November 16, 2012

ASU's 'golden decade' and the rise of a New American University

Posted: November 16, 2012

50 years of evolution compressed into 10

Arizona State University has compressed 50 years of institutional evolution into just 10, according to ASU President Michael M. Crow on the 10-year anniversary this November of the launching of a New American University.

Crow saw the need for a new model for American higher education if the U.S. is to stay globally competitive, a model that would scale up quality education to larger numbers of students and direct faculty research at solving major societal problems. He believes ASU must squeeze another 50 years of evolution in the next 10.

There were many critics who said ASU could not accept more students and increase its excellence at the same time. “Bigger” and “better” were not possible. There was no way it could transform its academic enterprise to break down departmental silos in such a short time frame without devastating its faculty. There was no way it could grow its physical plant, in the face of shrinking state investment and in the wake of one of the economic crisis in U.S. history, to house its ambitions. 
The critics were wrong on all accounts.

The achievement of this new American university mission required ASU to come together as community in pursuit of something greater than individual interest. The assignment required the demolition of academic and research silos, innovation in processes and technology, unrelenting focus on an educational experience focused on its students, entrepreneurship and creativity in all aspects of university operations, and extensive partnerships with individuals and organizations who share the vision and embrace the need for change.

ASU’s unrelenting efforts have resulted in remarkable success in breaking the mold and setting a new gold stand for the 21st century.

Student success

In the last 10 years ASU has increased its student enrollment from 52,000 to 73,373 students and has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the Top Tier of National Research Universities since 2008. One of the most credible international higher education research centers also rates ASU among the top 80 universities in the world.

During that same time student academic quality has improved year after year and the university has increased its markers of excellence on all indicators of student success.

• ASU awarded 18,045 degrees in fiscal year 2012, up 60 percent from fiscal year 2002.

• The six-year graduation rate for the 2004 through 2006 freshman classes averages 57.7 percent, up 8.5 percentage points from the 49.2 percent rate for the class that entered in fall 1995. The four-year graduation rate has increased markedly over the last five years, from 30 percent for the class of 2003 to 42.4 percent for the class of 2008. 

• Freshman persistence (the rate at which students return after their freshman year, an important marker of graduation) for fall 2008 through 2010 classes averaged 82.9 percent, 6.2 percentage points higher than the class of 2002.

• The academic preparation of the 2012 full-time freshman class is at an all-time high, with a mean high school grade point average of 3.47, ACT composite of 24.5 and SAT composite (for math and critical reading) of 1129.

• Sun Devils are more multicultural with 39 percent of the freshman class coming from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds – up from 24 percent eight years ago. While the majority of ASU’s students are resident Arizonans, 37 percent of the freshman class has been attracted to ASU from another state or country – up 2 percent from last year.

• ASU’s student body includes 1,727 veterans and 596 veteran dependents.

• Since 2002, the university has moved from a model of low-tuition/low-access to a moderate-tuition/high-access approach. As a result, when calculated according to federal poverty guidelines, from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2011 the percentage increase of first-time, full-time, low-income Arizona freshmen increased 647 percent, based on students filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

• Total financial aid for undergraduate students grew from $195 million in fiscal year 2002 to $663 million in fiscal year 2012, an increase of 240 percent. The number of undergraduate students receiving financial aid grew from 25,594 in 2002 to 49,107 in 2012 – a 92-percent increase.

• Average indebtedness of ASU undergraduates continues to be below the national average of $23,800 for public universities (per College Board for 10-11 grads). ASU bachelor’s degree recipients in 2010-11 had an average loan debt of $20,621.

Intellectual fusion

ASU strategically recombined traditional academic units to fuse intellectual strengths across diverse disciplines, creating 31 new schools and dozens of programs and centers. This created a more fluid, responsive organizational structure, where faculty with different skills can work together to more effectively advance knowledge and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Traditional schools such as the teachers college, engineering and journalism were completely revamped into new models of teaching and research. Among the new schools and programs are the Biodesign Institute, School of Sustainability, School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Health Solutions and Beyond: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. The university also created other programs through partnerships, for example, ASU and Mayo Clinic have partnered to build a new medical school.

