Western Math Degrees Add Up

Aug. 18, 2012 (By Laura Anderson, "Gunnison Country Times") — The university reports the second highest number of degrees awarded in the state.

Math majors delight: Western State Colorado University had one of the highest percentage of degrees awarded in Mathematics in the state, according to 2011 numbers. Two percent of graduates during that year received a math degree.

That number has come up significantly since 2001, when less than 1 percent of degrees were awarded for math. The number of math degrees awarded at Western is second only to that of Colorado School of Mines, which groups Mathematics and Computer Science degrees together.

Though 2012 data is not yet available, Western has consistently had one of the highest math-degree graduation rates in the state since 2008. Western’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Patricia Manzanares-Gonzales said Western’s performance is impressive.

“The need for students graduating in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields with STEM degrees is a societal need Western is filling,” she said. “I think this is a reflection of how well we’re preparing our students, not only to compete in their area, but this also reflects well on our university, faculty and students as compared to other institutions across Colorado. We are very competitive!”

The data were released by Western’s Office of Institutional Research, which is compiling information about all of Western’s degree programs as part of the university’s re-accreditation process. Though data aren't yet available, Manzanares-Gonzales said Western has also awarded a comparably high number of degrees in science in recent years.

Western has been working towards its re-accreditation since 2010. In October, the university will undergo the peer-review process, which will bring in a Board of Examiners made up of leaders from comparable institutions nationwide. This is one of the last steps in the process. Following that, the Board of Examiners will give their feedback to Western, which will then have a chance to respond. Then the Board of Examiners will make their recommendation to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools , which will subsequently render a decision of re-accreditation. This will likely happen at the HLC’s spring 2013 meeting.

Manzanares-Gonzales said  the value of the re-accreditation process is that it allows the university to “hold a mirror up to ourselves. It helps us to self-examine and reflect on what we’re doing well and what we can improve. It allows us to share knowledge with the campus, the community and our constituents, as well as celebrate our successes.”

Every higher education institution in the country must engage in the re-accreditation process every 10 years. These data also reflect Western’s efforts to align with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s proposed master plan, to be adopted Sept. 1, which looks to increase undergraduate STEM credentials, along with overall graduation rates.

CCHE adopted its last master plan in 1999, and revised it in 2001. The master plan is important to Western, and all of Colorado’s public higher learning institutions, because it dictates the performance-based funding that each school receives. CCHE has been working with the governing boards of each higher learning institution in the state to com up with goals.

CCHE is also researching funding mechanisms for performance contracts. Historically, public colleges were funded based on enrollment, rather than degree completions, so there was little financial incentive to ensure students completed their college careers.

The CCHE is looking to adopt performance metrics as part of its master plan to track institutional success and allocate dollars for performance contracts, though it is not required to adopt such a system until Dec. 1, 2013. Under that plan, up to 25 percent of the state’s higher education budget would be allocated to institutions based on their successes as outlined in their performance contracts.

According to Manzanares-Gonzales, performance metrics give institutions two ways to view themselves: First, schools can be rated against themselves, which allows for projections and goals; second, performance metrics give a benchmark for other institutions.

This plan could be implemented by the 2015-16 school year, but only if state revenues for higher education reach or exceed $706 million. Western’s trustees expressed their doubts at their Aug. 3 meeting that Colorado’s budget could increase to that point in the near future. The state earmarked $490 million for higher education for 2012-13 school year, $29 million less than the previous year.

“Nothing will kick in until (the state) gets ($706 million),” trustee Linda Clark pointed out. “Nobody’s really optimistic about that. Will we ever get to that point? When the state gives that amount, that’s when metrics will kick in.”

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 11:00am