Friday, October 31, 2008

Regents Strategic Plan Needs Metrics

October 31, 2008, 7:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m.

Measuring Education's Value to Iowa

Examples of related blog entries:

Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007.

Nicholas Johnson, "Of Mission and Metrics: Iowa Universities Presidents' 'Performance Goals,'" October 24, 2008

If you're familiar with the two blog entries linked immediately above you can understand why I would be pleased to see the Regents turning their attention to "strategic planning." There are excerpts from this morning's stories below to fill you in on the details.

My comments and caveats would include the following:

o Under the standards of many gurus of governance this should be the Regents' full time job, not something for a couple days of brainstorming (October 30, and February 2). Much of what the Regents currently do involves a level of administrative micromanaging that conflicts with most governance models, is counterproductive, can usually be better done by the universities' presidents (or those to whom they've delegated the tasks), takes time away from what the Regents ought to be doing, with the result that both Regents and presidents are left with little or no guidance as to measurable goals.

o The current Board of Regents includes individuals with an impressive array of the education, skills and experience necessary to do their job. They should do it; without the use of and reliance upon "consultants." (Moreover, of lesser significance but worth noting, at least by my standards $15,000 for a couple days consulting is pretty generous.) This is hard work. But it shouldn't be -- actually it cannot be -- "delegated" to staff or consultants.

o If individual Regents would like a little outside guidance, knowledge of what other universities (and other institutions) are doing, what are thought to be "best practices" in institutional governance, the best way to get it is through self-education; work at it; internalize the skills. It's all out there on the Internet (not incidentally, for free). Want an analogy? Law students use "outlines" of courses. Those who buy and read commercial outlines are sometimes able to pass an exam (barely), but retain little. Those who make their own outlines from the book and class discussion not only do better on exams, they internalize the information, skills and analytical abilities that they continue to draw upon throughout their professional careers. Regents need to do the equivalent of making their own, individual outlines regarding the analytical skills and process necessary to the task of mission/strategic planning/goal setting.

o Strategic planning basics: metrics, metrics, metrics. Any institution needs some general notion of what it's about. But many institutions, whether school boards or universities, never get beyond such generalized "mission statements" and "strategic planning." That's been my primary complaint about past University of Iowa "strategic plans" (and more recently the Regents university presidents' "performance goals," see "Of Mission and Metrics," linked above). If the plan is to be actually used, if it is to have a meaningful impact on anything (rather than be merely printed, shelved, filed, and stuffed into a Web site somewhere), it needs to have some (a) measurable goals, with (b) mileposts of accomplishment, (c) that are in fact regularly assessed and measured according to a, say, monthly or quarterly schedule, (d) reported on publicly with total transparency, and (e) modified as appropriate. (Not incidentally, these then double as the bases for university presidents' "performance bonuses.") You get what you measure;" measure nothing, you'll get nothing. We've not been measuring much.

o Focus. I'm not at all troubled that the Regents' first effort, according to today's press reports, below, was a pretty scatter-shot exploration of a wide variety of possibilities. That's part of the process. That's constructive. But what it does illustrate is that (a) this is a long process requiring much more than a couple of days' effort. Indeed, as I indicated above, properly conceived this is the Regents' full time job, something that should be the first item on every agenda. And (b) that at the end of this long process there comes to be a need, ultimately, to focus on a handful of measurable, attainable goals (what John Carver calls "ends policies").

o Big picture. Regent Michael Gartner threw out the idea of lengthening the K-12 school year. Many educators think he's right about that; others point out the complexities. Our school schedule is still being dictated by the needs of 19th Century farmers to have their kids in the fields, working on the farms, during the summer months. Few of our K-12 students have those responsibilities today ("more's the pity," some of my generation may think). One of the reasons I ran for, and served on, the local school board was because I finally came to the conclusion that we could not do, as law professors, what should have been done to improve writing skills during the K-12 years.