Use-inspired research

ASU has established interdisciplinary research institutes and initiatives, and encouraged its faculty to tackle some of the most serious problems facing its state, the nation and the world. These allow the university to leverage existing research expertise while building the capacity to meet critical emerging challenges. Researchers from across the university collaborate unconstrained by disciplinary boundaries; partner with outside organizations and industries; and receive support in pursuing major, long-term grants. Areas of focus include health, bioscience, sustainability, renewable energy, security and defense, learning sciences, and the new city.

As a mark of its success:

• ASU’s research enterprise has more than tripled over the past decade. Research expenditures have grown from $123 million in 2002 to $385 million in 2012.

* Research space has grown along with research funding. Since 2002, we have added more than 1.5 million square feet of space in new research buildings.

• Among U.S. universities with research portfolios exceeding $100M in research expenditures, ASU has been the fastest growing research enterprise over the last five years (2004-2009 NSF Surveys).

• ASU continues to be ranked in the top 20 U.S. universities without a medical school for total research expenditures (19th, NSF 2009 Survey).

• For the first time, ASU ranked in the top 20 U.S. universities for non-science and engineering research expenditures (19th, NSF 2009 Survey).

• ASU was noted by The Chronicle of Higher Education as having the second largest increase in ranking – a 30 position increase – among the top 100 U.S. universities ranked by federally funded research expenditures (NSF 2009 Survey).

Bricks, mortar, steel and glass

In fiscal year 2002, ASU’s infrastructure was inadequate for the university’s existing student population, let alone able to serve the growing numbers of qualified high school graduates who would need near-term access to higher education. Classrooms, research laboratories and offices were cramped and poorly equipped. Major institutional software systems were in need of replacement. There were few residence halls available, so the vast majority of students lived off campus even as freshmen, exacerbating problems with retention and graduation.

In the 10 years since, during one of the nation’s worst economic recessions, ASU has managed to complete an unprecedented amount of new construction, as well as upgrades and renovations to existing facilities. It has increased classroom, classroom laboratory, library, office, residence hall and other space by 190 percent, adding a new campus, a global innovation park and expanding capacity in existing locations. ASU increased research laboratory space by 55 percent, investing almost $600 million in renovations and new facilities. The university has done this by becoming an entrepreneurial entity, seeking investment and public and private partnerships to make it happen.

Example of projects:

• In an innovative partnership, the university entered into an agreement with the City of Phoenix in 2005 to develop the Downtown Phoenix campus, with the city providing land and buildings and ASU the academic programs, student housing and parking. The plan received approval from the citizens of Phoenix in a March 2006 bond election, and classes began for students that fall. The endeavor has brought more than 17,000 students and 1,000 employees to a sluggish urban core.

• ASU partnered with American Campus Communities to provide more than 2 million square feet of new student housing on the Tempe campus on long-term leases, including a state-of-the-art campus for Barrett, the Honors College. It also has partnered with Inland American Communities for housing and a new dining facility at Polytechnic. ASU now provides on-campus living for about 12,000 students, with more student housing coming online in fall 2012.

• The Scottsdale City Council voted to approve a 198-year lease to the ASU Foundation for a $41.5-million, 42-acre parcel of land in Scottsdale they purchased for the university to build a research/innovation park. SkySong opened in 2008 with 20 global start-up and midsized companies from eight foreign countries. At build-out, SkySong will consist of 1.2 million square feet of office, research and retail space, along with a hotel/conference center.

• ASU also has formed a community partnership to bring programs to western Arizona, partnering with Lake Havasu City, the Lake Havasu United School District and the Lake Havasu Foundation for Higher Education. Phase 1 of the campus, to include the renovation of a middle school, will open in fall 2012.

• ASU overhauled the university’s information technology organization and infrastructure, replacing high-cost internally developed applications such as e-mail with free, state-of-the-art programs provided by Google and other companies. We deployed wireless network service on all campuses, greatly expanding network and computing capacity. We replaced fragile legacy software with new platforms that greatly enhanced the student experience and set the stage for a significant expansion of online course delivery.

