UMR: College model requires more faculty
The University of Minnesota's smallest system campus, Rochester, has the highest faculty-to-student ratio.
But as the school struggles with declining enrollment for the second year in a row, some have criticized the number of employees at the college, questioning the long-term sustainability of the number. School leaders assert the UMR is cementing its identity as a health care-focused institution, producing evidence of success such as high four-year graduation rates and outcomes for underrepresented students.
"One of the things we are most proud of at UMR, when you look at our past graduating classes, underrepresented students at UMR — that's first generation students, students who have low socioeconomic means or students of color — are as successful or more successful than their peers," said Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle in his annual "State of the Campus" address last month.
About 96 percent of the most recent graduating class finished in four years, said Vice Chancellor Lori Carrell, and underrepresented students graduate at the same rate or higher than their peers.
Of the class that entered in 2011, 73 percent of underrepresented UMR students were retained into their senior year, as compared with 67 percent of their UMR peers, she said.
The school, which offers two bachelor's degrees in the health sciences and other programs and degrees in conjunction with other University of Minnesota campuses , experienced a peak in enrollment in 2013 with 164 incoming freshman. This fall, there are 416 degree-seeking students on campus, but altogether it serves about 650 students, said Lehmkuhle.
When Lehmkuhle took office in 2008, UMRl leaders said they hoped to triple enrollment, bringing the student body to about 1,500 students within 10 years. With next year's incoming enrollment goal set for 150 students, reaching 1,500 by 2018 isn't likely, said Lehmkuhle, so leaders have adjusted and extended the goal with hopes to reach it in the next 10 years.
While it's a delay, Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson said the board is committed to supporting the campus vision.
"It's just a compelling vision of what already is a great community, with a great medical facility, that can only get better as and as you move that into the DMC equation," Johnson said.
Different teaching models
While the school is unique, making comparisons to other institutions difficult. UMR was criticized in a recent Star Tribune letter to the editor that called it a "failed experiment that deserves to be terminated." The piece's author also labeled it a "bureaucratic monster" because of its ratio of non-faculty staff members to students.
That ratio of non-faculty staff to students is one to 13.5. UMR's faculty-to-student ratio is about 11 to one, while the Twin Cities campus has about a 17 to one ratio, according to UMR.
Lehmkuhle said UMR utilizes a different teaching model, so it's more accurate to compare its ratio to that of a small, private liberal arts college.
"We have a different model, so the metrics are different," he said. "And in some ways, I'm inventing these metrics."
Carrell said the way faculty are utilized is different than at other institutions — the college features "design faculty," the tenured and tenure-track faculty responsible for designing the curriculum and teaching. with "student-based faculty." The latter focus just on students, teaching and conducting research on student learning.
"We have this revenue that we can invest directly into our mission and that is learning and development of students," Lehmkuhle said. "I will never apologize for having more faculty per student than any other institution, cause that's what we're about."
Finding a niche
As UMR has honed its identity during its first decade, it has made plans to expand recruitment efforts, focused on students with strong personal connections to health care.
"This input from graduates has changed how we recruit," Lehmkuhle said. "Our graduates taught us to pay attention to the story, not just the numbers."
Regent Johnson said the four University of Minnesota institutions outside the metro area — Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester — "continue to have enrollment issues." But Johnson said the schools still present strong opportunities and can drive enrollment by making more scholarships available and better marketing.
"Anytime we have goals and objectives and we don't meet them that concerns us. Then we have to take a step back and see is there something more we can do," Johnson said. "I think there is."
In fall 2015, the college admitted a higher percentage of students of color than the other University of Minnesota system campus. Of the 88 new students, 27 percent were students of color — the system-wide average is 19.3 percent, according to the University of Minnesota's Office of Institutional Research.
Located on the third and fourth floors of the Shops at University Square in downtown Rochester, the school's infrastructure is completely different than a traditional college campus. And Lehmkuhle said this is the reason the school is able to spend more on instructors.
"We are able to invest more of our resources, to supporting student learning and development because the community has embraces us and we don't have a lot of that overhead infrastructure," he said. "We don't have a climbing wall, we don't have intercollegiate sports teams, there's a cost associated with those."
Lehmkuhle said because of partnerships with existing institutions, such as the YMCA and Olmsted Medical Center, UMR doesn't have to finance and maintain facilities on campus like the Twin Cities campus does.
"It's because you've allowed us to be a part of the community," Lehmkuhle said in his "State of the Campus" speech. "My students walk the skyways and subways all the time, I don't have to pay for them. I don't have debt service on those things."