A group of administrators and deans listened on Wednesday morning as a visiting accreditation team delivered the University of Montana's report card, commending the school for growing its research, campus facilities and enrollment - but saying it needs to improve in areas such as student advising and compensation.
Every decade, UM undergoes accreditation. It's important, as the university would struggle to exist without it.
It's a two-step process. First UM assesses itself. Then a team from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the regional authority on educational quality, visits the campus to point out what the university is doing well and not so well.
On Wednesday, a team of a dozen people from campuses across the country shared with UM some of their observations.
The fact that Missoula got dinged for an overcrowded UM College of Technology is hardly a surprise to anyone. Using modular trailers as classrooms is a problem UM has been trying to fix for some time now.
The team offered as many kudos as constructive criticisms.
Committee members praised the energy and spirit on campus, the shared governance of the university among all employees and students, and UM's growth in the areas of research, enrollment and construction and renovation projects. Since UM last went through accreditation in 2000, the campus has added 550,000 square feet to campus, with a total worth of about $164 million.
The committee specifically commended the Davidson Honors College for expanding the student experience, and congratulated UM for its new Payne Family Native American Center and its "robust" Native American Studies program.
The committee also identified seven areas where UM could improve.
UM recently changed its general education requirements. Those new requirements need to be assessed, said Paul Reichardt, a retired provost from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and head of the visiting accreditation team.
Strategic planning is an area UM has emphasized over the last decade. The committee, however, encouraged more specificity among the various departments' strategic plans so that all road maps lead toward the same common goals.
Compensation continues to be an area of concern. Allocating resources to ensure opportunities for professional development is important, as well as continuing to pay heed to recruitment and retention efforts.
UM needs to address student advising and make sure all parties understand their responsibilities. Also, the committee recommended an orientation for graduate students. While some departments orient individual graduate students, the university needs to ensure all graduate students are receiving an introduction to the campus and its services.
That was the one thing that surprised UM President George Dennison.
"We'll fix that," said Dennison, after the presentation. He said he was under the impression all students went through an orientation. However, that's an easy thing to implement, Dennison said.
The accreditation committee was right on the mark about further assessment of things like strategic plans and general education requirements, Dennison said. The university is in the beginning of stages of assessment of many things and promised to "keep that moving along." Compensation is something Dennison is fully aware needs to be addressed, and he said "we'll continue to work on it."
The accreditation team will draw up a draft of its recommendations. UM will have the opportunity to review the report and make comments. In early July, Dennison and Reichardt will go before the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. A final report from the commission will be drafted and released sometime after that.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.