Becoming What We Are—Part V

Remarks to the Minnesota State University Graduate Faculty, 8/21/01

Tony Filipovitch, Dean


Mitakuye oyasin:  My friends and relations….


As a kid, I grew up with Bill Mauldin’s “Willy and Joe” cartoons (for the youngsters in the crowd, Willy & Joe were the battle-weary veterans of every European campaign in World War II).  I was always struck by one particular cartoon in which Willy and Joe are standing on a hilltop overlooking the bay at Anzio, a shattered panzer tank next to them.  Willy is pointing back toward the beach, saying “My God!  Here they wuz an’ there we wuz.”  Well, it’s going on five years, and here we are, and it’s good to remember where we wuz. We need to look back from time to time, if only to rally our energy to push still further on.


When I first addressed you in the Fall of 1997, we had about 1700 graduate majors; we are down (as of last Fall) to about 1300—a 22% decline.  Most of that decline coincides with the suspension (and eventual closing) of our MBA degree and with the conversion to semesters.  In fact, enrollments showed a slight increase last Fall.  Over this same period, most of the comprehensive universities in the Upper Midwest also reported a decline; St. Cloud State experienced a 15% decline (comparable to our rate of decline if the MBA were factored out).  The decline has not been uniform—Education, Arts & Humanities, and Science & Engineering all declined about 22%; Social and Behavioral Sciences has increased the past few years and is down only 8% for the period; and Allied Health & Nursing gained 23%.  Off-campus graduate enrollments, which declined over most of the ‘90s, stabilized in 1998 and increased 5% last year. 


These numbers are not good, but we have already taken some significant steps toward making `changes.  Educational Leadership has been developing a cohort-based approach for off-campus delivery of a full graduate program.  We have re-thought some of our graduate programs, like the MS in Talent Development and Gifted Education, the MS in Applied Anthropology, and the 5-year combined undergraduate/graduate degree program in Engineering.  We have added 7 new graduate Certificate programs.  We have increased graduate student compensation, in several stages, until this year a graduate assistantship is at the level set by our Financial Aid Office as meeting the full financial need of a graduate student.  We have updated the Graduate Office website to make it a more welcoming portal for prospective students, and initiated a web-based application process (including e-mail handling of thousands of overseas inquiries).  And we have the results of a marketing survey of our prospective students performed by Stamats, Inc., to help us focus our recruiting messages more clearly.


Not all of my work has been on campus.  For the last several years, I have been helping MnSCU explore the role of doctoral education in a comprehensive university.  We must find a way to bring applied doctoral education to the full-time employed, part-time students who are the leaders of our rural economies. Legislation was introduced this Spring, but it did not come to a hearing.  I will continue to press the issue.  Perhaps we will find a way to collaborate with other doctoral-granting institutions, perhaps we will convince the Legislature that it is important to create local capacity; but nothing is more certainly written than that our regions will be served.


In research and creative activity, it is difficult to make quantitative comparisons to four years ago—we have tightened up our definitions and conform to the reporting standards used at the major research universities.  But we have been making giant strides in developing our ability to provide own-source revenues for our activities.  A year ago we had received 44 new grant and contract awards for $1.9 million.  Through the end of July this year so far, we have received 37 awards for $2.1 million.  In addition, we have revised the Research Office procedure manual and placed it on the Web.  We have streamlined the IRB process while initiating internal (and soon external) assessment and quality control measures (and have also placed the IRB manual on the Web).   We instituted a policy for distributing funds to researchers and their departments (as well as to the Library, the Research Office and other administrative offices) based on the indirect costs recovered from their grants.   And the Research Office has been involved with MnSCU as it establishes a policy for dealing with intellectual property (which includes copyright, but also patents and technology transfer).  Intellectual property and technology transfer promises to be a major issue in the coming years—not only as a source of conflict (who owns the rights to what?), but also as a potentially significant source of funding.


Besides the growth (in numbers, in dollars, and in quality) of grants and contracts, the Research Office has served as staff for a faculty task force on undergraduate research.  The project began four years ago from a team of faculty who attended the Council on Undergraduate Research’s workshop on establishing a research conference. It has grown to the point that this year’s conference (the third annual) featured a keynote speaker, web publication of conference presentations, an e-journal, and funding to provide limited support to students for summer research and for presenting their results at the national conference.


