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‘Idea a Day’ project explored ways to improve experiences of higher education students

This page is an archive of a project/experiment I did in 2007 called “Idea a Day: WMU.” The goal of the project was to explore ways that the student experience at a public university could be improved and optimized. While these particular ideas are more than a decade old, many of them still address common problems we would identify with modern higher education.

Often times we can get stuck in our thinking and focus on familiar processes or status quo. The “Idea a Day: WMU” project sought to create a fresh start and explore very student-centric ways of making changes to how a university does things. I hoped to inspire myself and others and invited friends and colleagues to engage as the project progressed.

The result was 50+ articles, which are aggregated here.

Turning applications into advertisements

Originally published August 12, 2007

When students apply to WMU they are charged an application fee — which covers processing, review, etc. From the application we learn what the student’s home address is, and their intended academic major.

Everyone loves a surprise.

What if every student who applied received a surprise package from WMU? Imagine the impression made on each student if they came home from their summer job to find a package from WMU waiting for them. As they opened the package, they discover a personal letter from the chair and faculty of the program they applied to stating how much they were looking forward to working with and supporting the student. The letter would have REAL signatures — not re-productions. These signatures would support a theme of personal attention — these types of little details add up.

Numerous retention studies have described the positive impact of personal attention. Our letter would become another part of all the things we do to make students feel welcome at WMU.

In addition to the letter, the student would find a WMU sweat shirt or t-shirt with ‘Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI’ printed (or even better embroidered) on it. There are many places we can find that would be able to produce a high-quality, low cost piece of clothing designed to last. Even if each piece of clothing cost $20, isn’t that a small investment on an individual who will spend tens of thousands at their chosen institution?

What is the outcome of this effort?

Receiving personal attention and a gift is something that people will talk about. Positive word of mouth will boost the image of our institution.

Even if the student doesn’t come to WMU, they have a wonderful piece of clothing that they WILL wear (this is why it being high-quality matters — people like wearing comfortable stuff). Each person who wears the sweatshirt becomes a walking brand billboard for WMU.

For those students who do come to WMU, they now have a new favorite piece of clothing that will support and build community on campus.

What about the costs of doing this?

If we had 5,000 student applications, and we were able to produce a quality shirt for $10-$15 dollars, and each cost roughly $3 to ship, then our total cost would be between $65,000 and $90,000. Our application fees range from $25-$100. Based only on a $25 application fee, we already have a potential budget of $125,000. While I don’t know specifically what that fee covers, my guess is that the allocation of the fee doesn’t create a long term return on investment in terms of relationships, branding and advertisements.

Do you think a basic ‘accepted’ letter or a welcome package from WMU would have a greater impact on a student attending WMU?

Traditional forms of advertising may be comparable in cost to the ‘surprise gift/shirt’ idea. According to Gaebler Ventures, a Chicago based company that ‘nutures companies that are shaping the future’, billboard advertising rates range from $700 to $2,500 a month (Gaebler, 2007). The only difference is that few people talk about billboards — in fact most people probably ignore them. Where as the positive buzz about sending a surprise to a student will create a longer, lasting impression that people will talk about a lot.


Gaebler. (2007). Costs of billboard advertising. Retrieved August 12, 2007 from

A special place for artists

Originally published August 13, 2007

Designate a special section of sidewalk on campus where student artists are encouraged to create works.

We have seen the interesting and unique work that our students have made for the walls surrounding the Brown Hall construction site. We have a special set of rocks in Goldsworth Valley where fraternities and sororities are able to paint fun and unique patterns.

If we were to create an artist grotto/alley it would provide another unique space that could serve as a place to exchange visual ideas about creativity and culture while serving as a unique part of university history.

Build pride in the colleges

Originally published August 14, 2007

Make a way for students to show pride in their colleges.

Right now very few students associate any of their academic values or pride with their associated college. To some extent, each of the colleges are invisible to the students. However, when a student graduates, they wear a tassel with a color that represents the college they are graduating from.

Let’s nurture and encourage school pride and spirit by helping students to show affiliation and pride in their college.

We have seen examples demonstrated in popular culture. Think about how the students who attend Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter series of movies and books, are sorted into one of four different houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin. J.K. Rowling based this idea on the house system used in many boarding schools. In the movies, we can see Harry et al. wearing specific house colors — represented in their shirts and ties as well as robe colors.

For Western, what if we helped to build the pride students felt for their respective colleges by encouraging unique colors, a pin, or other mark? If such an effort were successful, eventuallly there might be a desire for prospective students to join and participate in campus culture.

Having unique feelings of pride and affiliation by students towards their colleges would make Western different, in a good way, from other University communities.

Monday classes at 8 a.m. are awesome

Originally published August 15, 2007

What would happen if the president of the University decided to visit one Monday, 8 a.m. class each week during the fall and spring semesters?

During the visit he could applaud students who work hard to make the most of their college education. He could present each member of the class with a black t-shirt or pen with the words “I am WMU” in gold lettering set in distinctive type. The president could shake hands with the instructor of the course, pat them on the back. All of this could be done in roughly 10 minutes — not causing too much of a disruption in the course.

The initiative could be tied to a Web site: where students could post comments, participate in an discussion board or post short perspectives and stories about their experience at WMU.

Over time this small effort could turn into a landslide of pride and respect for our institution — a place where hard work and learning comes first. Students would have real contact with our leader. It would make our administrative vision ‘sharable’ with the students who make each day we come to work possible.

T-shirts and pens are inexpensive. The lasting impression made on students is priceless.

Score a touchdown in the goWMU portal

Originally published August 16, 2007

Do you know what is missing from the goWMU portal? Scores, statistics, and information about WMU athletic events.

Adding a small panel to the student and staff pages of the goWMU portal that would contain sports scores would enable everyone in our online community to enjoy current, relevant and timely information about accomplishments of our students who participate in bronco athletics. Information could be updated daily, weekly, or when any athletic realted news breaks.

Throughout football, hockey, basketball and baseball season we would be able to get information about the broncos standings in the division, who our next game is against, and more.

The panel could also include player profiles, opportunities to participate, news/updates/commentary from the coaches. What a great way to get students into the game!

Share international culture through festivals

Originally published August 16, 2007

Wouldn’t it be fun to celebrate and enjoy the culture of our international students through special festivals through out the year.

Community open houses

Originally published August 16, 2007

Though out the year we could invite the community to visit campus for public lectures, tours, and events. The need for building awareness of campus resources to the community is important.

Free tickets

Originally published August 16, 2007

Give one set of free tickets to anyone who requests it.

Benefits: exposure to the University community.

Establish an innovation center

Originally published August 16, 2007

Build a special team of WMU staff members who’s mission is to develop further ideas and see them through to completion. It would require expertise in marketing, technology, etc.

Working smarter with the Web

Originally published August 16, 2007

Create a standard for what we do on the Web. Is the information actionable, is distribution of the service or web resource measurable (do what is being used, get rid of what is not).

Communication builds clarity

Originally published August 16, 2007

What would happen if everyone at WMU communicated about projects and goals they were working on?

On an institutional level, we would be able to build enhanced collaboration while reducing redundancy of efforts made by separate offices. If a truly innovative project were being worked on, and everyone on campus knew about it, there might be a chance that others could pitch in on the idea.

Tell people what you are working on, provide updates, not every month but every day.

Cost of attendance calculator

Originally published August 17, 2007

Prospective students and their family want to know, as close as possible, what the bottom line costs of attending a university are. Without this information it is impossible to financial prepare for the road ahead.

There are many factors to consider: tuition, housing, books, fees, etc. While efforts have been made to make tuition easy to understand, because there are so many variations it still has the potential of being confusing. Is the student in state or out of state, are they upper or lower division, are they per credit, flat rate, or above flat rate, are they EUP tuition, or graduate rate? Add to this the many options for housing. Students could live in a dorm, in an apartment, off campus, they could have one of many meal plans. Books for classes can range in price from $20 for one book to nearly $200 for another. Then there are fees (lots of them). There is a records initiation fee, a student assessment fee, an enrollment fee, an online course fee, a lab fee, a graduation fee. Here a fee, there a fee, every where a fee fee.

As you can see, figuring out the costs of attendance (so that a student and their family can draft a workable financial plan) is still challenging.

We know that online calculator tools for estimating the cost of a car, home, or computer purchase are helpful in determining overall costs. Knowing what the ballpark bottom line price will be helps us to plan ahead.

A WMU online cost of attendance calculator could simplify the process of figuring out how much college is going to cost. Prospective students and their family could be presented a series of questions and the total cost of attendance would be dynamically calculated. For those who didn’t want to spend the two minutes required to do the analysis could select one of several pre-built options and then customize the plan as needed for their own needs. If a student needed more specific detail, then we could provide links to the full information stored on tuition, residency, housing, and EUP pages. We could also guide students to discussions with institutional financial aid experts as a next step.

The technology and knowledge for building this is easily accessible. We could use PHP and or JavaScript to implement the calculator (we have several developers on campus who have the skills to do this), a prototype could be quickly developed in a week or less, the prototype could be reviewed by institutional leaders, revisions implemented, and a final calculator deployed.

Enabling students and their family to plan financially for attending college is amongst the most important factors that could influence their decision to attend our university, go somewhere else, or not attend college at all.

Green roofs

Originally published August 18, 2007

Consider conversion of existing tar and stone roofs of WMU buildings to Green roofs.

A green roof would provide additional habitat space for animals, it would reduce storm water run off, provide alternative break and meeting areas for staff and students, filter pollutants from the air, increase a roofs life span, and potentially reduce winter heating costs.

Green roofs at WMU could be yet another unique characteristic that distinguishes our University by demonstrating ecological awareness and leadership in alternative landscaping and architecture practices.

Content is king

Originally published August 18, 2007

Have a group of representatives from each service area do a collaborative blog that delivers information to students.

Consider the Michael Stoner article Content, Not Email, Driving Internet Use in 2007

Develop models and measures to predict retention

Originally published August 19, 2007

Included here for your review is a paper I submitted as part of my final project in FCS 6010 – Basic Research Methods, a research methodology course I completed while working on my masters in Educational Technology.

The paper proposed development of a early warning system to predict and address student retention.

Please note that while the proposed budget for the project is based on real numbers, the proposal was drafated and planned based on an imaginary budget funded by a $25,000 grant. The overall costs for completing a project of this type would require University staff time (which could be easily allocated) and incentives for students to participate in the study. Otherwise said, the cost to our institution would be relatively low while the potential gains would be very high.

Predicting Retention at a Midwestern University
Michael VanPutten
Western Michigan University

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to measure and predict factors involved with student retention at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The results may indicate directions for development of tools and strategies for improving student graduation rates at four-year institutions with 20,000 or more students.

Importance and Justification

The average cost of attendance for a full-time student at a four-year institution (including tuition, fees, housing, books, and materials) in 2003-04 was $15,100 at public institutions and $29,500 at private institutions (Rooney et al., 2006). A student’s decision to invest time and money in a college education is influenced by expected future income, available job opportunities, encouragement from parents or peers and academic ability (Perna, 2000). A consistent upward trend in earnings potential for college graduates has been observed during the previous two decades: Dr. Gary W. Phillips, Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, indicated in the release of the Condition of Education: 2000, that the earnings of males who held a college degree increased by 56% in 1998 compared to 19% in 1980 while women’s earnings increased by 100% in 1998 compared to 52% in 1980 (Phillips, 2000). A recent study, using a weighted sample of 11,933 from a population of 2.45 million, indicated that increased future income for college graduates is enjoyed by multiple ethnic groups, with increases to their gross income averaging $13,779 for African Americans, $11,117 for Caucasians, and $9,711 for Hispanics (Perna, 2000).