Community engagement

Far from being an “ivory tower,” in the last 10 years ASU has made deep community involvement a key part of its identity. The university has gone beyond typical outreach activities to establish significant ongoing partnerships with cities, towns, school districts and organizations across Arizona and the world.

ASU also has taken up the gauntlet globally, developing research and educational partnerships in countries ranging from China to Mexico, from Ireland to Vietnam. These linkages draw on ASU’s interdisciplinary strengths to amplify the results of research into climate change, health, water usage, renewable energy and K-12 education.

The desire to serve is embedded in our students. Last year about 14,000 Sun Devils participated in community service activities, performing more than 400,000 hours of service. More meaningfully, ASU students and faculty run three nurse-managed health clinics, work with entrepreneurs to start businesses, provide training for classroom teachers, mentor low-income parents, report regional news, develop sustainability solutions and provide testing for solar energy equipment and other devices.

Transformative partnerships:

• The ASU-Mayo Clinic partnership is perhaps the university’s most transformative partnership. The two organizations initiated their successful collaboration that began in 2003. Since that time ASU and Mayo Clinic have formed a joint nursing education program; joint faculty appointments; dual degree programs; and collaborative research projects in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cellular and molecular biomedicine, vaccine development, genetics and sensory motor coordination. In 2011 the partnership deepened when ASU relocated its biomedical informatics department to Mayo’s Scottsdale campus. Last fall Mayo announced that all students at that campus would complete a specialized master’s degree in the science of health care delivery granted by ASU, believed to be the first such program offered by a medical school.

• iTeachAZ program: Since 1998, ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has partnered with school districts statewide to prepare teachers in the districts using on-site faculty, satellite video conferencing, mentoring and internships. The program provides more than three times the amount of hands-on classroom experience as traditional teacher education programs.

• Maricopa-ASU Alliance: The Maricopa Community Colleges and ASU work together to support transfer student success. The Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program (MAPP), created in 2009, is a tool that outlines a prescribed sequence of classes for a student to take at the community college to prepare for a desired degree at ASU, with guaranteed admission under certain guidelines. The RN-BN Pathway Program and the AAS to BAS Program provide direct transfer options to specific majors.

• ABC News on Campus: ABC News chose the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as one of its partners in ABC News on Campus. Students in the program work for ABC, producing stories that air on online and on television news programs including “World News,” “Nightline” and others.

• TUV Rheinland PTL: As a partnership between the Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory at ASU, TUV Rheinland and Arizona Public Service, TUV Rheinland PTL is the most comprehensive, sophisticated, state-of-the-art facility for testing and certification of solar energy equipment in the world. ASU’s lab has long been the only lab in the United States accredited for photovoltaic design qualification and type approval, and the new partnership substantially expands its testing capabilities.

• Ashoka: Innovators for the Public: After being named a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka, ASU opened Changemaker Central on all four campuses, a central hub with services and advising to help students tackle local and global challenges. The centers help foster teaching, research and action, and prepare the next generation of leaders in social change. They emphasize high-impact careers, making them more accessible and inviting, and set a new standard of excellence in social entrepreneurship education.

• Instituto Tecnologicó De Monterrey (Mexico): ASU and Tecnológico de Monterrey jointly launched the Latin America Office of the Global Institute of Sustainability. This extension of ASU’s Global Institute at Tecnológico de Monterrey will conduct applied transdisciplinary research, offer an innovative educational programs, and develop business solutions that accelerate the adoption of a sustainable culture. It also will leverage linkages with the Tec de Monterrey’s Technology Park in Mexico City to promote clean technologies and entrepreneurial projects that will create green jobs and businesses.

• Sichuan University (China): ASU is working with Sichuan University to address the challenge of improving cross-cultural understanding through the SCU-ASU Center for American Culture. The success of the world economy, even world peace, will be determined in part by the extent to which China and the United States have a positive and sophisticated relationship with one another.

• The Vocational and University Leadership and Innovation Institute (VULII) is designed to contribute directly to the national goal of increasing the quality of higher education while strengthening the human and institutional capacity to contribute to Vietnam’s economic growth. VULII focuses on engineering and technical education.

Sharon Keeler,
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering