Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

House Education Committee Hearing
House Chamber, Dover
March 17, 2010

I’m honored to be able to speak for the first time to the House Education Committee, and I thank your chair, Terry Schooley, for the invitation to come meet with you. Rep. Schooley is an assistant policy scientist at UD; she’s chair of the State’s Child Poverty Taskforce; and director of KIDS COUNT—in all, a formidable advocate for children. I thank you for your tremendous service to this State and its families.

In the invitation was the request that I focus not just on the University’s economic vision, but on our educational vision. I appreciate that caveat because our economic vision is premised on our educational goals—on better higher education access and uncompromised excellence.

As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been saying for at least a year: “We need to educate our way to a better economy.” Secretary Duncan visited the University last fall, and we were happy to host a great discussion around State and national reform efforts. I subscribe to the Secretary’s assessment. There’s simply no way we’re going to build a strong economy without excellence in the education we provide the current and future workforce.

CEPP Reorganization
When the University launched its Path to Prominence nearly two years ago, we predicated the strategic plan on excellence in undergraduate and graduate education, excellence in research, excellence in professional education.

Of course, excellence is easy to say, tougher to do. It takes vigilance, constant attention to your goals and outcomes—what you set out to do, and whether, in fact, you’ve done it.

Just a couple of hours ago, we announced a reorganization of some of the departments within UD’s College of Education & Public Policy and the College of Arts & Sciences. It’s the continuation of an intellectual and professional realignment that started several years ago. Our goal is to align our colleges and units more closely with our Path to Prominence.

We look forward to carving out a college that’s keenly focused on achieving academic excellence; on raising the profile of human development and early childhood learning; and on promoting greater interaction with faculty and students in the School of Education.

At the same time, we want to strengthen the theoretical and translational work in UD’s social sciences. We want to bring local and national public policy work together. We want to enhance collaboration with other college programs, like the new Center for Political Communication. And we want to provide more undergraduate education and research opportunities in urban affairs and public policy. 

The reorganization is far from official and far from complete. But it hews closely to the goals and milestones to which we’re publicly holding ourselves accountable. And you all probably know better than most the scrutiny that such accountability brings.

Academic Excellence
That’s not a bad thing. It truly is an opportunity—one we’ve used to begin defining what we mean by excellence, defining the standards and metrics by which we’ll judge academic and institutional quality.

For instance, we can judge excellence by the number of faculty whose scholarship has an impact nationally and internationally. Their research influences the work of others; their discoveries lead to breakthroughs; their work creates new wealth and new businesses. (A whole industry was built up around the touch-screen technology pioneered at UD.)

Excellent faculty win competitive federal grants, they publish in top journals, and their work is frequently cited by others. “Research-active faculty” bring the excitement of their discipline into the classroom, and teach their students (and this is important—their undergraduates) what’s at the cutting edge. These students, undergrads included, work side-by-side with faculty on challenging research problems.

This is what we’re cultivating at UD—a “learning-by-doing” ethos that permeates our academic, research, and service missions.

We know that the more research we conduct, the more service-learning we offer, the more clinical experiences, and co-ops, and internships we arrange … the more students benefit and the more they’re valued. Authentic, problem-based learning is the way students learn best. And it’s what prepares them for competition in the global marketplace, where the learning curve has grown precipitously steep over the last decade.

Commitment to Delawareans
Delaware students have to be a part of this. If we fail to provide this kind of education to Delawareans, we are—in the long run—failing Delaware.

And so a few years ago, we made a Commitment to Delawareans, based on our leading strategic principle of Delaware First. We said that every Delawarean will have access to a top-quality education, and that the University will apply its strengths and resources to benefit all of Delaware. We laid out an academic roadmap—a rigorous one—and said if Delaware’s high school students met that roadmap, they could be confident of admission to UD. They wouldn’t have to compete against out-of-state applicants, nor fellow in-state applicants.

But as I said, it’s not an easy path: It’s a full load of at least college-prep courses (with a few credits even more accelerated—honors and AP classes); no grade below a B–; a cumulative GPA of at least a B+; English, math, science, history, social studies, and foreign language coursework explicitly identified.