A spring 2006 enrollment survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics for the U.S. Department of Education indicated that 11 million first-time, full-time students pursuing a degree or certificate at four-year institutions had a graduation rate of 56% (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Whitmore, 2007). “Graduation rates” refer to the percentage of students who complete degree or certificate requirements within 150 percent of the normal program time (Knapp et al., 2007). First-time students are those who have not attended a secondary education institution (Knapp et al., 2007). These graduation rates are consistent with a 1995-96 national survey where 12,000 students who were identified as being first-time students from a “nationally representative sample” of 44,500 undergraduates (representing a total of 16.7 million undergraduates) were found to have a graduation rate of 51% from four-year institutions (Berkner, He, Cataldi, & Knepper, 2002).

A national survey conducted in 1995-96 of 12,000 post secondary students reported the following reasons for early departure: 26% needed to work, 16% indicated other financial reasons, 10% were done taking desired classes, 10% had conflicts at home or personal problems, 8% had a chance in family status, 7% were taking time off, 6% were not satisfied, 6% had job or military service conflicts, and 4% had academic problems (Bradburn & Carroll, 2002). Note that the report indicated that students in the sample were allowed to provide up to three reasons for early departure, 61% of the respondents indicated only one of the reported reasons, and 24% did not indicate any of the reported early departure reasons (Bradburn & Carroll, 2002). Bradburn and Carroll identified these 12,000 respondents by selecting students from the 1995-96 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:96) who were identified as being first-time postsecondary students (Bradburn & Carroll, 2002). The NPSAS:96 study featured a “nationally representative sample” of 44,500 students from a population of 16.7 million undergraduates (Bradburn & Carroll, 2002). Note that NPSAS:96 is the same study utilized by Berkner, He, Cataldi, & Knepper to analyze and report graduation rates.

Based on the graduation rates reported in the Knapp et al. survey conducted in 2006, there are 4.84 million students who do not complete their college degree. If an individual were to consider the average 2003-04 costs of tuition reported by Rooney, one could estimate that if these 4.84 millions students were to attend only one year of college at a public institution and then choose not to continue, the students would collectively incur a minimum of $18.3 billion in debts. If these students were to complete their college education they would earn a higher salary that would enable them to pay off their college debt in just a few years.
Tinto identifies five conditions for promotion of student persistence: expectations, support, feedback, involvement, and learning (Tinto, 2003). In detail, these institutional conditions provide an environment where students are expected to succeed, provides sociological/psychological and academic support, provides early feedback regarding performance using early warning systems, involves students as members, and creates environments that foster learning. Tinto’s model has been supported by work done by Zea et al. who utilized a student’s ability to cope with college, individual self-esteem, academic integration, identification with the university, and experience of disrespect because of race, ethnicity, or religion as measures to predict a student’s likelihood to persist and complete a college degree (Zea, Reisen, Beil, & Caplan, 1997). Their study found that perception of disrespect had a negative effect on a student’s desire to continue their education. In addition, Zea et al. found that how students identify themselves with a University has an affect on the students’ decision to continue their education at that institution. A study by Cartney and Rouse reported that student retention could be improved when an institution utilizes small groups to socialize individual students experiencing feelings of disconnection from their classmates and/or the institution (Cartney & Rouse, 2006).

Early warning systems designed to identify students who are unlikely to complete their college education have also demonstrated effectiveness in retention efforts (Caison, 2007; Moller-Wong, Shelly, & Ebbers, 1999). Caison, using multivariate logistic regression to compare the effectiveness of early warning systems, found that including institutional student information system data (e.g. high school GPA, SAT scores, and total credit hours) paired with information regarding parental education background, declaration of a major and intention to work could be utilized with greater effectiveness in an early warning system to predict one-year retention rates (Caison, 2007). Early warning systems can also be designed to classify individual student retention rates into low, medium and high-risk categories of not completing a degree by utilizing academic performance indicators, individual student course enrollment statistics, and student demographic data (Moller-Wong et al. 1999). The methods utilized to identify the measures for classifying students into levels of risk included cluster analysis and a tree diagram (which identified eight clusters of risk) paired with logistical regression to identify which factors were the most significant in determining high and low levels of risk (Moller-Wong et al. 1999). Moller-Wong was also able to utilize logistic regression to determine which factors weighed more in early semesters versus later semesters over a fourteen-semester period (Moller-Wong et al. 1999). The Caison and Moller-Wong early warning systems tracking systems did not take into account the effects of student participation in academic advising or extra curricular groups and activities, frequency of change of major, if students were participating in courses that counted toward their declared major, total number of jobs, or the total hours allocated for study, employment and commuting to campus. One other weakness of the Moller-Wong system is the requirement to change what is being measured on a semester-by-semester basis in order to reproduce the prediction results of student persistence – which makes generalizing the result of her team’s system to other campuses difficult.

Theoretical Framework

Tinto’s model suggests that an institutional retention program should include goals for making students part of the university, a commitment to and focus on the education of students and their involvement in learning, as well as nurturing of both academic and social campus communities (Tinto 1987). Students are more likely to continue their education in an environment where they feel at one with the community, supported in their educational goals, and involved in the educational process (Tinto 1987). Tinto also recommends consideration of expectations, feedback and support as necessary conditions for the promotion of student persistence (Tinto, 2003). These aspects were discussed earlier in this proposal. In review, these institutional conditions provide an environment where students are expected to succeed, the conditions provide early feedback regarding performance using early warning systems, involves students as members, and environments that foster learning.

Previous research has demonstrated the potential effectiveness of early warning systems to predict students’ decision to complete an undergraduate degree. A revised tool that utilizes characteristics and measures of existing systems as well as additional measures may demonstrate greater effectiveness for predicting the likelihood that students will complete their education. The purpose of the proposed study is to determine if student utilization of academic advising, declaration of a major, student employment, and/or participation in extra curricular activities or groups have a positive effect on at-risk students’ decision to complete their college degree more so than their not-at-risk peers. The null hypothesis for this study states that academic advising, declaration of a major, student employment, and/or extra curricular activities do not affect an at risk student’s decision to complete their degree more than their not at risk peers.


About the Research Design

The proposed study will utilize a quantitative survey and qualitative interview case study. The survey portion of the study will enable the primary investigator (PI) to measure Tinto’s five areas for improvement of student persistence: expectations, support, feedback, involvement, and learning. The interview portion of the study will enable the PI to gain a more in-depth understanding of the experiences and issues that affect individual student persistence. The resulting data collected will be analyzed to determine if there are significant differences between at-risk and not-at-risk student groups in terms of the affect of academic support, student employment, and extra curricular activities on their decision to complete their chosen degree.

The dependent variable will be the student’s persistence in continuing enrollment towards completion of a degree in their declared academic major. The independent variables will include student utilization of advising services and academic support, student employment, and participation in extra curricular activities or groups.


Initiation of sampling will commence upon completion of review and approval of the proposed study by the Human Subjects Institutional Review Board (HSIRB). The PI will load name and address data obtained from the student information into a spreadsheet and generate a random sample to select potential participants. A unique numeric identifier will be assigned to each participant in order to facilitate confidentiality. The PI will issue invitations to study participants. Two major groups, at-risk and not-at-risk, will be utilized for the survey portion of this study. Each major group will have four age-based sub-groups with ages ranging from: under 18, 18-24, 25-39, and 40. These age ranges are comparable to those utilized in Knapp et al.’s 2006 survey where participant age ranges were reported as being: 1.74% under 18, 61.54% 18-24, 26.7% 25-39, 9.37% 40+, and 0.64% unknown (Knapp et al., 2007).

The PI will continue to utilize a random sample for selection of participants until a sample of 400 newly admitted undergraduate students from the Fall 2007 semester is obtained. The goal is to have 200 students in each of the major groups and at least 20 students in each of the sub-groups.

Eight students from the 400 survey participants will be randomly selected for a case study interview. A case study will be taken for one student from each of the eight age-based sub-groups.

Data Collection

Online surveys will be utilized for collection of data from the 400 survey participants. Data from the surveys will be logged to a comma-delimited format suitable for analysis with a statistical software package. The sample will be surveyed once every four weeks during the Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 semesters. Surveys will commence the first week of classes. Participants will be asked to complete a total of eight surveys during the two semesters. Each student will be issued a unique survey id and password to enable the PI to evaluate changes in student activities and perceptions during the course of the semester. The students in the sample will be provided incentive for participation in the survey. After each survey a drawing will be held for a $250 gift certificate to the campus bookstore. Students will be notified by e-mail at their University e-mail address when new surveys are accessible. Reminders will be delivered to students who do not complete a survey within 10 days of the survey being released.

The eight student interviews will be conducted through an online open-ended questionnaire. Students will be offered a $150 gift certificate to the campus bookstore as incentive for their participation in the interview.

Additional data will be collected from the student formation system. The PI will include data regarding total enrollment credits, GPA, ACT scores, declared major.

Description of Instruments Used in the Study

The online surveys will consist of questions designed to measure each students’ utilization of academic advising, if a major has been declared or changed, if the student is taking classes that count towards their major, if and where the student is employed, and if the student is participating in any extra curricular groups or activities. In addition the students will be asked to rate their satisfaction in the quality of advising received, their chosen major, the quality of the courses they are enrolled in, overall satisfaction in their current employment, and satisfaction in any extra curricular groups or activities they participate in. A five point Likert scale will be utilized for survey questions that measure student satisfaction. A sample of the proposed survey is attached to this report in Appendix A.

The student interviews will primarily feature open-ended questions. It is the intention of the PI to make students feel as comfortable as possible during the online in order to gain the most incite into the opinions and experiences of each individual student. A sample interview schedule is attached to this report and is presented in Appendix B.

Data Analysis Procedures

The PI will utilize a data analysis team comprised of institutional staff members with expertise in statistical analysis. Survey responses will be analyzed using a statistical software package. T-tests will be utilized to determine if there is any difference in the responses provided by the two groups. A summative report will be presented of response totals for each question/category. The data analysis team will determine the effect of each independent variable on the dependent variable using partial and multiple correlation. In addition, the data analysis team will utilize multivariate regression to determine if the existence of one or more independent variables causes a change to the dependent variable. Finally, a path analysis will be conducted to determine if a series of occurrences of independent variables influence the dependent variable.

Biographical Statement of the Primary Investigator

Michael VanPutten is the Web Developer for Enrollment Management at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Michael serves as president of the campus web users group where he provides leadership and assists to facilitate collaboration and development of web communication policies and standards with the campus community. Michael is also the president of VanPutten Interactive, a company through which he has endeavored to provide creative consulting, design and development solutions to Kalamazoo, Michigan and the greater West Michigan region. VanPutten Interactive has assisted individuals, commercial and non-profit clients to establish professional online identities, build online communities, reduce costs of operation, deliver services online, and collect payment for services via the Web.

Michael received his BA in Philosophy from Western Michigan University in 2000 and is completing his master’s degree in Educational Technology. Michael has over ten years of experience in web and multimedia development, which he has utilized to develop cutting edge instructional multimedia for higher education. Michael has led professional development workshops demonstrating best practices in implementation of projects using digital photography, digital audio/video applications, WebCT, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Timetable for completion of the study

Implementation of Online Survey Tools: Jul – Aug 2007
Conduct of Online Surveys: Sep 2007 – Apr 2008
Send Survey Reminders: Sep 2007 – Apr 2008
Analysis of Online Survey Data: Sep 2007 – Apr 2008
Conduct Interviews: Apr 2008
Code Interviews: Apr – May 2008
Analysis of Interview Data: Apr – May 2008
Write Report: May – Jun 2008


Personnel Costs
Principal investigator $10,400.00
(10 hours x 52 weeks x $20/hr)

Data analysis team $6,000.00
(10 hours x 36 weeks x $20/hr)

Data Collection & Analysis Costs
Vovici EFM Feedback Professional – 1 year license $2,495.00
(This tool provides an environment for development, implementation, and administration of online surveys)

QSR Nvivo7 $495.00
(Qualitative interview coding/analysis software)

Participant Incentives
Survey incentives $2,000.00
(8 x $250)

Questionnaire incentives $1,200.00
(8 X $150)

Total $22,590.00

Appendix A – Survey Questions

1. Have you received academic advising during the past four weeks?
( ) yes ( ) no
a. If yes, who did you received academic advising from:
( ) college advising ( ) faculty advisor ( ) department staff ( ) other: ____
b. If yes, how did you receiving advising:
( ) in person ( ) over the phone ( ) by e-mail ( ) other: _________
c. If yes, how would rate rate the overall value of your academic advising?
( ) very un-helpful ( ) not helpful ( ) neutral ( ) helpful ( ) very helpful
d. Please rate your level of satisfaction with the academic advising you received.
( ) very dissatisfied ( ) dissatisfied ( ) neutral ( ) satisfied ( ) very satisfied
2. Have you declared your academic major?
( ) yes ( ) no
a. If no, do you plan to declare an academic major in the next four weeks?
( ) yes ( ) no
b. Please indicate your current major: ______________
c. How did you select your current major? _______________
d. Have you changed your academic major in the past four weeks?
( ) yes ( ) no
e. Please rate your level of satisfaction with your current major:
( ) very dissatisfied ( ) dissatisfied ( ) neutral ( ) satisfied ( ) very satisfied
3. Were you employed during the last four weeks?
( ) yes ( ) no
a. If no, do you plan to seek employment?
( ) yes ( ) no
b. At how many places were you employed during the last four weeks?
c. How many hours did you work at your place(s) of employment during the last four weeks?
d. How would you rate your level of satisfaction with your current employment:
( ) very dissatisfied ( ) dissatisfied ( ) neutral ( ) satisfied ( ) very satisfied
4. Do you participate in any extra curricular or group activities?
(checkboxes of common available activities will be listed) Other: __________
5. How many hours do you usually spend in class?
6. How many hours do you usually spend studying?
7. How many hours do you spend commuting to attend your classes?
8. Which of the following support services did you utilize in the past four weeks?
( ) writing center ( ) library ( ) librarians ( ) career and student employment
( ) academic skills center ( ) intellectual skills development program ( ) trio student success program ( ) alpha mentoring program ( ) university curriculum
a. Please rate your level of satisfaction with the support services you utilized
( ) very dissatisfied ( ) dissatisfied ( ) neutral ( ) satisfied ( ) very satisfied
9. Please rate your level of satisfaction with Western Michigan University
( ) very dissatisfied ( ) dissatisfied ( ) neutral ( ) satisfied ( ) very satisfied

Appendix: B – Interview Schedule

The purpose of this online questionnaire is to enable Western Michigan University to gain understanding about your individual experience during your first two semesters. Please answer each question as completely as possible:

  1. Why did you choose to pursue a degree at Western Michigan University (WMU)?
  2. Which other universities did you consider attending prior to selecting WMU?
  3. How many of your high school classmates selected WMU?
  4. Please describe the WMU campus community.
  5. What has your experience been while attending classes?
  6. What did you like most about your first two semesters at WMU?
  7. What did you like the least about your first two semesters at WMU?
  8. What do you hope to gain by having a college degree?
  9. What were the most challenging aspects of being a student during the past two semesters?
  10. Please tell us about a favorite course you took at WMU.
  11. How would you describe your teachers at WMU?
  12. How would you describe the staff at WMU?
  13. How did you spend your time during the past two semesters?
  14. How did you prioritize and allocate time effectively?
  15. How do you think you have changed over the past two semesters?
  16. Please describe your favorite activities of the past two semesters.
  17. What are you looking forward to?
  18. What do you plan to do after graduation?


Berkner, L., He, S., Cataldi, E.F., & Knepper, P. (2002). Descriptive summary of 1995-96 beginning postsecondary students: Six years later. Retrieved May 11, 2007 from

Bradburn, E.M., & Carroll, C.D. (2002) Short-term enrollment in postsecondary education: Institutional differences in reasons for early departure, 1996-98. Retrieved June 12, 2007 from

Caison, A.L. (2007). Analysis of institutionally specific retention research: A Comparison between survey and institutional database methods. Research in Higher Education, 48 (4). 435-451.

Cartney, P., & Rouse, A. (2006). The emotional impact of learning in small groups: Highlighting the impact on student progression and retention. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(1). 79-91.

Knapp, L.G., Kelly-Reid, J.E., & Whitmore, R.W. (2007). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions, fall 2005: Graduation Rates, 1999 and 2002 Cohorts; and financial statistics, Fiscal year 2005. Retrieved May 11, 2007 from

Moller-Wong, C., Shelly, M.C., & Ebbers, L.H. (1999). Policy goals for educational administration and undergraduate retention: Toward a cohort model for policy and planning. Policy Studies Review, 16 (3/4), 243-277.

Perna, L.W. (2000). Differences in the decision to attend college among african americans, hispanics, and whites. The Journal of Higher Education. 71(2), 117-141.

Phillips, G.W. (2000). The release of the condition of education 2000. Retrieved June 16, 2007 from

Rooney, P., Hussar, W., Planty, M., Choy, S., Hampden-Thomson, G., Provasnik, S., & Fox, M.A. (2006). The condition of education. Retrieved June 16, 2007 from

Tinto, V. (2003). International student retention conference: Promoting student retention through classroom practice. Enhancing student retention: Using international research to improve policy and practice. November 5-7, 2003. Staffordshire University, Amsterdam. Retrieved June 16, 2007 from http://

Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zea, M. C., Reisen, C. A., Beil, C. , & Caplan, R. D. (1997). Predicting intention to remain in college among ethnic minority and nonminority students. The Journal of Social Psychology, 137, 149-160.

Create a WMU staff experts directory

Originally published August 20, 2007

Can you answer the following questions: who at Western knows about marketing? Who would I go to if I had a question about updating my Web site? Who could help me to draft a grant proposal that could bring funds to the university?

If you are new to WMU, and don’t know a lot of people here, finding associates with the expertise that you need can be a challenge.

If we were to create a database driven Web directory of WMU staff that includes areas of expertise — enabling staff who seek collaborative assistance to discover potential resources based on query based searches, then we would be able to better nurture, support and foster a community of support and innovation.

WMU secrets

Originally published August 21, 2007

What ways can we support students in learning more about valuable services at WMU?

As a student at WMU from 1996-2000 I slowly learned about all of WMU’s hidden gems and ‘secret/underpulicized’ services. I had to seek out information about where to find a lab with scanners, photoshop, and multimedia software — at that time, it wasn’t easy to locate the Instructional Technology lab that was located in Sangren Hall near the Educational Library. When I spoke to students working in the two main campus labs, to find out where I could work with multimedia equipment etc, I got shrugs — eventually, I found the service on my own. It is a little easier to find excellent services on campus today — but there is an opportunity to help students discover these services on their own.

“How,” you ask?

Add a recognizable icon to WMU Web pages to serve as a guide for new students to find “secret” and valuable information on WMU Web sites. The icon could be a recognizable black with gold and silver lettering. Label it something simple like ‘discover the secrets of wmu’. Add the icon to all WMU service information pages and chain each page to the next with forward and back options, as well as a link to an index or directory of all ‘wmu secrets’. Using this solution provides an easy way for students to easily browse across all pages that have the similarity of delivering information about a valuable ‘service’.

Innovate, document, distribute

Originally published August 22, 2007

Idea in a nutshell

Come up with a new thing, document how it was produced and delivered (so that it is reproducible), distribute the idea to the campus community to enable others to use the idea or method in the future.

Make the information publicly accessible. Promote the solutions, so that WMU becomes a recognized resource of innovation and process.

Discussion about the idea

How do you spread knowledge throughout a university community once you have developed an idea into a solution? If others knew how the idea was conceived, how it grew and was adapted, steps for implementation, then they could re-create the solution and/or adapt it to create new innovations.

When ideas are not shared and methods for a solution are not distributed then innovation suffocates and withers. Without open sharing each individual is isolated from community and collaborative knowledge and left to re-create, build from scratch, and otherwise spend time getting an idea off the ground rather than polishing or adapting an existing solution.

Think about what it would be like to try to write on a computer if the tools for word processing were not readily accessible and if ideal methods for communication in the digital written form were not well established. We would have to spend our time developing a software application to support writing digitally as well as consider methods for communicating clearly before we could even begin to draft an engaging story or develop a curriculum.

Today, with the Internet, if we want to learn how to do something or find out about established theory on a subject…where do we go? Google. We search for what others have found to work on the subject. Where do we go on campus? …

Every day our associates at this university do amazing things: they discover and invent new ideas, they improve or create services, they figure out ways to make things better — we do our best to help students succeed. Yet at this moment few of us could tell each other what these amazing things are, we can’t easily use the ideas, or re-purpose them in any way.

There is an opportunity to innovate how we communicate and collaborate on campus. If we utilized communication tools and resources to describe our idea or innovation, document the development process, and then distribute the finished work along with explanation on how to potentially adapt it (or describe other directions that could be taken) then we would be on our way to demonstrating our collective institutional knowledge to the community, prospective students, and to each other.

One example of how to do this is my case study on how to increase usability and value of web pages. I am utilizing a blog to document the process of evaluating an existing WMU Web site and presenting methods to make the Web site better (more useful, more valuable, fast, simple). The blog is being shared with all Web masters on campus. Everyone is encouraged to participate, ask questions, comment, and interact.

Other tools that could support communication include Wikis, Online Forums, podcasts, social communities, etc.

The point is, there are a lot of different methods for communicating. But we each have to take the first step which is to start sharing and discussing our ideas. We need to work on projects together (across departmental units), learn new things, develop new skills. We must document the process, nurture evolution of ideas and methods and begin a cycle of ongoing improvement that will support the mission of our university.

Make the commencement ceremony special

Originally published August 23, 2007

When commencement season rolls around, I read about other universities who have U.S. presidents, celebrities, icons, and others preside over the ceremony. For the ten years I have been at Western I have heard the same commencement speech year after year.

I have had many friends and family members graduate from this institution, I have worked many commencement ceremonies. All of the ceremonies are exactly the same. To me, this is a sad thing. It is like finding out that your favorite pop music star lip syncs at public performances.

Why not personalize things a little more? It takes students four to six years to complete their undergraduate degree, several more for a masters and a Ph.D. They worked hard. Shouldn’t we honor and respect their hard work by allocating some extra time to draft a speech and plan an event that is fresh and relevant to the culture and generation of the moment, write something that uplifts and inspires? Bring in some keynote speakers, have a notable musician perform. Have a valedictorian from the class who gives a speech about what they think is important. Commencement should be the final capstone on a huge accomplishment and life changing experience. Let’s make more of an effort to make it special and memorable.