My point? If you're really interested in the role of education in Iowa, its impact on anything (take your pick), it will be most productive to see higher education as but a small part of the overall effort, from pre-natal care for pregnant mothers-to-be, early childhood health care and pre-school education, K-12, community colleges -- as well as other institutions' efforts at training and education -- and not just "higher education." That's what, I'd guess, Regent Gartner was trying to suggest.

Note in this connection that the Iowa Code already urges as much: "The board [of Regents] shall: . . . Explore . . . the need for coordination between school districts, area education agencies, state board of regents institutions, and community colleges for purposes of delivery of courses . . .." Iowa Code, Sec. 262.9 (26).

o "The price of everything and the value of nothing." I don't deny that "productivity of the faculty and the cost effectiveness of academic programs" might be both measured and improved, and that "helping Iowa with economic development [and] job creation" have a role to play in a university's mission. After all, I'm the one calling for metrics. Richard Florida talks about the value of a "creative class" to economic growth (and what it takes for a community to attract such people), something directly related to education. But there are other than economic benefits for the individual and the community of a quality education, "lifelong learning," individuals' curiosity, appreciation of the arts, awareness of history, geography, other cultures, science, involvement in the passions of one's time, that are central (I believe) to a university's mission even though less capable of being measured. I would hope that this enormous value, and purpose of education, would not be lost in the rush to put a dollar value on everything done by a university.

Note in this connection that the Iowa Code provides that "The university of Iowa ['s] . . . object shall be to provide the best and most efficient means of imparting to men and women, upon equal terms, a liberal education and thorough knowledge of the different branches of literature and the arts and sciences, with their varied applications. It shall include [a college] of liberal arts . . .." Iowa Code, Sec. 263.1.

o Do we have "public universities"? Do we want them? With a mere $750 million of the universities' $4 billion -- 18+% -- coming from the state, there's some question whether the people and legislature of Iowa even have, let alone want, a "state university." Regent Gartner says even this modest "level of state support is not sustainable."

The average number of years of education thought basic for most citizens, and paid for with public funds (because of its benefit to the entire community and nation), has extended over time from third grade, to sixth grade, to eighth grade, to the full K-12 "high school diploma." Wouldn't you have to agree that if K-12 was necessary, say, 50 years ago, that K-16 (i.e., a four-year college education) would be its equivalent today? If so, what is the rationale for stopping the community benefit from the public funding of public education at K-12?

Initially state universities were created to provide free or radically reduced-cost education*; now they charge more in tuition than our nation's most expensive private colleges charged not that many years ago. Might the Regents and presidents at least explore the implications of a complete split, a candid recognition that these universities have become, in fact regardless of name, "private universities"? If that's a feasible idea, perhaps the State could then provide more adequate funding for the community college system, putting on it the primary responsibility for liberal arts education (along with its associate degree programs), leaving the newly-private universities to focus on graduate and professional education and advanced research.
* The 1845 law establishing what became the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents (a) was expressly subject to revision and has of course been revised over the years, (b) uses the word "tuition" (though without specifying any amount, nor authorizing the Regents to collect it), and (c) does not expressly provide for "free tuition." However, it does speak in terms of the University being "equally accessible" to all, students being "freely admitted," and authorizes the Regents to "admit gratuitously."

"An Act to Incorporate the University of Iowa" of 1845 provides:

"Section 1. Be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, That a Seminary of Learning shall be, and the same is, hereby, established in Iowa City or vicinity thereof to be known by the name and style of the 'Iowa City University;' which shall be founded and maintained forever on the most liberal principles, being equally accessible to students of all religious denominations who shall be freely admitted to equal advantages and privileges of education . . ..

"Sec. 7. That the Regents shall have authority whenever in their opinion the funds of the Institution may justify the measure, to admit gratuitously, in whole or in part, as the respective case may require, such person or persons as they may think proper to enjoy the benefits of tuition in said University."

