University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford is a four-year college of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt–Bradford’s major goals are new levels of academic excellence, student enrollment and academic success, human resources and diversity, rural engagement and outreach, reputation and identity, financial and material resources, and campus ambience and sustainability.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

The overall assessment process is articulated in a document titled Timeline for Planning and Budgeting Process (Appendix B3). The document outlines the steps taken to ensure that the planning process is transparent and accessible to the campus community, that strategic initiatives are prioritized, and that budgetary resources are reviewed in light of institutional priorities.

The Pitt–Bradford Planning and Budgeting Committee, composed of faculty, staff, and student representatives, meets regularly during the academic year. Responsibility centers provide reports on the progress of all strategic initiatives, and a summative report is presented to the president regarding goals that have been met and those initiatives needing additional time, effort, or resources. In addition, the president holds an annual two-day summer planning retreat with the campus leadership team. Using data collected during the previous academic year, decisions are made regarding adjustments to the campus’ strategic plan.

A review of planning documents reveals an assessment conversation taking place over a 10-year period among the various campus constituencies at Pitt–Bradford as well as a corresponding dialogue between the Provost and the Pitt–Bradford campus planners.

For example, each annual strategic planning report lays out campus-specific challenges and priorities—including enrollment planning, academic program development, and scholarship management—and describes initiatives designed to address those challenges. Reports in subsequent years record the varying degrees of success achieved, including enrollment targets met or not, new academic programs introduced, resource reallocation implemented, and requests for additional resources articulated. Beyond that, the report outlines a continued commitment to particular strategies and the abandonment of failed strategies.

At the same time, the campus-specific plan is framed within the broader University-wide context. The Provost’s response to the strategic plan progress report submitted each spring provides an official institutional reaction to the assessment of movement toward campus-specific goals along with an assessment of Pitt–Bradford’s success in dovetailing its plans with particular University goals. The comments of the members of the Provost’s Area Planning and Budgeting Committee (PAPBC) who read the plan, included with the Provost’s letter, often provide a candid set of observations, questions, and recommendations.

Using Assessment in Planning, Program Development, and Resource Allocation

The Provost’s yearly letters of response to planning documents and the comments of PAPBC are discussed in the president’s cabinet meetings and then shared as appropriate by cabinet members with their respective units, which implement actions as needed. For example, this process identified the need to adjust general education components to accommodate the global competency requirement discussed in the Provost’s planning letter.

In the case of Pitt–Bradford, the area of enrollment management provides a good microcosm of this assessment dialogue process in action over a sustained period of time. For all of the regional campuses, given the primacy of their focus on undergraduate education, the practice of setting and meeting enrollment targets constitutes a fundamental activity in the strategic planning process. Furthermore, the issue of enrollment includes institutional characteristics beyond the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students. To assess enrollment, Pitt–Bradford considers admissions criteria and new student profiles; retention rates; the mix of full-time and part-time students; the proportion of traditional to nontraditional students; student diversity; the use of scholarship assistance to discount tuition; the link between enrollment and campus housing occupancy; and, of course, the connection of budget and resources to all of these areas.

The critical need to reach ambitious FTE enrollment targets shows up in the plans early in this 10-year cycle, including references to the potential incentives for increased enrollment. In fiscal year 2002, for instance, the Pitt–Bradford plan details the Integrated Enrollment Initiative (IEI), launched in response to an assessment of recruiting and retention conditions. The fiscal year 2003 plan provides an update on IEI, reaffirms enrollment as a “number-one priority,” and adds an additional level of assessment via a market research plan. The fiscal year 2004 document reports on data from the market research project and deepens the assessment process with a consultant’s study on pricing strategies.

Pitt–Bradford reviewed inquiry and application pools, yields, and high school and college fair visits from previous years. The information was coded using geodemographic classifications and then compared to population and sociodemographic projections based on U.S. Census data. This analysis led Pitt–Bradford to develop a marketing campaign that targeted Erie and the surrounding region in 2006 and Wilkes-Barre and Scranton in 2008. Following the Erie campaign, inquiries from that region nearly tripled and applications more than doubled. Inquiries and applications from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton region nearly doubled.

Benchmarking Data in the Assessment Process

Like the Pittsburgh campus of the University, Pitt–Bradford, along with each ofthe other regional campuses, identified a set of peer and aspirational peer institutions relevant to their missions. Comparative benchmarking data are collected annually, including indicators such as enrollment totals, retention rates, graduation rates, freshman SAT scores, class size, and student-to-faculty ratios. These data, along with information relevant to each campus’ unique strategic goals, are intended to respond to the Provost’s fiscal year 2003 request for programmatic and consistent use of benchmarking data and are integral to the annual planning process.

Pitt–Bradford’s response to the need for programmatic benchmarking involved the use of data compiled by the Education Trust and focused on data related to institutional objectives that had been discussed throughout the planning process over the years, such as the admissions profile and retention rates. The fiscal year 2006 document introduces the benchmarking data into the planning process. In the following year’s document, Pitt–Bradford planners note how the approach to benchmarking is being incorporated into the overall assessment process, becoming a useful component of the campus culture of assessment.

Eventually, Pitt–Bradford planners determined that the size and diversity of the original group of benchmarked institutions limited its value, and they sought a smaller group more focused on institutional similarities or competitive market position. A smaller group of peer institutions and aspirational peer institutions is now being used to further refine benchmarking efforts by comparing data on select critical success factors.

Improving and Refining a SustainableAssessment Process

In general, a look at this cycle of planning processes shows a continuum of assessment in which the evaluation efforts are refined and made more consistent over a period of years.The ongoing process of using accurate data and carefully analyzing trends to formulate enrollment strategies is a good example. The effort to use consistent benchmarking data to establish baseline levels so that improvement can be measured is another illustration of the effective implementation of assessment.

The assessment of student learning outcomes is documented in the Using Assessment to Improve the Student Experience section. A comprehensive list of curricular improvements, including new courses and course content, raised standards, changes in teaching assignments, and restructured advising, is provided in Appendix C9 and Appendix C16.