Chapter Nine: 1975—1976
“About 40 percent of UW-Green Bay's new freshmen do not return for a second year. About 70 percent of UW-Green Bay's new freshmen probably will not attain a degree at UW-Green Bay. The attrition rates ... appear to be substantially higher than those for institutions similar to UW-Green Bay. ... The most frequently cited reasons for dropping out relate to lack of programs consistent with the students' educational goals and lack of ‘campus spirit.’”
From Summary of Major Findings of “Retention at UW-Green Bay,” a January 1976 report by Thomas Hogan, director, Educational Testing Center
Hogan prepared his report as one of a series of self studies directed toward modifying and strengthening the University's academic programs. The first part of the document traced the progress through seven semesters of students who had entered UW-Green Bay as new freshmen in the fall of 1972, or to the beginning of the students' senior year in a normal four-year program. Other sub-sections focused on the retention of 1974-75 freshman and sophomore transfers and analyzed the evidence of “holding power” in the graduating classes of 1974 and 1975. A committee of faculty, staff and students that reviewed the document summarized its discussions in the second half of the report, “Implications for University Program Development.”
Most students who withdrew from UW-Green Bay did so by the end of the sophomore year, the study revealed, although losses continued through the senior year. About half of those who left after one year said they planned to pursue a degree elsewhere. The majority expected to enroll at another four-year college.
The information was presented in February to the Faculty Senate. It came as no surprise to Gerald Olson, dean of students. Two months earlier, reporting to senior administrators on the wide-ranging efforts of his admissions staff, Olson wrote: “Retention of students needs a careful and complete review on a name by name basis. I suggest we have a real problem of student attrition at UW-Green Bay.”
The losses of enrolled students were particularly frustrating in the face of the apparent success of Olson's multi-faceted program to attract new students.
The admissions staff was pursuing prospects by almost every conceivable means: visits to high schools and two-year colleges inside and outside the state; recruitment trips abroad; special mailings to National Merit scholars, ex-offenders and veterans; on-campus programs for counselors as well as students; a veritable blizzard of publications, many targeted to specific prospect groups, others created to maintain the interest of permitted students and their parents; advertising in 51 national education guides and directories.
By December 1975 Olson could report that applications for the following fall had increased by 68 percent overall and 74 percent for new freshmen. And for the fourth straight year, admissions office follow-up efforts had reduced the numbers of “no-shows,” at registration time, among students who had received permits to register. (“We seem to do well with retaining permitted students—at least into the freshman year,” Olson commented wryly.)
Where Olson had suggested, the 20-member review panel roared.
Reacting with words like “alarming” and “intolerable,” the reviewers insisted that increasing the retention of students should be a matter of highest priority for faculty and staff.
“While avoiding precipitous action and the urge to turn up a scapegoat or two,” they wrote, “serious questions must be raised about some underlying structures and assumptions at UW-Green Bay as well as about numerous 'cosmetic' features of the institution.”
The most frequently cited reason for leaving UW-Green Bay—lack of programs students want—may also keep students from coming to the campus in the first place, they argued. The problem appeared to be “partly one of terminology, but also partly substantive,” the reviewers concluded:
“UW-Green Bay terminology has long been a sore point. The terminology now seems to serve no useful purpose. And it seems time to stop bemoaning the matter and do something about it.” To facilitate communication with both present and prospective students, the panel urged the use of “customarily descriptive terms” for academic programs.
In the substantive sphere, the panel questioned the “possibly overzealous application” of some parts of the special mission to academic programs. “Not all programs will fit a single mold.... To force them to do so creates rigidity in the name of flexibility and sameness under the guise of innovation. Disciplines must be allowed to become more visible if interdiscplinarity is to thrive.” The group also took note of “a discrepancy between increased career orientation of students and traditional disdain for career orientation at UW-Green Bay.... It appears that UW-Green Bay has not been, in developing its academic programs and structures, sufficiently solicitous of student concerns for career development.”
The lack of contact with faculty members—another student complaint addressed in the study—might be remedied by increasing faculty advising of students early in their campus experience, said the review group. And serious consideration should be given to two other aspects of the academic program: providing alternatives to or “substantially changing” the required freshman liberal education seminar and offering more skill-oriented courses at the freshman level. On the subject of campus spirit, the panel could offer no help. Just don't try to manufacture it with “happenings,” they cautioned. “It's sure to come off as phony.”
In retrospect, Hogan's report and the plain-spoken comments of the review panel staked out a major change in direction for the University. But no one appeared quite ready to charge full speed ahead down an uncharted road. Discussing the study in an April interview with the Press-Gazette, Weidner made an optimistic prediction: If suggested changes were made for fall, particularly in student advising and terminology, the attrition rate would decrease by 10 to 20 percent over two to three years. The view that UW-Green Bay did not offer programs the students wanted, he insisted, was a misconception. Many students just weren't aware that the programs are there. The University must take the blame for not properly explaining itself to students and prospective students, he said.
“An organization has to accept responsibility for a communication gap, whether you're responsible or not,” Weidner added. “They feel they cannot major in things they're interested in; we feel they can.”
Three days later the Faculty Senate tackled several proposals to change terminology. The net result, after two hours of discussion: an agreement that “options” would henceforth be known as “disciplines.” A suggestion that “concentrations” be renamed “interdisciplinary departments” was defeated by an 11-9 vote, with three abstentions. A third recommendation—that “collaterals” become “professional departments”—was referred back to the University Committee.