Free DVD of commencement ceremonies

Originally published August 24, 2007

A wonderful goodwill gesture to students graduating from WMU would be to give them a complimentary copy of their graduation ceremony on DVD at no charge.

Students currently can purchase a copy of their commencement ceremony for $25.00 plus shipping (plus $10 for international shipping, and +$5 for conversion to PAL format).

Let’s talk about value for a moment: yes, this video is professionally shot — I personally know and have worked with many of the wonderful people who produce these videos. Having a copy of the video to show to mom and dad who might not have been able to attend is wonderful.

At the same time, paying $25.00 should seem a little steep to everyone. We could all walk into any local store and purchase a copy of a Hollywood blockbuster with special effects, script and story line and total running time of over two hours and pay less than $25.00. Granted Hollywood has large distribution to cover the costs of production etc. But the similar purchase cost of the commencement DVD forces a comparison with other similar products.

But other than staff time, how much would it cost to mass produce copies of a DVD? On average, let’s say we have 3,000 graduates. A google search for ‘kalamazoo, mi dvd duplication‘ gives us tons of results we could follow-up on. When I searched for this term, one of the first results is for a company called We could have 3000 discs created with a full sized plastic case (just like those that the hollywood DVDs come in), full color insert for the front and back, ready in 10 days for $3929.00 — roughly a $1.31 per student. There are logistics, and specific tasks that would have to be completed for getting multiple ceremonies duplicated to DVD — however, all of these details are manageable.

So, when a student graduates, they are charged a $45 graduation fee, if they want a copy of their ceremony, they have to pay $25 plus shipping, if they want a photo, they have to pay for that too. How would you feel if you had to pay for so many ‘little’ things after paying tens of thousands to get a degree? Why would we be surprised if a student simply made a VHS copy from the local community access broadcast instead of purchasing a copy?

Graduation should be about celebration and joy — students shouldn’t leave felling frustrated or annoyed. Wouldn’t it be better to graduate students and give them a small memento, at no charge, that might make them feel good about the university? Treating people well today may mean that they will treat the university well in the future by making donations, referring others to the university, or sending their children here.

Build mentor apprentice relationships between students and staff

Originally published August 25, 2007

What if we created a mentor network where students (attending WMU or area high schools) could contact WMU staff for guidance and knowledge sharing?

A formalized mentor/matchmaking tool would make it easy for students to submit a request to WMU. For example, students could use the tool to request an on-site visit or presentation by a WMU career field expert/mentor. Students could submit a request for a face-to-face meeting and/or consultation. There could also be an option to request an opportunity to job shadow — so that students could learn more about a career prior to beginning their studies.

By sharing our expertise and by being available for mentor/apprentice relationships we can help students to learn more about career fields, potential courses of study, and next steps.

Song contest

Originally published August 26, 2007

Hold a contest with $1,000 in prizes for students to write, compose and perform the most creative song about their experience at WMU.

The contest could include categories for submissions including: blues, pop, rap, ballad, protest. There could also be a section for specific formats such as mobile phone ring tones. Voting could be done by panel or popular vote. Prizes could include cash, gift certificates to campus stores, movie tickets to local theaters, and dinner at restaurants in downtown Kalamazoo.

The contest would provide a creative venue where students could present their unique point of view about their experience as a student. The contest could also provide an interesting student life experience for both participants and audiences.

Campus suggestion box

Originally published August 27, 2007

In a world of electronic communication, sometimes we overlook other methods of soliciting feedback from students. We should setup a campus suggestion box in the main entrance of the Bernhard Center. A simple wooden box with a stack of printed feedback/suggestion forms and a pencil would provide a tangible way for students to communicate their thoughts about our University.

There are logistic concerns for making an effort like this work.

First, we would need to build awareness of the resource across campus. Next, we would need to let students know that submissions are collected from the box on a regular basis. For example, we could post a notice on the box that comments are collected every Friday at 4 p.m. In order for students to fully utilize the tool, we would have to demonstrate that the suggestion box was a credible means of communication. Namely, we would have to be able to demonstrate that we are reading the suggestions, we are open to feedback, and we actually act on comments received from students. We could print a weekly sheet providing an overview of feedback received, and what action we took — attach a copy of the report to the suggestion box, or publish it in some other way.

Connect freshmen with upper class-men

Originally published August 28, 2007

Today’s idea for WMU comes from a colleague of mine. In a recent staff meeting, Donna Mearing mentioned that as part of a course she taught that she would have students interview an upper class man to find out what they would have loved to know when they first started out at WMU. Donna was kind enough to send me a copy of the assignment:

UNIV 101 Name______
Assignment #1 20 points

If you want to know about college life, ask those who have successfully negotiated the early stages! Find one or two fellow students who have attended WMU for at least a year, students who have settled into college life and are doing well. Interview them to ask what kind of advice they would give incoming freshmen. What are some things your veteran students wish they had known when they first arrived on campus? Come up with at least four important pieces of advice, based on what your interviewees tell you. How can knowing this advice help you now? Summarize their advice and how it can help you now below.


I love this idea. It is a great way to build community, share acquired knowledge, and build awareness.

Make time to do something different

Originally published August 29, 2007

Over my 10+ years at WMU, both as a student and a staff member, I have been witness to discussions about the mission and vision of the university as it relates to job descriptions and responsibilities. On one side of the discussion is the position that staff should only do what is in their job description. On the other is the position that staff should fulfill core responsibilities while enhancing the value of the university for students and associates.

The mission of Western Michigan University indicates that the institution is one that “forges a responsive and ethical academic community, develops foundations for achievement in pluralistic societies, incorporates participation from diverse individuals in decision-making, contributes to technological and economic development, engenders an awareness and appreciation of the arts (Western Michigan University, 2007).

How do other organizations contribute to technological and economic development? At Google engineers are encouraged to utilize “20-percent time” to freely work on what they are really passionate about (Google, 2007). “20-percent time” enables each engineer to “spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in [their] job descriptions” (K., 2006). Using this philosophy is how Google has nurtured and developed innovative products like Google Reader, Gmail, and other similar tools (K., 2006). This work concept, as well encouraging staff to work across all units makes “switching teams at Google a very fluid process” — staff can dynamically adjust their allocation of work time as needed for important and innovative projects (Beda, 2005).

If we made a decision at WMU to collaborate more frequently, and utilize “20-percent time”, across organizational units and across job descriptions we could more effectively support the mission of our institution. This approach to productivity emphasizes what we “can do” vs. what we “can’t do”. A collaborative environment also ensures that resources will not be wasted by forcing a staff member, who lacks specific expertise required to complete a project, from having to ‘re-invent the wheel/start from scratch/or learn as they go’. Projects could be completed rapidly instead of over many months or years. Some might say this would never work. Yet, I know that there are members of our university community who are responsible adults and have the ability to balance core job responsibilities while participating in trans-organizational projects and innovation.

What would you do with 20-percent time?


Beda, J. (2005). Google 20% time. Retrieved August 29, 2007 from

Google. (2007). The engineer’s life at Google. Retrieved August 29, 2007 from

K., A.(2006). Google’s “20 percent time” in action. Retrieved August 29, 2007 from

Western Michigan University. (2007). Mission and goals. Retrieved August 29, 2007 from

Let’s explore the concept of student success

Originally published August 30, 2007

On August 28, Dr. John M. Dunn, president of Western Michigan University, wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press to express his opinion that WMU is an institution that is just “the right size, with a rich history, a promising future and a commitment to student success” and that WMU is “determined to be sensitive to overall educational costs” (Dunn, 2007). Dunn’s letter was in response to a Detroit Free Press article published two weeks earlier titled “Small schools fear biggest universities will hog state cash”. As a WMU staff member, I was encouraged by Dunn’s views on WMU and his decision to share his opinions publicly.

There has been a lot of talk on campus of ‘student success’. Yet, before we can take real steps in assisting students to be successful, it is important to consider what outcomes, characteristics, and actions are necessary to support the overall concept of student success. Our institution has started by conceptualizing student success as degree completion “in the shortest possible time frame” (Dunn, 2007). As part of the Western Edge WMU plans to “offer incoming students a compact that will require them to carry a full credit load, commit to annual advising, declare a major by the start of their sophomore year and agree to take advantage of a range of campus academic support measures” (WMU, 2007). While WMU is emphasizing the graduation portion of their plan at this point in time, it is encouraging to see the institution recognize that student success also involves academic advising, declaration of a major and utilization of support services. WMU’s Western Edge is still being developed by key stake holders at the university and more detailed information regarding the effort is being published to the Western Edge Web site as it becomes available.

In the mean time, over the next few days let’s consider the other aspects of student success. What do you think students think would make them successful in their academic endeavors? What other things could be done to assist students?


Dunn, J.M. (2007). Nothing small about WMU’s mission. Retrieved August 30, 2007 from

WMU (2007). The Western Edge. Retrieved August 30, 2007 from

Explore what others have done: National student success efforts

Originally published August 31, 2007

Exploring what others have done enhances our knowledge and awareness of potential directions that could be pursued.

In the case of student success, by exploring what others have done, we may be in a better position to evaluate our existing student success efforts as well as consider new opportunities to support our students and enhance their success.

On January 31, 2007 the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators ( announced that they would be launching the International Center for Student Success and Institutional Accountability ( in order to promote student success and “help post-secondary institutions throughout the world develop and assess a wide range of outcomes that characterize and document the learning and experience of the whole student” (Mundhenk, 2007). In conceptualizing student success, NASPA indicated that “while classroom learning performance and graduation are traditional measures, they alone do not adequately reflect and define student success and its many dimensions” (Mundhenk, 2007).

The ICSSIA was formed in March 2007. Their first research endeavor was the Institutional Assessment Instrument Project which identified and profiled 26 student success assessment tools used in higher education. The findings of the study indicated that the tools used to assess student success were “(1) limited in number; (2) focused more on process than outcome; and (3) lacking evidence as to their usefulness in generating information that will inform a productive and meaningful dialogue related to student learning” (Wall, 2007).

The University of Alaska’s (UA) Faculty Alliance has been working to improve student success by “providing a clearinghouse and forum for discussions relating to improving student success” (University of Alaska, 2007). The Faculty Alliance has been host to discussions with Vincent Tinto, Syracuse University, and George D. Kuh, Indiana University Bloomington — two recognized experts in the field of student support, retention, and success. A result of the collaboration between the faculty, the experts, and the administration of the University of Alaska was a model for student success which indicated a cyclic relationship between student success objectives, outcomes, information collection, analysis and feedback (University of Alaska, 2007). The cycle includes the following steps: clear expectations, communication, financial support, readiness, intent, advising and support, strong educational programs, incentives and rewards, accountability and student learning outcomes (University of Alaska, 2007).


Based on these initial findings we can see that student success is a complex concept. Student success is not simply defined by matriculation/graduation or traditional measures. There are a variety of student success assessment tools in place, none of which have a history of delivering proven results. A collaborative model for development of plans and strategies that includes the president of a university, the faculty, and work/findings of nationally recognized experts may increase the potential of advancement of student success.