The challenge is met—a couple thousand times over. We’re in the middle of our admission season right now. As of Monday, we had 2,726 completed applications from in-state students. (If you account for those still needing transcripts or SAT scores, you can add a few hundred more to that total.)

Already, we’ve offered admission to 2,405 of those applicants—either to the Newark campus or to our Associate in Arts program, where they can work toward a four-year degree. That’s an 88.2-percent admit rate—and, believe me, it’ll rise even higher than that in the coming weeks and months. Last year, we admitted 93 percent of all the Delaware students who applied—versus a 54 percent admit rate among out-of-state students.

Over the last several years, this rising trend holds up across all categories: More Delaware students are applying to UD, more are being accepted, and more are enrolling.

If last year’s 12-percent jump in applications and admits among in-state students was encouraging—and it was—the 25-percent jump in Delaware students actually enrolling at UD was really cause for celebration. That enrollment spike has to be attributable, at least in part, to the financial component of the Commitment to Delawareans.

This fall, we began meeting the full demonstrated financial need of incoming Delaware freshmen—up to the full cost of tuition, room & board, books, and fees. And we’re limiting their debt upon graduation. Our goal is to cap debt at one-quarter of the cost of a four-year education at UD. This year, 435 freshmen—more than one in three in-state students—shared in $2.7 million made available through the program.

In an economy like ours, this Commitment is a lifeline. It’s making college possible for hundreds of Delaware students and easing the financial burden on their families.

But if expanding access to higher education is admirable, doing so without compromising our standards—without lowering the bar—is critical. Our bar remains high, and students are rising to clear it.

The average SAT score—math and verbal combined—of the applicants already admitted to Newark this fall is 1261, a 17-point jump over last year. The mean GPA is 3.7. That’s an A average. The reason this is so important is that lowering expectations doesn’t help students and it doesn’t help the State. It won’t make them or us successful in the long run.

Race to the Top
We need to prepare students for the rigors of higher education at a flagship university and for success in life beyond it. And to do that, we need to serve Delaware’s teachers and leaders all along the education continuum, from early childhood through high school. This support to teachers—in terms of preparation, professional development, and evaluation—is even more critical in light of Race to the Top’s well-documented focus on teacher effectiveness.

As you know, we’ve got a team in DC this week making our Race to the Top pitch, but it’s an enormous accomplishment just to be part of the Sweet Sixteen making it this far through phase I. There are a number of attributes strengthening our application and still more opportunities for future leadership.

Longitudinal Data System
For instance, we already have a longitudinal data system with a unique student identifier so we can track student performance all the way from preschool through college. It’s a good first step to developing a system that links students’ achievement data to their teachers and, in turn, to each teacher’s IHE program. This track-back system is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of teacher-prep programs and publicly reporting it, two key components in the federal initiative.

It won’t be easy. Given Delaware’s late hire date, about three-quarters of our education students leave the State immediately after graduating. So we’ll be working on developing a credible mechanism with Secretary Lowery and the Department of Education; with the Rand Corporation; and with our fellow teacher-preparing colleges in Delaware.

Alternative Routes to Certification
Our Alternative Routes to Certification program is one of the oldest University-affiliated programs in the country and has long provided a critical pathway for certifying new teachers in high-need areas.

This fall, we’ll build on that, and launch a STEM residency program to get non-traditional teacher candidates who already have a STEM-heavy background into our high-need schools. They’ll get intensive professional development, working for a full year as an assistant teacher under a mentor. And they’ll qualify for full certification after their first year of teaching.

We’re recruiting heavily throughout the area, because we know these teachers—usually mid-career changers—have strong longevity in Delaware classrooms. They tend to stay here, and they tend to stay teaching.

Urban Education
We have a good pedagogical and practical base for urban education. For the first time this fall, we’re offering a minor in urban education. The program will include intensive field placements in a cluster of Wilmington City schools.

