • On the resource side, our tuition is a bit higher as a percentage of our revenue; our state appropriation is a bit lower.
  • The amount we spend on instruction per student, however, is just about the same ($6,227 v. $6,253).

Attention to degree completion

I think it means we are doing a pretty good job with the resources we have, with the very visible exception of the number of graduates we produce. Even allowing for the fact that we have more part-time students, more Associate degree students, and more transfers out, we must give more attention to helping our students finish their degrees. We must do this both because it is the right thing to do for students who have invested so much but have not yet realized their goal, and because our funding partly depends on it.

Our challenge is this: Try to answer these questions for your own program: Do we have seniors who are not completing their degrees? Why? What might we do (that we are not already doing) to help them graduate?

Degree completion is a state and a national goal.

If our country is to increase the percentage of young adults with post-secondary degrees—what the Lumina Foundation calls “the big goal”—to 60% by 2025, we will need to graduate students who might otherwise be left on the side of the road.

Purdue Calumet is well positioned to make a difference in degree completion. More than 2/3 of our students represent the first generation in their families to go to college. These are the students who might not attain degrees, but for universities like ours.

How can Purdue Calumet do its part to bring our students into the ranks of college graduates?

I’m sure there is not a single answer to this question, but I know you have the creativity to take it on. When we are successful, it will add to our growing reputation.

National Survey of Student Engagement responses

We have some reason to believe we are making progress.

Over the past several years we have participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

NSSE asks students descriptive questions about their learning experience under 5 headings:

  • Academic Challenge,
  • Active Learning,
  • Student/Faculty Interaction,
  • Enriching Educational Experiences, and
  • Supportive Campus Environment.

The responses by our seniors and first-year students are compared to those of students from three groups:

  1. other urban universities,
  2. other regional master’s granting universities, and
  3. all colleges and universities that participate in the survey.

In a few areas we stand out:

Among freshmen responders

82% positively rated their relationships with other students.

70% say they asked a question or contributed to class discussion

57% had serious conversations with students of another race or ethnicity.

Among senior responders

85% said the institution emphasizes studying and academic work

84% positively rated their relationships with faculty members

71% said the institution provides substantial support for academic success.

These percentages were all higher than all three of our comparison groups.
With the caveat that the number of responses was not large, the data at least suggest that our seniors, particularly, recognize our efforts to raise the academic standing of our campus.

I believe our effort to reposition Purdue Calumet as a full-service, regional university is being recognized by our students. It is certainly being recognized in our community.

Northwest Indiana needs Purdue Calumet to carry the flag for quality.

If our region is to prosper, it will be because we are producing highly accomplished graduates who can attract employers with better jobs, services that enrich our lives, and a level of art and culture that follows a more educated population.

While there is much good news and progress to report, the ICHE has cut to the chase.

Performance-based funding

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s biennial budget proposal for higher education deducts 5% of the state appropriation (based on last year’s reduced allocation) across the board and returns it on the basis of performance.

These are the criteria:

    • Low Income Degree Attainment Change – 15%
    • On-Time Degree Attainment Change – 15%
    • Change in Overall Degree Attainment – 30%
    • Successful Completion of Credit Hours – 18.7%
    • Dual Credit Successful Completion of Credit Hours – 5.5%
    • Early College Successful Completion of Credit Hours – 0.8%

Regional campuses do not participate in the Research Incentive. The weightiest criteria are related to degree attainment.

Degree attainment is a better measure for us than graduation rate, and one we should be able to improve. Completion of credit hours is also in our hands. Where we were previously funded for putting a student in a seat, we are now differentially funded for helping the student stay in that seat and doing what is required to achieve a passing grade.

Based on these criteria, if the ICHE budget were enacted as it stands, Purdue Calumet would receive an allocation of state funds about $100,000 lower than our “across the board” contribution. In other words, we are performing at almost average.

In order to be better than average, we need to pay more attention to things that should matter to us: Graduating our students and helping our students succeed in their courses.

Neither of these goals requires that we lower our standards or expect less from our students. I am confident that our faculty knows how to maintain standards as we improve student persistence and retention – and would not dream of doing otherwise.

And, of course, this is not new to us. In the area of performance, our campus strategic goals are well aligned with the goals of ICHE and the state.

Our students, as we all know very well, stand outside the norm of the full-time, residential, financially supported, “four years and out” traditional college attendee of another time and place.

Accommodating without compromising

Nevertheless, our students come to us with the expectation of persisting to a college degree. It is in their interest and ours that we find ways to accommodate their circumstances without compromising the quality of their education.

That is our challenge, and it is fair to say we are making progress.

In other words: so far, so good.

We know what remains to be done; now is the time to figure out how to do it.