The ‘take away’ ideas/actionable items for this post include:

  1. When doing something new, explore what others have done
  2. Consider evaluation of the 26 student success assessment tools
  3. Consider establishing a relationship of collaboration with the International Center for Student Success and Institutional Accountability
  4. Consider contacting the University of Alaska to learn more about their student success efforts
  5. Consider inviting an expert like Vincent Tinto and/or George Kuh to WMU to present concepts to and collaborate with our administration and faculty


Mundhenk, B. (2007). New center provides a unified approach to student success. Retrieved August 31, 2007 from

University of Alaska. (2007). The vision: A world-class system of education for Alaska’s future. Retrieved August 31, 2007 from

University of Alaska. (2007). University of Alaska faculty alliance student success. Retrieved August 31, 2007 from

Wall, A. F. (2007). Institutional assessment instrument project. Retrieved August 31, 2007 from

Ask a student, share the answer

Originally published September 4, 2007

If we need more ideas for how to make WMU better, great, and outstanding, then we need to look no further than outside our window. Every day thousands of students are on campus. Students have unique, valuable insights about the university — they experience the campus environment and services every day and can easily tell us what is supporting their success as well as what is not. All we have to do is approach a student, ask them a question, listen, be able to consider their feedback, be willing to act upon their idea, and follow-up with the student to see if our action supported the student’s goals/opinion/needs.

A recent article in the Kalamazoo Gazette demonstrates how feedback can be obtained from students. When asked about their impressions of the new Western Edge student success program, students indicated that the attention they expect to receive via the Edge may keep them motivated to stay in college (Davis, 2007). Another student emphasized the importance of personal attention — prior to moving his major to the School of Music he felt that he did not receive the personal care and attention he needed to succeed (Davis, 2007). One potential downside of the Edge, indicated by a junior attending WMU, is the expectation by WMU for freshmen to complete 30 credit hours — such an extensive workload may be too much (Davis 2007).

From the interviews conducted by the Kalamazoo Gazette, we can see that a student’s concept of student success appears to primarily focus on receiving personal care and attention in addition to advising, being able to get the course they need, and graduating on time.

Based on this feedback, our next steps might be to consider methods for enhancing personal attention for each student as well as providing alternative success strategies to those students who, in order to be successful, need to take fewer credits per semester. Note that the later appears to be an indication that there is academic success defined as gaining conceptual and applied knowledge abilities as well as financial success defined as graduating in four years in order to reduce debt at time of graduation.

How might we increase the quality of personal attention at each point of contact with our students? Consider that potential points of contact with students include and are not limited to when a student is considering a college, application, admission, housing, financial aid, student life, buying books, attending class, completing coursework, staying fit, receiving health care, academic advising, financial advising, career advising and placement, course registration, transcript processing, graduation audit, graduation, and alumni relations.


Davis, P. M. (2007). How much of an Edge at WMU? Retrieved September 4, 2007, from

Team up with others

Originally published September 5, 2007

It takes one person to get something started and help to keep the effort going. To make an idea grow it often takes a team of individuals that share a vision and are willing to work hard.

Collaboration and team work can be nurtured through open communication, willingness to share, ability to compromise, and the ability to lead as well as follow.

Who is part of your professional team within your office and across campus? Do you have partners who you can help as well as get assistance from?

What more could you accomplish if you were part of a larger collaborative group?

Connect students and parents through blogs

Originally published September 6, 2007

One way we could help students connect with each other, and stay connected with their parents and friends who are not at WMU, is by encouraging students to use blogs.

Through a blog, each student could write about their academic and social experiences at WMU. Over four years of writing, each student could look back and utilize previous posts to reflect on as well as demonstrate their personal growth throughout their college experience. Parents could subscribe to their son or daughter’s blog through an RSS feed, or visit the blog on a regular basis. Mom and dad could easily know what their family is up to without having to feel like they are nagging or pestering their child. In addition, when mom and dad did call their son or daughter — they would be able to have a richer conversation: “Bill, we read that you went to the homecoming opener at Waldo Stadium and ran into your old friend Jeff — that is SO COOL! What are you guys up to this weekend?”.

WMU could be one of the first universities to partner with Blogger, WordPress, or MoveableType to deliver a rich blogging service to students. The technology used to support blogging is very easily to integrate and deploy.

Academically, blogs could be used to support student information technology literacy — students will learn electronic communication and collaboration skills. Blogs can be used to do group work — each student could invite other students to be guest authors on their blog. Course work could be made a part of blog activity too — instructors could assign students short papers or research projects and require students to post individual and/or group work on blogs. Finally, instructors could even use Mashups (a single source that combines multiple blog feeds) to create collaborative learning environments.

Use greeters at public events

Originally published September 6, 2007

When we run a service event, like “One Stop,” have a greeter who helps to guide customers.

[One stop was an event where prospective students and their families could come to campus, enjoy a tour, and then complete everything they needed to for application in one place. Prior to this approach, the different opt-in services were located throughout campus. So you couldn’t take care of work with the registrar, financial aid, housing and more unless you traveled all over campus.]

Set a new world record every year

Originally published September 7, 2007

Wouldn’t setting a new world record every year be a fun, unique, and memorable annual tradition at WMU?

An easy way to set a world record is to pick a specific action and then have lots of people do it. For example, in 2004 the London District Cathollic School Board set the record for Most Snow Angels at 15,851 — Western has 25,000 students, we could make a lot of snow angels. In 2006, 406 people set the world record for shaking maracas — we could easily beat that record while having fun shaking things up. Another way to set a record is to make something really big. In 2007, Smurfit Kappa Van Dam Golfkarton B.V. set the world record for the largest cardboard box at 32’11” x 12’2″ x 7’3″. Do you think our students in engineering and paper science could compete at this level?

There are over 40,000 records in the Guinness World Records database that we could consider. I am certain we could also be creative and innovative and come up with new ideas for records too.

How much does it cost to make an attempt at breaking or setting a world record? According to the Guinness World Record FAQ:

Generally, nothing! The only time Guinness World Records might expect payment is if you need to use our Fast Track or Fast Review service – and if members of our staff have, by arrangement, attended your event.

Also, while all successful record breakers receive, free of charge, a certificate recognizing their achievement, we do make a charge for any additional copies if they’re requested.

WMU could create a free account on the Guinness World Records Application page, form a group to consider what our first attempt should be, publicize the attempt, participate in the event, then sit back and smile at a job well done.

Help our students to connect and share with K-12 students

Originally published September 7, 2007

Enhance relationships with regional schools. Have our students guest present at local K-12 schools.

“Chalk the Walk Day”

Originally published September 10, 2007

Students are more likely to stay at a university if they connect with peers, instructors, staff, and the local community. Fun, interactive, engaging, and memorable activities can be an essential part of building and maintaining these key connections.

WMU could declare an official ‘chalk the walk’ day — as a community building/enhancing event. We could provide students with bright colored buckets of chalk at major sidewalk intersections. Attach balloons sporting WMU school colors and a short intro page providing suggestions for what to draw: “sketch a cool picture, write the name of your home town, or to write the name of your major”. The result of the activity would be students creating something collaboratively, sharing ideas and preferences — making connections with each other and feeling connected with fellow students.

According to the nice folks at the WMU Physical Plant, we have approximately 39 miles of side walks on campus with an estimated surface area of roughly 28 acres (1,235,520 sq ft.). There is also over 23 “lane miles” of streets on campus (lane mile = 12′ X 5280′).

What this means is we have a really huge blank canvas available to us.

How much would this cost?

Not that much, based on this selection of materials from

If we setup roughly 25 chalking locations, the total cost of the project would be the cost of materials + setup time. Otherwise said, this is an inexpensive way to build community and encourage student interaction.

Overview: Exploring solutions to challenging issues

Originally published September 11, 2007

Over the next few days we will be exploring solutions to challenging issues (e.g. costs of attendance, fees, textbooks, etc). Each post is intended to present a potential solution to the financial challenges our students face. On each of the ideas presented, we welcome your comments, feedback, discussion and ideas.

Stop using textbooks

Originally published September 11, 2007

The average annual cost of textbooks each year at a public four-year institution is $968, up from $898 in 2003-04 (Ithaca, 2007; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2005). A student earning minimum wage in the State of Michigan will receive $7.15/hour (State of Michigan, 2007) and will work over 125 hours in order to pay for their college textbooks each year.

88,000 families in Michigan are living in poverty and could double their income if they had one thing: a college education (Andrews, 2007). These hard working individuals will fail to complete their degree because they are unable to afford the costs of attendance, manage their course schedule because of on going work commitments, or are unable to afford the necessary child care required in order to attend (Andrews, 2007).

Managing the soaring costs of college textbooks.

Student success is about being able to afford a college education, graduating in a short period of time, and managing a responsible and reasonable amount of debt.

In order to support student success and keep the costs of higher education affordable we should stop using textbooks in our courses.

As an alternative, we could utilize journal articles available through the university library and original research accessible on the Internet (Lusk, 2007).

WMU could be a leader in championing student success by eliminating one of the most expensive costs of attendance: $900+ worth of textbooks each year.


Andrews, C. (2007). Wage gap in Michigan expanding, study says. Lansing State Journal. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from

Ithaca College. (2007). What is the average cost of books each year. Ithaca College. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from

Lusk, B. (2007). UVSC prof. quits books. Daily Herald. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from

State of Michigan. (2007). What is the Michigan Minimum Wage? Retrieved September 11, 2007, from,1607,7-154

U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2005). GAO-05-806, College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases. U.S. Government Accountability Office. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from

Publish textbooks through our university

Originally published September 12, 2007

Each year students at WMU pay an average of $22.5 million for college textbooks ($900 x 25,000 students). If WMU authored and published its own textbooks, the revenue generated would more than cover the $5.9 million budget shortfall for the 2006-07 fiscal year (Roland, 2007).

How would we finance initial development and production?

The initial costs of textbook development and production could be financed through an institutional, state, NPO, foundation, or federal grant. Incentives for development of textbooks could be offered to faculty. The faculty could choose to invest time in development, without initial compensation, by agreeing to receive a fair share of the future sales.

How much would the textbooks cost to produce?

Based on a basic search for book printing services. can print 100 black and white books for $7.93 each. can produce 100 books for $6.14 each. can print 100 single-color books for $3.41 each.

By partnering with local printers, the university may be able to secure even better pricing by contracting long term service agreements. Such a move would benefit the budget for textbook development and production as well as support the local economy.

How would this idea benefit students?

This solution is a win-win for students and the university. Students would enjoy a significantly reduced annual expense for textbooks and the university gains a new and sustainable revenue stream that will enable them to allocate more resources for student success — which in turn benefits students.

How would this benefit textbook authors?

Currently, textbook authors usually receive only 15% of the wholesale price for each book — so a book that sells for $80 results in compensation of only a few dollars for the author (Middle Tennessee State University, 2007). By having a vertically integrated textbook production and distribution model, we can increase the compensation that authors receive.

How would this benefit the university?

In terms of marketing, the university would be able to actively demonstrate their commitment to student success, academic research and publishing, developing foundations for achievement in pluralistic societies, strengthening of interdisciplinary collaboration and international programs while supporting community and regional partnerships that elevate civic, cultural, social, and economic life. Otherwise said, this idea integrates well with our institutional mission.

The university could be one of the first institutions to actively engage in work that will lower the cost of textbooks, and work to make knowledge accessible at an affordable price. This endeavor could result in as much acclaim as other knowledge distribution and enhancement projects (e.g. MIT’s OpenCourseware project).


Middle Tennessee State University. (2007). College Textbook Prices May Soar but Academic Authors Aren’t to Blame. Retrieved September 12, 2007, from

Roland, C. (2007). Trustees approve $299 million budget. WMU News. Retrieved September 12, 2007, from

Build a collection of textbooks

Originally published September 13, 2007

In the same way that a library enables the greatest number of people to access and utilize books, the university could purchase a collection of textbooks which could be utilized by students across all State of Michigan educational institutions.

