President's Message to Campus - Dec. 4, 2020

Higher Learning Commission Final Report

The final report has been received from the Higher Learning Commission’s reaffirmation of accreditation visit in October. The scope of the 80-page report reflects the peer review team’s evaluation of six components:

  • Reaffirmation Review of the five HLC Criteria and 18 Core Components
  • Federal Compliance Report
  • Multi-Campus Report (KCAD)
  • COVID-19 Response Report
  • On-site Visit (Big Rapids)
  • Multi-Campus Visit (KCAD)

This report contains excellent news. Ferris State University has met each and every one of these components. No additional information, visits or interim monitoring is recommended.

This result represents the work you do each and every day to carry out our mission. There are more positive comments about the University and its people in this report than I can recall in an institutional accreditation document. These can be a source of great pride to everyone who works at the University –

  • The process for reviewing the mission, vision, and core values (MVV) was exceptional.
  • The HLC review team applauds Ferris’ efforts in reducing student debt.
  • Ferris stands at the fore-front of social and cultural impact in Michigan.
  • Ferris puts students first.
  • Ferris excels at engaging external constituencies.
  • It became clear in the team conversation with the Board that Board members care deeply about the Ferris/KCAD missions and strive to act in the best interest.
  • Faculty hired by the institution are well qualified by virtue of appropriate credentials and/or tested experience.
  • Ferris’ faculty are asking the right questions about who and how well the general education curriculum serves students, and the institution appears to be on the right path to establishing a sustainable process.
  • Ferris’s processes for collecting and analyzing data on student success outcomes reflect good practice, including a centralized Student Information System and state and national reporting protocols and definitions (Common Data Set, IPEDS, etc.).
  • Ferris/KCAD demonstrate responsibility for the quality of their educational programs, learning environments, and support services. The HLC team found through its review of documents, websites, and virtual meetings that the institution has embraced a culture of assessment for improvement.
  • It is clear that all stakeholder groups of the university are involved through campus-wide meetings and groups, forums (KCAD and Ferris), standing committees (KCAD and Ferris SPARC), focus groups, survey feedback, and various communications, in the planning process at Ferris State at all stages.
  • Ferris is inclusive in its approach to shared governance, with active participation by faculty, staff, and students. This was affirmed during multiple virtual meetings with the HLC team.
  • Ferris State administration has clearly embraced the process of decision-making and planning based on a data driven model and associated analysis.
  • The university has a very student centrist focus.
  • The university has a well-developed resource allocation model with prioritization on each level through the budgeting process and alignment with their strategic plan and areas of greatest demand based on programmatic enrollment growth.
  • The new strategic plan (Ferris Forward) has been developed and is being used to drive the university budget, even in the current pandemic. The review team observed that the strategic plan is embedded into the forward planning of the institution and is utilized for project and budget requests from each of the division levels.
  • During the HLC team's virtual forum interactions with numerous faculty and staff, it was clearly indicated that the institution worked to ensure student learning needs, including the right equipment, facilities, technology, and faculty and staff which are a priority at the university.
  • All strategic planning (university and division/unit) and budget planning occur in a collaborative environment, including faculty, staff, and students in a variety of formal internal councils, committees and groups.
  • The institution exhibits very clear alignment with its MVV, Strategic Plan - Ferris Forward, and all divisional strategic plans. The budgetary processes are clearly integrated, transparent and aligned to improve successful achievement of student learning outcomes.