In our extension work, off-campus graduate enrollments have fallen 14% since Fall, 1997 (from 473 to 406).  On the other hand, last Fall showed a 5% increase and this Fall should show further increases as some of the innovations of the College of Education take hold.  As our graduate student profile continues to change, we should be seeing increased demand for programs which serve the full-time employed, part-time student—cohort delivery of programs, for-credit certificate programs, continuing education programs, and customized training.


So, if that is where we have been, what is the road ahead?


Heed the advice of the Delphic oracle—“Know thyself!”  (perhaps along with Socrates’ wry addition—“…and nothing too well!”).  Clearly understand your niche, and bring everything you do back to that.  As a comprehensive university, there is no single “niche” that describes all of us (unless you want to consider that our niche)—some of us make it a point to attract students who intend to go on to a PhD; others attract students because of the program’s reputation for preparing alumni who are “good to go” in the job market the day they graduate (sometimes sooner—which can lead to problems with finishing the final project).  Some programs provide a broad overview of a field of inquiry, others focus on one or two specialties where they are better than anyone else.  Some of our programs focus on a southern Minnesota market, some on the Upper Midwest, some on a national market.  While it is a strength of our institution that we offer so much for so many, when it gets down to the program it is more important to offer what each student needs—which means focusing.


Second, recall Lampedusa’s line, “If we want things to stay as they are, then things will have to change.” The environment in which we work is changing around us; if we wish to stay in balance we will have to change as well.  The “field of dreams” approach to recruiting will no longer work, because graduate education will not be the “royal road” to a good job that it has been.  For most of history, advanced education was for the very few who were drawn to it for its own sake.  After World War II, first with the GI Bill and then with other forms of aid, children of the working classes could prepare for a professional career with a graduate degree.  But now a number of forces—the internet, the demographic shift, the micro-computerization of almost everything to name a few—have come together to create a demand for “just-in-time” learning and hiring based on experience rather than credentials.  Sixteen-year-olds are starting their own consulting businesses doing webwork, and being hired as corporate webmasters by the time they are 19.  We are losing our (short-lived) monopoly on workplace credentialing as other elements of the economy spot a good market and figure out how to compete for a piece of it.  And employers are finding that credentials are a luxury when there are too few workers to fill the jobs needed for an expanding economy.  In the 21st Century we will have to actively market the worth of our education before students will give their time to it.  But if we figure out how to do this, we will find our market expanding exponentially as society embraces the model of lifelong learning.


My office has put together several initiatives to provide you with better and more timely data to help you as you recruit students.  Last year we began production of a weekly pipeline report of applicants containing contact information and application status.  Last Spring we initiated a graduate advisor report which will be produced each semester.  We have been gathering baseline data for a Fall enrollment projection report—beginning next May, the departments will be receiving current registration numbers for the coming Fall and a comparison with the previous year’s numbers.  We plan to initiate this Fall a bi-weekly “applications-to-date” report which will also provide comparisons with the previous year.  Finally, this Fall we will begin a GIS project with Geography to provide geographic data by department on applicants, admissions, and enrollments.


As I was working on these comments, one of my editors suggested that I provide some motivation for faculty to recruit for their graduate programs.  I thought that simple self-preservation was a good enough reason, but in reply my friend pointed out that a faculty member could teach 50 general education students a lot more easily than 20 graduate students—and the University would make more money, too.  That is when I realized the question was not a trivial one.  One of the reasons we recruit for our graduate programs is to attract a better quality of student in our undergraduate programs—they come here to work alongside our graduate students.  Another is to obtain support and stimulation for our scholarly activity.  Another is for our own academic development.  But most of all, I think, it is because good graduate education is one of our ways of joining with the Athenians in their oath to “transmit this place not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was given to us.”


Finally, I wish to take a moment of personal privilege.  When I interviewed for the position of Graduate Dean, Dr. Boubel and I agreed that I would give the position five years.  I have enjoyed the work, and it always gives me goosebumps to say at each graduation, “…on behalf of the graduate faculty, it is my privilege to recommend….”  Thank you for giving me that privilege. Like Willy and Joe, we have accomplished a lot together in these years, even if there is a lot that remains to be done.  But I had not anticipated how much I would miss teaching.  So I have asked the Vice President, and she has agreed, that I will return to the faculty after the end of this academic year.  There are some projects I wish to complete, and I wanted to insure time for an orderly transition.  And then I will return to my students, who were my motivation for coming to this position in the first place.  In the words of T.S. Eliot from The Four Quartets:

 “We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”