Laws of Iowa, Passed at the Extra Session of The Legislative Assembly Which Commenced on the 17th Day of June, 1844, Also, The Laws Of The Regular Session, Which Commenced on the 5th Day of May, 1845 (Iowa City: Williams & Palmer, 1845).Chapter 41, University of Iowa City, p. 61.

However, the Act of February 25, 1847, often referred to as the Act creating the University of Iowa ("There shall be established at Iowa City, the present seat of government of the state of Iowa, an institution to be called the 'State University of Iowa,' . . ."), does expressly provide (with regard to education of future "common schools" teachers), "That the grants . . . herein made are upon the express condition that the said university shall . . . commence and continue the instruction -- free of charge -- of fifty students annually, in the theory and practice of teaching, as well as in such branches of learning as shall be deemed best calculated for the preparation of said students for the business of common school teaching." Acts and Resolutions Passed at the First Session of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa Which Convened at Iowa City, on the Thirtieth Day of Novembeer, A.D. 1846 (Iowa City: A. H. Palmer, 1847), Chapter 125, Secs. 1, 7, p. 156 (February 25, 1847), in Laws of Iowa, First to Fourth General Assembly, 1846-1913, Reprint 1913.

Here are some stories reporting on the Regents' efforts:

Brian Morelli, "Gartner suggests lengthening the K-12 school year," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 31, 2008, p. A1 ("System-wide, the regents are a $4 billion enterprise, Regent President David Miles said, noting that is two-thirds the size of the entire state budget of Iowa, which is about $6 billion. 'We are an enterprise of scope, scale and significance that if we set our direction, we should be able to make a difference,' Miles said. . . .

The conversation included access for Iowa students; managing budgets, state appropriations and tuition; helping Iowa with economic development, job creation and attracting people as the population ages; improving diversity; increasing competition from overseas; and improving the quality of education, among others. One of the areas of focus was productivity of the faculty and the cost effectiveness of academic programs, and putting research into practice. . . .

Regent Michael Gartner discussed increasing the K-12 school year by 30 days as a way Iowa could invest in education and use it as an economic development tool. 'If we could say, "Move your company to Iowa, and when your employees' children graduate from high school, they will be a year smarter than if they were in Illinois or Kansas or Ohio," that would be awfully powerful,' the Des Moines businessman said. . . .

Another topic was the declining level of state dollars -- about $750 million this past year -- as a proportion of the regents' overall budget. 'The level of state support is not sustainable,' Gartner said.").

Diane Heldt, "Regents Want Goals with State Focus," The Gazette, October 31, 2008, p. B4 ("[Dennis] Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said he sees four areas the regents should focus on . . . closing the achievement gap . . . ; higher education's role . . . in economic development . . .; providing a trained work force . . .; keeping higher education affordable. . . . [W]hat are the societal needs in Iowa . . ..").

Erin Jordan, "Regents see population-tuition link," Des Moines Register, October 31, 2008 ("Iowa's state universities may have the potential to reverse the state's declining population trends, several members of the Iowa Board of Regents said. The about-face could be made by charging nonresidents the same tuition as residents or recruiting more international students, suggested regents and university leaders at a strategic planning brainstorming session Thursday.").

Amanda McClure, "Regents See Need for Diversity; Bringing People to the State on the Forefront of the State Board of Regents' Strategy," The Daily Iowan, October 31, 2008, p. A1.

Amanda McClure, "Regents Want to Burnish Iowa's Rep," The Daily Iowan, October 31, 2008, p. A4.

Other university news:

Brian Morelli, "Regents Turn to AG on Stolar Note Request," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 31, 2008, p. A5 ("The Iowa state Board of Regents is backing off statements that it intends to release notes from interviews conducted during an investigation of the University of Iowa's handling of a sexual assault case. Regent President David Miles said Thursday that the regents have turned the Stolar Partnership notes over to the Iowa Attorney General's Office and are waiting for direction.").

Erin Jordan, "U of I Hospitals to cut $24.8 million to meet budget," Des Moines Register, October 29, 2008

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