WCU readies for best-prepared class in history

As Western Carolina University gets ready to welcome the best prepared freshman class in its history, the university must focus attention in the coming year on aligning four separate yet related strategic activities so that it can continue to improve academic quality and serve the needs of the people of North Carolina.

Bardo_John_08That was the message delivered to WCU faculty and staff by Chancellor John W. Bardo during his annual Opening Assembly address Wednesday, Aug. 13.

Bardo (pictured) told the crowd gathered in the Fine and Performing Arts Center that the incoming freshman class has a record average SAT score of 1039. That represents a 17-point increase over last’s year’s average SAT score of 1022 and a 74-point rise since 1995, when the average test score was 965. The high school grade point average for the typical entering student is 3.53, up from 2.78 in 1995.

“We are seeing major improvements in the quality of the class,” Bardo said. “The change in our SAT score is statistically significant. Generally, a change of six points is considered to represent a change in the student population. We are in a very different position than we were in 1995, and we have by far the best entering class in the history of the university.”

The significant climb in the average SAT score is one of several quality indicators that show Western is on the right track, he said. Others include the creation of the Honors College, growth in graduate student enrollment, an increase in the number of state-recognized endowed professorships from zero in 1995 to 19 this year, and a rise in the total number of applications received from prospective students from 3,312 in 1995 to about 7,440 in 2008.

“Western today is not the same university it was in 1995, or even in 2001. Together, we have made great progress,” Bardo said, attributing the institution’s increasing quality to the hard work of its faculty and staff. “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world,” he said, quoting from George Washington Carver.

“We are about teaching, scholarship and service – the fundamental activities of any university. But we are doing them in uncommon ways,” Bardo said. “The path that we are on is very different than most other universities, and it is clear that we have an opportunity to strike out in a direction that could have far-reaching implications not just for us, but for our state and for higher education in general.”

He compared Western’s situation to climbing a mountain, with faculty and staff having collected the equipment and supplies, built the base camp and identified the guides in preparation for the big ascent. “As a university, our climb involves implementing four highly intertwined strands that together form a very strong rope that can take us to the top of the mountain,” Bardo said.

Those strands, which must be the focus of faculty and staff in the 2008-09 academic year, he said, are:

  • Quality Enhancement Plan – Western must begin to fully implement its QEP, a holistic approach that focuses on helping students integrate knowledge from different classes and co-curricular activities, and apply that knowledge in real-world settings. Bardo called upon academic leadership to develop a schedule so that all academic departments will have their own plans for the QEP in place by fall 2011.
  • Boyer Model – Western last year approved a new policy for faculty tenure, promotion and reappointment. Referred to as the “Boyer Model,” the approach rewards faculty for work beyond classroom teaching, traditional research and service, and for applying scholarly activities to help solve problems facing the region and state. Fully implementing the Boyer Model across all academic programs must be an institutional priority, Bardo said.
  • Stewards of Place – As part of University of North Carolina Tomorrow, a systemwide effort to identify the state’s most pressing needs and determine how universities can best meet those needs, Western has adopted the “Stewards of Place” model to be sure institutional activities are geared toward addressing core community issues. WCU must assure it is addressing community issues and meeting the expectations of UNC Tomorrow, Bardo said.
  • Millennial Initiative – Western needs to continue to develop its comprehensive economic development strategy, known as the “Millennial Initiative,” through improvements in its physical plant and new structures on both the existing campus and on acreage on the opposite side of N.C. Highway 107, he said.

If faculty and staff members find that many of the priorities for 2008-09 sounds familiar, that’s by design, Bardo said.

“This is the year when the overarching strategies we have been developing over the last several years begin to be implemented for real,” he said. “This is not a year to start large, new initiatives. It is a year to align our actions, organization and programs so that we can increase our academic quality, better serve the state and assure that the future of the university is sound.”

Bardo also called for a review of WCU’s liberal studies programs to be sure they fit with the requirements of the QEP and UNC Tomorrow, assigned more decision-making authority (including budget issues and faculty assignments) to the deans, and announced the formation of a University Leadership Council as part of a move to a structure “more typical of larger universities.”

The full text of the Opening Assembly address will be available from the Web site for the Office of the Chancellor.