This push is an acknowledgement that we need to prepare teachers specifically for high-poverty, chronically low-performing schools. We need to produce teachers who are eager and equipped to teach in these challenging environments—because change simply isn’t sustainable when attrition takes half a school’s professional staff in any given year. We hope this program can work in conjunction with the soon-to-launch Delaware Fellows Program, the State’s effort to recruit highly effective teachers into high-need schools.

Vision 2015
We’re fortunate to have the solid reform groundwork laid by Vision 2015. UD is home to the operating end of the program, and it’s really served as the underpinning for our federal application.

Through Race to the Top, we see a chance to become much more involved in leadership development through the Vision 2015 Network. With a partnership program in place, we could work closely with district leaders on their school improvement plans. In turn, these schools and districts would be prime sites for the placement of prospective teachers and teacher-leaders.

Of course, the Delaware Academy for School Leadership already provides top-quality professional development for principals and administrators throughout the State.

But we know we have an even bigger part to play in identifying and developing instructional leaders. In fact, our role in delivering effective professional development to all of Delaware’s teachers would grow more expansive under Race to the Top. New standards and new skill expectations will demand reputable providers.

2010 Summer Session
I should mention here the in-flux status of funding for this summer’s continuing-education courses. Historically, the State and the University have split the cost of tuition for continuing-ed credits taken over the summer by Delaware’s public and charter school teachers. When the State suspended its appropriation last year, UD stepped in and covered the full tuition cost.

For the upcoming summer sessions, we’re working with the State to clarify the funding available. If the State doesn’t provide an appropriation, teachers will have to pay a portion of their cost. Based on current calculations, that portion will probably be less than 40 percent of tuition, with the University kicking in the rest. As more information becomes available, we’ll post it on our Web site.

Early Childhood Education
The last Race-to-the-Top component I want to talk about is early childhood education. I know it’s a passion and a profession for many of you.

Early care and education is something Delaware’s taking seriously. We know that if we don’t capitalize on young children’s enormous capacity to learn and adapt, we’ll be playing catch-up for years and years thereafter. And, sadly, we know that some children never will catch up. This isn’t a chance we’re willing to take—not when research proves that strategic investment in early care and education pays huge dividends over the long term.

ECE Preparation
Our early childhood preparation programs are steeped in the real-world learning I talked about earlier. In fact, early childhood requires more hours in the field than any other education major.
And those field hours are spent with children who represent Delaware—all of it. That means they’re from rural and urban homes, from middle- and low-income families. That means quite a few have special needs, for nearly all classroom placements must be in inclusive settings.

That last piece is really important to UD, which has the nation’s only undergraduate blended program accredited by NAEYC. Graduates of the program are eligible to teach early childhood AND early childhood special education.

UD, itself, runs three early childhood centers, two of which hold national accreditation—a distinction accorded only 7 percent of America’s early-ed programs—and all of which serve a diverse population. The Lab Preschool is a part-day program serving about 70 children. Now 75 years old, it was one of the first centers of its kind in the country. The Early Learning Center is full-day, full-year childcare based in Newark, serving 250 children anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 years old. And the Wilmington Branch of the Early Learning Center, launched 2½ years ago, serves about 30 children, birth to 3, from the city’s high-poverty Southbridge neighborhood. (It’s applying for accreditation this year.)

When I say we’ve committed to serving children who reflect the State, this is what I mean: 30 percent of the children across all three sites live in poverty; 20 percent have disabilities; 10 percent are adopted or in foster care.

These centers are models of high-quality early care and education for UD’s undergraduate and graduate students. More than 400 of them come into the centers every year—students studying physical therapy, psychology, nursing, education, engineering, health exercise sciences. And the reason these centers are such a big draw is that they’re focal points for interdisciplinary research; for translational research; for research that directly benefits children and their families.

Since the Newark-based Early Learning Center opened about 5 years ago, 55 research projects have been initiated there; 30 are active right now.

  • Cole Galloway in Physical Therapy is studying robot-assisted infant mobility and its effect on early brain and behavior development.
  • Mary Dozier in Psychology is researching how children develop attachments to their caregivers, and then training foster families to strengthen their connection to the kids they’ve taken in.
  • Anna Papafragou is studying language acquisition; how children learn words and link them to concepts they already know.
  • Carroll Izard is studying social and emotional development and how children acquire the ability to self-regulate.