How would this work?

Academic departments and faculty across all state institutions could agree upon specific textbooks and editions to use in their curriculum. When the collective agreed that upgrading to a new edition of a textbook was essential — new editions would be purchased and utilized.

Managing the source cost of college textbooks.

The academic institutions and/or the State Government could pool financial resources to acquire and develop a textbook collection.

Borrowing from how the used textbook business moves textbooks around the country to where a course requires a specific textbook — when a course was to be offered, the copies of the textbook from the shared collection would be shipped prior to the start of the semester to the institution where the course is to be taught.

How does this benefit students?

When a student registers for a course, they would receive a package of textbooks automatically. This process simplifies things for students: rather than having to visit the campus book store, stand in line, and pay for books each student gets the books they need, rapidly and at no cost.


The result of a shared collection of textbooks is a reduction in overall operating costs and logistics for both institutions and individual students. The return on the financial investment made in each textbook would be maximized. Utilizing a standardized curriculum and text would also enable students to transfer, at any time, to an institution that best fit their academic needs.

Search for what others have done to manage textbook costs

Originally published September 14, 2007

This week we have explored some actions that could be taken to manage the high cost of college textbooks. In closing our examination of this topic, I would like to take a moment to explore what others are doing to address this issue. The key idea for today’s post has been mentioned before: explore what others are doing, collaborate, expand upon, adapt or adopt the idea.

Efforts of Public Interest Groups

A coalition of student public interest research groups (PIRG) and student government associations in fourteen states joined together with the goal to make college affordable. An outcome of the collaboration is the Web site The group has had some success in building awareness of the issue of high textbook costs, reducing textbook price gouging, and has provided strategies for reducing the costs of textbooks. An excerpt of suggestions from the site is included below:

1. Initiatives to help encourage professors to choose less expensive books. Faculty can be encouraged to stay with the same edition longer, opt for lower cost books, choose unbundled content and get book orders in earlier in order to give the bookstore more time to find used books. Not only will this help get cheaper books on your school’s shelves, but also apply more pressure on the market itself to reduce the cost of books. See the California State University Academic Senate resolution.

Legislators can help give faculty greater tools to accomplish these objectives by following the lead of Washington and Connecticut in requiring greater price transparency by the publishers.

2. Establishment of textbook rental programs, such as those outlined in our Guide to Establishing Textbook Rental Services, or starting bookswaps like

3. Create more alternatives to traditional textbooks. There is a growing amount of high quality learning content available via the Internet for free or extremely low prices. This represents the single greatest path to real competition in the textbooks market, a view recently endorsed by the New York Times and examined in more depth in our recent report, Textbooks for the 21st Century.

In the Internet age, there’s little reason for the cost of a textbook to be so high. There are hundreds of thousands of professors who are able and willing to create learning content. The argument that royalties are needed is a myth. Very few professors who publish ever see royalties; the incentive to publish is predominantly for reputation building, not financial enhancement.

There are a few models for providing this content – we believe that the most viable have two key principles:

a. The content is peer-reviewed or otherwise evaluated by faculty and housed on a university or faculty-sanctioned site. This is the model for Rice University Press, Connexions, California State University’s MERLOT program, and the Global Text Project.

b. Second, that the content is uses an open content license such as the Creative Commons license. This is an alternative licensing system that content providers may use to allow their work to be more openly utilized by others with less restriction. This licensing program retains many of the most powerful publishing incentives (recognition and attribution among peers).

This is not just about “online” vs. “paper” textbooks. The content that most of these repositories offer can be used in both digital and print-only formats, depending on the preferences of the faculty and students who use them. What is unique is that the offerings are free or very low cost.

There are other models also worth mentioning. Freeload Press offers free downloadable books that are subsidized with ads, an approach about which we have some reservations about. Independent authors have put their books on the web, such as Daly’s Organic Chemistry Book and Crowell’s Physics Books.

University of Virgina combats the high cost of textbooks

This past week Laura Ciccantell, a colleague in CASP, forwarded me an article about a plan unveiled at the University of Virgina to combat textbook costs. A short quote/summary is provided below.

An innovative program unveiled by the University of Virginia will provide students with an attractive range of alternative textbook options, including the ability to rent textbooks for a semester or a full year. Other options include electronic books – or e-books – and a guaranteed buyback program.

University of Nevada prof. works with publishers to consolidate materials/excerpts

Donald Pfaff and Phil Boardman at the University of Nevada chose to combat the costs of textbooks by creating their own course material and working with publishers to author slim-downed versions of textbooks that contained only the essential materials.

Buying and selling used textbooks online, suing the industry

Individuals have started online businesses where students can sell and trade textbooks online. Other students have resorted to filing suit against the used textbook industry.

Closing thoughts

The high cost of college textbooks is a real concern. Students who need textbooks for school pay on average $900 each year (some less, some more) — inevitably the lack of realistic and affordable options will lead students to feel victimized by the university, the bookstore, and the publishing industry.

Through sharing and discussing ideas on this topic over the past week I think we can recognize that there are positive actions that can be taken to address this important issue. Each potential action can be beneficial to students, textbook authors, and educational institutions.

Simplify the cost of attendance: Combine or eliminate fees

Originally published September 19, 2007

In order to simplify financial planning for college and improve customer service, Western Michigan University could either stop charging fees or include the costs of services that were covered by fees with the flat rate tuition. Additional services (e.g. sports packages, yearbooks, regalia, etc.) that are truly ‘optional’ could be offered at a reasonable fee and chosen at the discretion of each individual student.

Could this really work?

Upon initial investigation, most colleges appear to charge both tuition and fees. However, The University of Texas at Austin has demonstrated that a flat-rate plan can further simplify the costs of attendance for students and their families. The University of Texas at Austin implemented a flat-rate tuition plan that eliminated individual fees in 2006 (University of Texas at Austin, 2006).

Mandatory, college and course fees are no longer being charged separately. The costs for these services, which previously were funded by fees, are included in the flat rate tuition amount.

Being innovative and promoting student success is not always about doing the same thing everyone else is. In order to truly support students, sometimes doing something different (e.g. what University of Texas at Austin chose to do about tuition and fees) enables us to break old habits and recognize new opportunities for success.

Background information about fees

Fees are charges for services, resources, and activities not directly associated with academic courses (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Many colleges also charge a nonrefundable application fee — in some cases a fee waiver is offered to applicants who are from low-income families (CollegeBoard, 2007). Often, colleges charge so many fees that special communication pieces are designed to assist students in understanding the total costs of attendance (Columbus State Community College, 2007; Georgian College, 2007; University of Minnesota, 2007). At some colleges, if a student does not pay the required fees they are asked to withdraw from their academic program, have their courses dropped, or are charged a re-admission fee in order to continue studies (Columbus State Community College, 2007; NorQuest College, 2007).

Fees charged at Western Michigan University

A freshman will be charged a minimum of $855 in fees during their first semester of attendance at Western Michigan University. A student earning minimum wage would have to work over 120 hours to pay for these fees. In subsequent semesters, students will pay a minimum of $345 in fees and work over 48 hours to cover the expense.

Schedule of fees

$35 application fee (one-time)
$300 records initiation fee (one-time)
$175 orientation fee (one-time)
$333 enrollment fee
$12 student assessment fee
$20 technology course fee (charged if a student takes online courses run through ATIS)
$45 graduation fee

Additional fees may be charged by individual academic departments (e.g. lab fees, aviation flight fees).

Fee explanations

Application fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee (other than the total charge and name of the fee) could not be located on the Undergraduate Admissions page. Presumably the fee covers the associated costs with processing the application.

Records initiation fee

This fee helps subsidize the establishment of each student’s official academic record at the University, and supports related activities such as integrated web course registration, online grade and program reviews, automated degree audit, student accounts receivables, and the provision of an individual electronic portfolio that reflects the learning, educational growth, and personal accomplishments for each student.

Orientation fee

The goals of the Western Michigan University orientation program are divided into four categories:

Institutional Understanding

  • To assist students in understanding the purpose of higher education
  • To assist students in determining their purpose in attending WMU
  • To assist students in developing positive relationships with faculty, staff, peers, and other individuals in the community
  • To help students understand the institution’s expectation of them
  • To provide an atmosphere and information to enable students to make appropriate choices
  • To provide and encourage an atmosphere conducive to a multicultural campus

Academic Understanding

  • To provide information concerning academic policies, procedures and requirements
  • To explain the process for class scheduling and registration and provide trained supportive assistance
  • To provide academic advising to inform students of curriculum requirements and expectations
  • To facilitate the registration of classes in order to complete the enrollment process

Student and Parent Transition

  • To develop a familiarity with the physical surroundings
  • To create an atmosphere that minimizes anxiety, promotes positive attitudes, and stimulates an excitement for learning
  • To provide information on personal safety and security
  • To provide opportunities to discuss expectations and perceptions of the campus with current students, faculty, and staff
  • To encourage students to participate in social activities in order to develop peer and professional contacts

Services and Opportunities

  • To provide information about and opportunities for self-assessment
  • To provide information and exposure to available student support services
  • To provide a meaningful residence hall experience

Enrollment fee

The Enrollment Fee is a single per capita assessment which covers: Health Center Operations Fee; Technology Fee, covering information systems services for students; Facility Fee, for auxiliary building debt requirements; Recreation Fee, for recreation building debt service and building operations; and Infrastructure Fee, for deferred maintenance projects.

Technology course fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee (other than the total charge and name of the fee) could not be located on the Registrar’s tuition page, nor on the ATIS tuition page.

Graduation fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee could not be located. Presumably charged for all details involved with auditing a student’s academic transcript for verification of fulfillment of graduation requirements.

How do students feel about fees?

Clearly, if a student felt that the majority of the services covered by the enrollment fee (e.g. health center, recreation fee, facilities, etc.) were services they never used — the student might feel the fee was unfair. Students might also be of the opinion that the price paid for tuition should cover all services provided by the University.

In addition, the complexity of the fee structures and costs of attendance at WMU can make it very confusing for prospective students and their families to fully understand and plan for attendance at our institution.

In 2005, when WMU first instituted a flat-rate tuition plan, the ‘Flat Rate Policy Letter’ stated that “many of you [students] told us they [the fees] were confusing and unfair, and we have responded to your concerns” (Western Michigan University, 2005). With the flat-rate tuition plan, costs of some fees were reduced. However, as we can see, that two years later, from the schedule of fees listed in this post — there are still many expensive fees that students must pay for.


Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if we either eliminated fees or charged one flat-rate that included tuition and fees?

We wouldn’t need complex systems and accounting to track all the individual fees. Staff resources could be allocated towards promoting student success rather than assessing and auditing fees. Students and their families would have a simple and easy way to understand the costs of attendance.


CollegeBoard. (2007). College Application Requirements. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Columbus State Community College. (2007). Fee information. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Georgian College. (2007). Georgian College Fees – How much will it cost? Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

NorQuest College. (2007). Tuition and Fees. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

University of Minnesota. (2007). Tuition and Fees – College of Education and Human Development. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

University of Texas at Austin. (2006). Tuition Dollars & Sense. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

U.S. Department of Education. Preparing Your Child for College — Important Terms. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Western Michigan University. (2005). WMU Flat Rate Policy. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Ask others what their ideas are

Originally published September 20, 2007

The idea for today is: asking others what their ideas are.

How do to this

There are a lot of great ideas on campus. In order to foster an open community where individuals feel comfortable and free to share their thoughts we have to do three simple things: ask, listen, and be willing to support and act upon the idea.