There are far fewer comments referencing areas for suggested improvement. This report and the observations contained in it provide important insight for our University –

  • Centralizing institutional data collection and storage will be critical as the institution continues to establish its culture of transparency and data-driven decision making.
  • The HLC review team encourages Ferris to review the research requirements and support for students enrolled in the Community College doctoral program, as it is unclear whether students are receiving sufficient opportunities to develop and become proficient in research methods expected for doctoral level degrees.
  • The institution has implemented goals and strategies for diversifying its workforce. Based on data and documents provided to the HLC team, it does not appear, however, that the strategies deployed to date have been very successful.
  • Some KCAD students described challenges related to accessing services that are only available on the main campus and feeling disconnected from other students and the larger university.
  • During the visit, however, students reported challenges with navigating Canvas and inconsistent experiences across courses. The HLC team recognizes the unique circumstances related to the pandemic and also encourages Ferris and KCAD to consider additional strategies for supporting students’ ability and confidence with the new learning management system.
  • It is possible that the injection of some resources [at KCAD] to develop a stronger community space among students, or even have a possible arrangement for near-campus common residential space, would boost enrollment and maintain healthy social interactions among students.

This is the second consecutive HLC reaffirmation review of Ferris State University that has resulted in a clean evaluation of all criteria without interim monitoring or follow-up. This has never before occurred in Ferris history and affirms the quality of our University, highlighting the value of the education we provide, our focus on mission-driven planning, and our commitment to continuous improvement.

It is worth noting this evaluation constituted a completely new approach to regional accreditation, including the required Quality Initiative project. Additionally, our review was one of the first conducted under newly revised criteria from the Higher Learning Commission. Finally, except for the one on-site peer review evaluator, this visit was one of the first conducted entirely remotely and included additional elements in response to COVID-19. Each of these factors increased the degree of difficulty of this reaffirmation of accreditation, and still, each standard was met. 

We have accepted this final report from the HLC, which will now be submitted to their Institutional Actions Council. When this group has reviewed and acted on the report, the HLC will send their final endorsement and confirmation of our reaccreditation. This process should officially conclude in early spring. I am particularly grateful to the many people who contributed to this HLC reaffirmation of accreditation process, with distinct thanks to the HLC Steering Committee, numerous subcommittees, and especially the leadership of Jeff Ek, Jennifer Hegenauer and Mandy Seiferlein.

When you have a few moments, I would encourage you to review the final report, including the peer review team’s recommendations for continuous improvement. It is available on our HLC Reaffirmation 2020 website via a SharePoint link. Congratulations to everyone on this extraordinary review and job well done.

Ferris Forward Podcast

My latest Ferris Forward podcast released on Wednesday features the Diversity and Inclusion Office’s Independent Living Skills Coach Janette Ward and Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion and Strategic Initiatives David Pilgrim. Janette and David share information on their work with the Ferris Youth Initiative. This year the program, which provides mentoring and support services to students who have experienced foster care, has seen excellent growth, with 28 students participating. Statistics indicate that for youth aging out of foster care, 31 to 45% will enroll in college, with only 3 to 10% of those students graduating. If you are not familiar with the Ferris Youth Initiative, I encourage you to download or listen to the episode at your leisure. There is tremendous work being done to support students during their time at Ferris.

COVID-19 Re-entry Committee Town Halls

To share information on current plans for the Spring 2021 semester and provide an update on COVID-19, the Re-entry Committee has scheduled two virtual Town Halls for Thursday, Dec. 10. You can register for the 11 a.m. Zoom session or the 2 p.m. Zoom session to receive the login credentials. Please attend if you are able, as there is much information to be shared by the committee. 

When this semester began there were concerns about whether our campus could remain open and whether a living-learning environment could be done safely during this pandemic.  To this point the peak for new positive COVID-19 cases at Ferris was Oct. 17-19. Our numbers have declined since, and last week’s total of 24 new cases was the lowest since the week of Sept. 21. The number of current active cases is now the third lowest since we started keeping that statistic. The decision made last June to move to remote delivery after Thanksgiving was well considered.

Many people are contributing to educating and supporting our students, to making testing available to our campus community and to keeping our campus safe. Your work makes this possible. Cooperation throughout our campus in following healthy guidelines is excellent, and the Re-entry Committee has done remarkable work in leading this effort. When other universities have been unable to succeed in these efforts, Ferris has done so. This is because of you. Thank you for making this possible. 

David L. Eisler, president