DE Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood
This is the kind of dynamic, research-rich environment in which all Delaware children deserve to learn.

Bringing the State appreciably closer to that goal is the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood. Center Director Martha Buell and the Institute’s educators assess the professional development needs of early childhood practitioners across the State, most of whom have little training beyond high school; they develop and deliver customized, research-based training to address those needs; and they evaluate programs throughout Delaware for quality assurance. The Institute is our way of putting into practice on a large scale what we know works in early care and education.

For far too long, what we expected of early childhood personnel and what we provided them were tragically inadequate. It was unfair to them and definitely unfair to those they served. We’re changing that. We’re changing it so that all Delaware children can enter school ready, able, and eager to learn.

New Learning for the New Economy
So say we’re successful in all these efforts. Say our early childhood, teacher preparation, and professional and leadership development initiatives have created schools that work—for everyone—and say that the graduates of these schools enjoy easy admission to UD.

What then? Well, then the work continues. Because, of course, it’s not just getting students into UD; it’s getting them to excel here. It’s getting them to graduate with relevant skills, and educating them in programs critical to the knowledge economy. It’s about setting them up for success. We need to be responsive to the marketplace and prepare students for work and for leadership in the economy-driving sectors.

Undergraduate: Bioengineering
When we developed a new undergraduate major in bioengineering—which we expect to offer this fall—that’s exactly what we were doing. It’s likely that no occupation will grow faster over the next several years than bioengineering. By 2018, forecasters predict 72-percent growth—12,000 jobs nationwide.

It’s not surprising. For the foreseeable future, most engineering challenges—and, therefore, most engineering jobs—will circle around energy, clean water, and health. And whereas graduates used to need an advanced degree for bioengineering work, that’s no longer the case. With 20 years of maturity in the field, students can get a viable job straight out of undergrad.

Our students know the kind of opportunities out there. When we floated the idea of a bioengineering degree, about a third of our undeclared engineering freshmen expressed interest. And many of them—many of the students drawn to bioengineering—are women and under-represented minorities. That’s a huge bonus as we try to expand access to engineering and encourage diversity in the profession.

Graduate: Software Engineering
We know our new graduate program in software engineering is responsive to industry needs, because we partnered with industry and with the Army on its development. (Linking up with the Army on this project is part of an extensive collaboration with Aberdeen Proving Ground—a partnership spanning significant education, training, internship, and R&D opportunities.)

The new major is a joint program between UD’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer & Information Sciences. It leverages the strengths of both departments, featuring a common core with different “specialization tracks.” Plus, students complete an individualized practicum. The format gives students some flexibility and prepares them for many different careers.
This is the new model for program development—one in which integration and industry partnerships are key. This is how we guarantee relevance and responsiveness. It’s how we do right by our students.

Professional Science Masters Programs
And the whole notion of who our students are is changing. The business of higher education is growing. It isn’t just about our traditional, full-time students anymore. We need to reach out to Delaware’s adult learners, its professionals—especially now—and give them what they need to go further.

We’ll be doing that this fall through a pair of Professional Science Masters programs. PSMs combine advanced training in science or math with the development of workplace skills. So alongside coursework in the sciences, students take courses that build competencies like project management and communication.

This is, without doubt, meeting an industry need. Employers are desperate for workers trained in the sciences but with a broader background than the typical master’s program provides.

That doesn’t mean the coursework is watered down. Our PSM courses are the same ones offered in “regular” master’s programs, so that PSM students learn alongside MS and Ph.D. students in the science classes and alongside MBA students in the business classes. The two degrees—one in biotechnology and one in bioinformatics—take advantage of UD’s position right in the middle of a major bioscience corridor.

All of this boils down to a pretty simple goal: We will educate students whom people want to hire. Maybe that’s a double goal, an “education-slash-economic” goal. But if it benefits students and the economy into which they graduate, I think it’s a good one to have.

I’d be happy to take your questions now.

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