Things to avoid

There are behaviors and characteristics that we should avoid because of their negative effect on being open and individuals ability to feel comfortable with sharing their ideas: micro-management, dishonesty, being secretive, ulterior motives, setting up roadblocks, obstructionism, finding fault, manipulation, etc. Each of these negative actions and behaviors result in an environment where people don’t feel comfortable sharing ideas — people end up feeling oppressed, depressed, unhappy, under appreciated, and unintelligent.

Idea challenge

What do you think you could accomplish by being open, able to listen, and willing to collaborate?

I would like to know what your ideas are about the following topics:

  • How could we improve parking on campus?
  • How can we help students to understand and support university budgeting and planning?
  • What things could we do to make students like and enjoy attending WMU?

Think about what you would want your last, last words to be

Originally published September 21, 2007

Today’s idea is a quiet one: think about what you would want your last, last words to be…

Sadly this week, Jerry L. Bloemsma, a wonderful, kind and thoughtful person that many of us knew died unexpectedly. I did not know Jerry personally, but I had gotten to know him a little — over conversations at the mail counter. He was always helpful and friendly. His familiar presence at the Bernhard Center will be missed. My deepest sympathy goes out to Jerry’s family.

One of the hardest parts of getting to know and love my associates at this university has been seeing some of them fade away. I remember Mark Perkovic and Thomas Amos. There are so many good people here who have done great things and inspired others.

Last night, one of my favorite blogs shared a video about one professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was diagnosed with cancer and literally was giving his “last lecture”. (video included below) While our mortality is quite humbling, each and every day is truly a wondrous gift, full of opportunity.

Today I am going to think about what my last, last words would be…

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Waive the admission application fee at on-campus open houses

Originally published September 24, 2007

By using the economic and marketing concept of a loss leader, WMU could choose to waive the admission application fee of $35 at on-campus open house events.

What is a loss leader?

A loss leader is a “good or service advertised and sold at below cost price. Its purpose is to bring in (lead) customers in the retail store (usually a supermarket) on the assumption that, once inside the store, the customers will be stimulated to buy full priced items as well” (, 2007).

What are the implications of waiving the application fee for prospective WMU students at open house events?

In the case of prospective students seeking a degree from a four-year institution, removing any potential barrier to the student for completing an application to our institution while they are on-site at an open house is a critical step in their choosing to attend WMU. We want to avoid having the student and their family take the paper work home in order to “think about it” or “send payment in later”. Having them say yes to WMU, and feel great about it at the open house event will increase our chances that they attend WMU. The $35 loss on the application fee will yield a return of more than $57,208 in tuition for four-years with an in-state student and $95,392 in tuition for four-years with an non-resident student (Western Michigan University, 2007).

Why waiving the fee is important

Students who choose to visit WMU at an open house are demonstrating more interest in our institution than the casual visitors who e-mail questions, call us, or browse our Web site. Because of the additional interest they are demonstrating, there is a higher chance that interacting with them in a positive way at the open house will result in a sales conversion (i.e. application, admission, enrollment).

Suppose 1,000 students applied at our WMU fall open house programs. Waiving the $35 application fee results in a “loss” of $35,000. Yet, if waiving the application fee made the difference in the decision of one student to attend WMU, then waiving the fee for all open house attendees will have more than paid for itself when that student pays four-years worth of tuition.

Cross promotions at our open houses

In addition to waiving the application fee, a cross promotion could be offered where prospective students and families are presented with coupons for 25-50% off an item at the apparel and book stores located in the Bernhard Center. This second loss leader encourages prospective students and families to buy-in further to the WMU community. Having mom and dad pick up a sweatshirt, pennant, or football with an WMU logo is another critical step needed for building connection between the prospective student, their parents, and our university.

References (2007). loss leader definition. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from

Western Michigan University. (2007). Tuition & Fees Fall 2007. Western Michigan University. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from

Do something creative with the back of printed pages

Originally published September 25, 2007

Paper and printed documents are part of our everyday life. We encounter printed questionnaires, surveys, meeting agendas, charts, quizzes, syllabi, and more. Yet we are often utilizing only 50% of our printing resources: the back page of every document is almost always blank.

Endeavor to do something creative with the blank side of each and every printed page.

Make your meeting agenda more interesting

Once you have read a meeting agenda, where does it usually go? Most people quickly answer, “I toss it in the trash/recycling bin”. So, not only is only half the printable surface used, the agenda is also thrown away.

What if you were to make your meeting agenda more interesting? Use a duplex printer (a printer able to print on both sides of the page), or manually flip the 25 copies of the agenda you printed on your ink jet and run them through again — print something fun, engaging, useful, or interesting on the back side.

For example, you could print a paper craft template, a fortune cookie-ish word of wisdom, ten words with a translation into multiple languages, a productivity tip, a new strategy or tactic, a new word for the day, a feedback form, a maze, a suduko puzzle, a crossword. As you can see there are a lot of fun and engaging things that could serve as creative inspiration to your associates and employees.

You could also partner with local businesses and print coupons redeemable for discounts on food, beverages, or goods.

How could this idea be used in the classroom?

On quizzes or exams, an instructor could use the backside of each page to include a cryptographic puzzle or clues that teams of students could solve and gain extra points. Such an activity would foster teamwork, collaborative learning, and creative problem solving.

It is a blank canvas, what would you do with it?

There are tons of cool things that could be done with a blank page. Take a moment today to think how you would take advantage of this free space.

Academic, administrative trick or treat

Originally published September 26, 2007

Promote awareness of academic and administrative resources that support student success by holding an “academic, administrative trick or treat” day. Here is how this would work:

  1. On October 31 each academic and administrative office will have a huge bowl of candy
  2. Management and support staff will be present to meet and greet students
  3. We will hand out candy
  4. We will take an interest in the student’s academic area of study (i.e. personal attention and contact)
  5. We will encourage students to visit other offices on campus (i.e. building awareness of services)
  6. A punch card will be available at each site
  7. Students who visit five or more sites can register to win a cool prize (e.g. iPod, laptop, gift certificate to the book store, free passes to a show at miller, dinner at a local restaurant)

The outcomes of this promotion are an increased awareness of on campus support services, enhancement of our community, connection with students, and a warm/good/ happy feeling that we did something great just because we could.

Develop a social learning community: Personalized learning plans

Originally published September 27, 2007

Ask the leading students from each academic college to draft a personalized learning plan and to share learning strategies that other students could utilize.

Learning theory

Reflecting on how I learn and methods I have used to teach others, I would say that we learn better by working with a peer or expert and in the context of our work or area of academic study. Wenger suggests that humans are social beings who gain knowledge through participation, interaction and pursuit of active engagement with the external world — such interaction results in personal meaning (Wenger, 1999). If we were to utilize Wenger’s social theory of learning and consider the aspects of community (learning as belonging), identity (learning as becoming), meaning (learning as experience), and practice (learning as doing) we could adapt an effective strategy for nurturing and supporting a social learning community at WMU.

Knowledge creation and sharing

One aspect that appears to be essential to creation, growth, and support of a social learning community is the practice of creating new knowledge and sharing resources. According to Kock if we desire to “foster knowledge creation and sharing, learning organizations should establish a culture that is conducive to those activities that promote knowledge creation and sharing” (Kock, 2005). So what kinds of actions can be taken to establish such a culture? Kock cites research done by Senge, Nevis et al., and Roskelly: taking some risk and experimenting, adoption of new management practices that stimulate creativity, and actions that stimulate social interaction will help to promote knowledge creation and sharing.

Asking students to share what works for them

By asking the top students from each academic college to share their academic strategies and habits we are taking an important first step towards developing an institutional wide social learning community. Rather then telling students what will work for them, we are asking those who are successful to share what they have discovered worked best for them in their areas of academic study. New insights and perspectives into what moderns students do 1) to get things done, and 2) to access and retain new knowledge can be advantageous to both our faculty (e.g. adopting or building awareness of alternative methods for helping students to learn) and the student peers who are pursing a similar area of academic study (e.g. peers can learn effective methods and strategies to improve knowledge retention and application).

How to share the knowledge…

The audience interested in the information we are talking about in this post include students, instructors, parents, and high school students. Many of the effective habits and plans shared by our “leading students” may be applicable beyond the scope of their academic area of study. Hence, having a Web site, blog, wiki or online forum where the information is shared and developed that is accessible to everyone (i.e. members of WMU, high schools, and the surrounding region) would be ideal. To make this work we should pursue a collaborative relationship between all of our colleges, programs, and offices and deliver a unified message through one Web site, an e-mail campaign, and strong marketing.


Kock, N. F. (2005). Business Process Improvement Through E-collaboration: Knowledge Sharing. Idea Group Inc (IGI).Wenger, E. (1999). A social theory of learning. In Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press (pp. 3-5). Retrieved September 27, 2007, from;=&id;=heBZpgYUKdAC

Create a peer tutor network

Originally published September 28, 2007

WMU could establish and promote a peer tutor network where freshmen and sophomores could connect with upper class men and seek assistance with academic work.

What are the advantages of this idea?

Students who have been on campus for several years and advanced through their academic programs can be a huge help to under class men by providing relevant concrete examples that will assist in the adoption of new concepts and materials, share effective study skills, bridge relationships between faculty mentors and new students, as well as providing the social support that could make the difference in a student completing their degree. The upper class men gain new relationships and insights about learning and instruction methods while adding strong examples of leadership and collaboration to their personal resume.

What are the values of peer tutoring as indicated by established research?

The benefits of peer-tutoring include improvements in learning (e.g. critical thinking, meta cognitive skills, reflection on experiences, aid learning, empower students/increase autonomy), skills development (e.g. communications skills, literature reviewing ability, composition improvement), academic achievement, and improved social outcomes (Falchikov & Blythman, 2001).

In a review of the literature, Topping found that a significant amount of research had been conducted into the effectiveness and value of peer learning/tutoring. While establishing a peer tutoring network and providing sufficient training would consume significant time and resources, and some might consider the quality of peer-instruction to be inferior when compared to that of an experienced instructor or faculty member, studies of the effectiveness of peer tutoring in schools indicated “substantial cognitive gains for both tutees and tutors (Topping, 1996). In terms of cost effectiveness, when compared to other models, peer tutoring was found to be four times as cost-effective (Topping, 1996). A model of peer tutoring titled “The Personalized System of Instruction” (PSI) presents an effective method for applying a large scale support/scaffolding structure across a curriculum. Application of the model has been found to yield “higher class marks … and higher final examination performance” (Topping, 1996). Most importantly is the positive impact the PSI has on graduation rates while decreasing overall dropout rates (Topping, 1996).


Establishing, marketing, and promoting a large scale peer tutoring network is a logical next step for our institution in conjunction with our efforts to increase student success. The research indicates that peer tutoring is a proven and effective method for enhancing skill sets and knowledge building while having a positive impact on retention and matriculation.


Falchikov, N., & Blythman, M. (2001). Learning Together Peer Tutoring in Higher Education. RoutledgeFalmer. Retrieved September 28, 2007, from;=&id;=Qw-x4s6uP3kC

Topping, K. (1996). The effectiveness of peer tutoring in further and higher education: A typology and review of the literature. Higher Education, 32(3), 321-345. Retrieved September 28, 2007, from

Create a community calendar

Originally published October 1, 2007

Create a community calendar where everyone can post information about upcoming events.

Why is this needed?