But progress was coming in other quarters. Already in the hands of high school counselors was a glossy admissions office publication challenging the “impractical” nature of a UW-Green Bay education. Yes You Can (Prepare for a Career at UW-Green Bay) used brief biographical sketches of graduates successfully employed in various fields—including half a dozen paper industry professionals—to reassure prospective students of the connection between academic work and the job market. The new general catalog, just off the press, reflected major changes both in terminology and emphasis. Concentration names had yielded somewhat to the need for clarity: analysis-synthesis had metamorphosed to humanism and cultural change; ecosystems analysis and environmental control had been folded into a single unit, science and environmental change. Modernization processes was still under scrutiny, with a name change under consideration.
Gone from the catalog's introductory section was much of the rhetoric about the academic plan and “environmental focus.” Instead, in direct, second-person talk, the copy emphasized the benefits of “multi-subject majors” and a student-centered approach to education. For the first time, majors were sorted into familiar categories: humanities, social sciences, life sciences, and physical sciences. A section on business and education programs received equal prominence with the four liberal arts categories, and contained these words: “Two of the most common areas for students to gain professional training are in the managerial skills required for careers in business and governmental organizations, and in education.... Both these programs are regarded as‘majors.’... Additional professional programs in environmental administration, leisure sciences, and social services can be taken as minors and are described later in this section.” References to the “colleges” became incidental to information about programs.
Some problems had been clearly identified. By the end of the 1975-76 academic year, faculty members and administrators were taking concrete steps toward solving them. But it remained to a pair of professors—one a UW System veteran, the other a comparative newcomer to the campus—to address the challenges in four high-priority areas: student advising, faculty accessibility, development of “community” on campus, and matching the academic plan to student goals.
Michael Murphy, who had started his career teaching English at the UW Center in Green Bay, and Richard Logan, appointed to the growth and development faculty in 1974, made up the team chosen by the University Committee. Their mission was clear: By the end of summer, be ready to present specific proposals which would have sufficient support to have them implemented in the near future.
The pair studied written data on the problem areas. They interviewed as many members of the University community as they could reach during the time available, including faculty on campus over the summer, senior administrators and directors on the academic staff. They talked with students, secretaries, custodians and Green Bay citizens. Murphy and Logan brought their final report before the Faculty Senate on Sept. 13, 1976.
Michael Murphy, and Richard Logan
“There is wide agreement that certain things must be changed ... but some disagreement as to the nature and extent of the changes required,” the authors wrote in an introductory statement. “Faculty members who support many or all of the following proposals do so on the assumption that our first priority must be to attract and retain more students, and that in the short run the only way to achieve that goal is to more clearly match our academic plan to the needs, interests and abilities of the students in Northeastern Wisconsin.” The proposals were not intended to compromise the academic plan, the report emphasized, but to make clear the range of programs and career possibilities available at UW-Green Bay and the value of interdisciplinary, problem-focused education to career goals. To make clear, further, that UW-Green Bay is not “Gobbledygook U” or “Survival U,” but “a fully accredited institution with a wide variety of programs and courses designed to serve our regional mission as well as our statewide special mission.”
The proposals that followed were, as mandated, specific to identified problems. And they were presented with detailed suggestions for implementation:
- Establish a comprehensive faculty advising system to supplement the academic advising program already in place. Every student should be assigned to a faculty adviser in his or her area of interest at the time of registration. Contact with the adviser must be early and sustained. Advisers should be carefully selected and willing to prepare themselves for the job.
- Communicate faculty accessibility in every possible way. Adopt as a policy some common-sense steps—like a posting of office hours and a message pad on the office door—by which faculty can communicate to students that they are available. In the campus directory, list every faculty member with both an individual and a concentration office telephone number. (Logan and Murphy commented: “Apparently there are very few faculty members who are deliberately or chronically inaccessible to students.”)
- Build campus community by developing the concentrations as communities. Cluster faculty offices by concentrations and programs, where possible. Develop concentration activities and activities between concentrations. And encourage University-wide faculty activities based on individual interests. But the promise of student community and “campus spirit” will be realized only as the University develops a resident population of students living in dormitories on the campus, the study concluded: “The building of on-campus dormitories should be given the highest priority for future plant development.”
- Take steps to close the gap between what students are looking for in a university education and what they find. Most of those who enroll at UW-Green Bay are from the region; they come for practical, career-oriented reasons. There is little evidence that they come because of an interdisciplinary, problem-focused curriculum or because of special mission status. The majority come because the University is convenient and relatively inexpensive. “Treat our regional mission and our special mission as opposite ends of a continuum,” the study advised. “Develop a four-year program that begins with an emphasis on meeting the regional students ‘where they are’ and then moves toward graduating them ‘where we want them to be.’” Use the first two years to develop and emphasize more basic skill and discipline courses. Emphasize the special mission courses in the final two years.
The final section of the report contained the most controversial proposal of all: “Eliminate the present liberal education seminar (LES) requirement; wherever possible, transform existing LES courses into appropriate disciplinary and/or concentration courses. Through a strong advising system, channel students into courses which achieve the goals of the LES program while more directly matching the goals of the students.”