While the WMU news and the university home page provide announcements about specific institutional related events (e.g. graduation, board meetings, presidential appearances etc.) many of us have observed and commented on the absence of a community calendar for communication of campus events for student groups, departments, offices, etc.

In order to know what is happening on campus we need to visit too many different Web sites.

One source for all event information would be ideal for our marketing efforts and promotion of events, public speaker series, and meetings that are academically oriented.

What features should our community calendar have?

  1. The calendar for the entire university should be accessible from one location (e.g.
  2. The calendar should be accessible privately in the portal, and publicly from the Web
  3. Any member of the university community should be able to add an event to the calendar
  4. A filter for displaying specific types of events should be available
  5. A search tool for locating future and past events should be available
  6. The calendar should feature RSS feeds, for those who want to subscribe to announcements for specific types of events, or individual/group promoting an event
  7. The filtered results from the calendar should be re-usable on departmental Web sites using RSS/PHP/Syndication/Content Management

How should we go about creating a community calendar?

  1. We should organize a small group to complete a needs assessment of other features the calendar should include.
  2. Review potential open source or commercial product offerings
  3. Consider development or modification of a calendar tool in house
  4. Implement a beta of the calendar
  5. Try it for 3-6 months
  6. Review feedback from the community
  7. Make necessary changes
  8. Launch the finished tool

Avoid the practices associated with micromanagement

Originally published October 2, 2007

The idea for today is both simple and complex: avoid the practices associated with micromanagement.

What is micromanagement?, an online publication that “provides action-oriented intelligence for managerial professionals that’s smart, useful, and always right at your fingertips”, defines micromanagement as:

a style of management where a manager becomes over-involved in the details of the work of subordinates, resulting in the manager making every decision in an organization, no matter how trivial. Micromanagement is a euphemism for meddling, and has the opposite effect to empowerment. Micromanagement can retard the progress of organizational development, as it robs employees of their self-respect.

BNET’s definition is consistent with that provided by Merriam-Webster:

to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details

Why is it important that we are aware of and avoid micromanagement?

Those who micro-mange are hurting our institution’s ability to fulfill its mission and goals — micromanagement has a negative effect on “communication, creativity, productivity, problem-solving, flexibility, trust, feedback, and openness” (Fracaro, 2007). Trust is consistently at the top of employee’s list of what they want from their work place — credibility, respect, and fairness are also amongst the top five things listed in the Great Place to Work Model (Newing, 2006). Employees need to see the organization be willing and able to make changes. For example, at Microsoft two managers were moved after two rounds of unsatisfactory staff surveys (Newing, 2006). A decision to do nothing to support staff will yield dire long term results and impacts on productivity and return on investment.

What can be done about micromanagement?

Fracaro recommends taking three simple/logical steps to reverse symptoms of micromanagement — steps that can enable any manager to become more effective:

1. Determine if you are indeed micromanaging your employees before initiating subsequent steps to correct your harmful behavior. 2. Determine who or what you are micromanaging, when and where it is taking place, and why it is occurring. 3. To change your behavior, acknowledge several factors that von must accept, communicate with your employees in a specific way to foster their input, and choose one or more alternative methods to cease your micromanagement.

Additional resources

The following resources may be valuable in conceptualizing micromanagement, identifying the risks of being a micro-manager, and strategies for avoiding negative habits, practices and actions associated with micromanagement. The articles listed in this resource section describe strategies for all levels of an organization: staff, management, directors, and executive boards.

Micromanaging Defined — And How to Avoid It

Overview: Successful managers know when micromanaging is okay and when it’s not okay. In short, micromanagement is not okay when it affects the mental health of your staff or the efficiency of your organization.

This white paper is a great resource for business leaders who want to avoid micromanaging. It defines micromanagement and explains:

  • When micromanaging is okay
  • When micromanaging is not okay
  • What constitutes unnecessary input or oversight
  • How to recognize a micromanager
  • How to change your micromanaging tendencies

10 Tips for Preventing Micromanagement [as a member of a board of directors, or as an executive director]
by Richard Male & Associates

Management do’s and don’ts, according to your staff
by Toni Bowers, TechRepublic

Vol. 10 No. 05 Managing Micromanagement Part 1
The Why and How: A guide to make everyone’s life a little better.

By Julie Adamen

How to Motivate Under-Performing Personnel
by Vicky Therese Davis, William R. Patterson, D. Marq

How to Keep Trustees From Being Micromanagers
By RICHARD P. CHAIT, Chronicle of Higher Education


Definition of micromanage – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 2, 2007, from

Fracaro, K. E. (2007). The consequences of micromanaging. Contract Management, 47(7), 4-7. Retrieved October 2, 2007,

Micromanagement: Definition. BNET. Retrieved October 2, 2007, from

Newing, R. (2006). Key factor in workplaces that work TRUST: Credibility, respect and fairness all rely on building a sense of trust. Financial Times, 7. Retrieved October 2, 2007,

Get to know each student as an individual

Originally published October 3, 2007

Make an effort to provide personal attention to our students by getting to know each student as an individual.

What is the value of getting to know each student?

Students are impressed and feel connected to an academic program when they receive personal attention (Davis, 2007). Models have been established that demonstrate a significant connection between student satisfaction as it relates to student success and retention (Sanders & Burton, 1996). Availability of the right kinds of academic and personal support strongly influence a student’s decision to withdraw from or continue on at an institution (Rickinson & Rutherford, 1995). Getting to know each student as an individual has the potential for enhancing our recruitment efforts.

What do faculty and instructors need to get to know their students?

To get to know each student our faculty and instructors need:

  1. to know the student’s name
  2. be able to visually recognize the student
  3. be able to relate to the student’s past experiences
  4. connect with the student’s perspectives and abilities

What are the outcomes from this effort?

The outcomes from getting to know the student as an individual include:

  1. Utilization of available knowledge to construct adequate academic scaffolding and personal support for each student
  2. Enhanced, personalized learning and environment for students
  3. Increased retention of students at the institution

What methods could we utilize to get to know each student?

One method, as suggested by a colleague in the Department of Music, would be to include a photo of students on the course rosters — providing a visual reference for memorization of names and the ability to have personalized conversations with every student. Potential risks to such a practice include government regulations regarding privacy as well as issues with technical implementation and support. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) sets standards regarding use and sharing of student records. School officials are enabled, under 34 CFR § 99.31, to provide private information to other school officials with “legitimate educational interest” (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Though ideally, permission to access individual student details should be granted by each student to specific third parties.

The risk to including photos on course rosters in regards to technical implementation and support is that student information and course management systems used by the majority of higher education institutions do not have support for displaying an avatar/photo of members of the community, interaction outside of individual courses, nor do they support a detailed individual profile. Modifying the existing systems to include these features would require significant ongoing financial and time resources.

Institutional data resources and integrated infrastructure appear to be unable to accommodate or rapidly adapt to our current and evolving needs for getting to know each student as an individual in order to have a positive impact on retention. So, what else could we do?

Consider using established social networking tools

Go where the students are. Students are using online social networks like Facebook. These social networks enable students to voluntarily post information about themselves, to join specific groups within the community, sign-up to attend events, and to become ‘friends’ with other community members.

Faculty and instructors could follow the lead of John M. Dunn (who has 203 friends at WMU on Facebook) and Diether Haenicke (who has 963 friends at WMU on Facebook) and open a Facebook account and start interacting online with students and colleagues at WMU.

Faculty and instructors could create a Facebook group for their course and during the first week of class encourage their students to join the group. Student participation with the activity should be voluntary — but, incentive could be given to students to encourage them to join (e.g. credit towards 10% of an exam score — a chance to bump their points by a full grade on one exam). From there faculty and instructors could learn more about each of their students, relate weekly lessons to things the students are experiencing in their day-to-day lives or had experienced in their past.

Ice breakers could include: post five things we don’t know about you, tell us about your favorite book, what do you hope to do after graduation? etc…

Ultimately the result is a strengthened and enhanced university community grounded in the practice of getting to know every student as a unique individual.


Davis, P. M. How much of an Edge at WMU? Retrieved September 4, 2007, from

Rickinson, B., & Rutherford, D. (1995). Increasing undergraduate student retention rates. – British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 23(2), 161-172. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

Sanders, L., & Burton, J. D. (1996). From retention to satisfaction: New outcomes for assessing the freshman experience. Research in Higher Education, 37(5), 555-567. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

U.S. Department of Education. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

Require tutoring for low academic performance

Originally published October 4, 2007

If a student scores less than a 3.0, or ‘B’ average, in their course assignments, require them to obtain tutoring. Identify students who need assistance on a week-to-week basis rather than solely on mid-term academic performance.

Why is this important?

Academic performance is an indicator of student success. Low grades and performance on assignments, quizzes and exams may indicate that a student is struggling in a course. Most students have a much lower expectation of the time required to succeed in higher education—the majority spends much less time than the twenty-six hours per week faculty have determined is necessary in order to succeed (Kuh, 2005). What each student gets out of their academic pursuits is dependent upon their personal effort and involvement—how engaged the students are in their education (Kuh, 2007). One of the best strategies in engaging students is to teach them how to utilize the university and its resources (Kuh, 2007). However, identifying students based on mid-term academic performance is often too late to have a meaningful impact (Kuh, 2005).

Closing thoughts

Strong academic performance, scaffolded by comprehensive academic support, will help students to succeed in their chosen academic degree, future education, and employment. Many students don’t succeed simply because they are not familiar with how to utilize available resources or how to implement best practices for studying. It is essential that students who need guidance and support in order to succeed are identified early. Requiring mandatory tutoring for low academic performance is a direct intervention that in many cases is necessary if the student is to complete their degree.


Kuh, G. (2005). Student engagement in the first year of college. In low grades and performance on assignments, quizzes and exams. Jossey-Bass (pp. 86-107).

Kuh, G. (2007). How to Help Students Achieve. The Chronicle of Higher Education., 53(41), 12. Retrieved October 4, 2007, from

Idea from Ellaine

Originally published October 31, 2007

Provide incentive/gifts to students who demonstrate the most school spirit.

Idea from Toby

Originally published October 31, 2007

Here’s an idea that might be one for you to tackle…

“Engage” is a vital word for today’s higher education institutions. They must engage prospective students in hopes that they enroll. They must engage students to ensure they complete their education at the institution. They must engage alumni to continue to make donations.

Schools that do an exceptional job at each of these stages reap financial rewards for doing so, but for these schools is there any further engagement that could prove vastly beneficial?

The challenges of engaging different audiences, or phases of students, is a challenge – at best. Typcially, a student profile migrates from one electronic database to another much like a student wandering from class to class. Little, if any, information is retained from cradle to grave. This offers a significant chasm for institutions, yet, few even see it.

As one thread in this blog already discussed, personalized attention is very important. In that thread, the emphasis was on engaging current students with a minor mention about engaging prospective ones. To take that further, what benefits are there if the personal information retained about a prospect, enrolled, and then an alumni was retained and re-used to engage all three groups at once?

Could there be a significant windfall if WMU was able to not only deliver personalized information to prospective and current students, but also to alumni? Certainly, a MBA grad would be more interested in hearing about fundraising efforts for a new building for Haworth College than for an Arts program in disarray.

Now, to really inject something to consider, could there be any significant impact in using that same MBA alumni to engage prospective students interested in your business program? Would having an MBA graduate personally engage this student and/or his parents have any impact?

By embracing a philosophy to engage students (future, current and past) in a cohesive, cyclical strategy, one would think significant benefits could be attained. Thoughts?

Best regards,

Toby Keeping
Senior Accounts Director, Azorus Inc.

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