By Sophia Harris
By Naidelly Coelho
At the Oct. 17 All University Meeting, New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation, the marketing and branding of the University, and strategic enrollment initiatives were discussed.
Faculty and staff raised concerns about staffing shortages, campus morale, and student preparedness.
President Nancy Niemi opened the meeting by emphasizing the importance of Framingham State being a public institution.
“We're here for one glorious reason. We are here because we serve the public - always have, hopefully always will, or we have no right to exist,” she said.
Niemi said she is working hard to meet all the faculty and staff at FSU in order to build stronger relationships within the community.
“We don't get anything done unless we have a relationship. My job is to make sure that we have those,” she said.
Niemi highlighted the importance of the changes made to some of the departments at FSU. The dean of students, dean of Enrollment Management, and the assistant vice president of Human Resources all report directly to her now.
“The reason why we've done that was because those particular divisions really needed to be uplifted. They're incredibly important positions and by having them report to me, it's my responsibility to check in on them to help them do what they need to do,” she said.
Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, gave an update on the NECHE accreditation.
She said the 10-year NECHE accreditation process is coming up in spring 2024.
The NECHE accreditation process is headed by Mark Nicholas, assistant vice president for assessment, accreditation, and strategic planning.
“This is an opportunity for us to provide assurance to prospective students, to families and to the general public, that we're an institution that meets clearly stated standards for accreditation, and that there is a reasonable expectation that we will continue to do so,” she said.
The reaccreditation process will show that Framingham State is up to NECHE standards and can offer a good education that students deserve, she said.
Porter-Utley said NECHE accreditation is required in order to receive financial aid. “With no NECHE accreditation, there are no students.”
She said writing teams and department chairs are helping out in this process.
Porter-Utley said the NECHE process is “still very well” underway. In order to create a better self study, the team attended a workshop last week.
The workshop was necessary to “efficiently do the work it requires to produce our 100-page self study.
“This is important for all of us,” she said.
Porter-Utley asked employees to prioritize responding to any email requesting information from department chairs or writing groups.
“This is a community effort, and so many members of our community are contributing to this important one,” she said.
The goal is to have a draft of the self study by the end of spring, she said.
Lorretta Holloway, vice president of academic enhancement, provided an update on the branding and marketing of Framingham State.
She indicated a timeline of the developments planned by Primacy - the firm that was hired for the rebranding of the University.
Holloway said in June 2022, her office signed bids for the marketing company, and in July, a scope of work agreement was signed to proceed with the rebrand and the website redesign.
She said in July, the marketing agency had a kick-off meeting at which the team was “inundated with information.”
Holloway said Primacy completed the discovery phase of their work in September. This included looking at Google Analytics, Slate, and Percussion as well as weekly meetings with focus groups and assessing surveys from the community.
She said the third phase will include the “development of brand personas, competitive brand analysis, a creative brief, and brand strategies.”
Holloway said for October, they are waiting on approval for the competitive analysis, which is the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of University competitors.
The next steps will include messaging for the creative brief, brand strategy, and developing the top three brand concepts. The brand concepts include designs and taglines, she said.
Holloway said Primacy will also be putting together additional focus groups and testing processes.
She said Primacy will be conducting a content audit for the FSU website.
“If you've ever redone a website, you realize it takes a long time. It's like moving your parents out of the house that they lived in for 20 years,” she said.
“It is going to be kind of that painful process, but at the end of it, it's always an occasion where you find lots of memories,” she said.
Holloway thanked the community for their responsiveness to Primacy.
“They repeatedly talked about how we gave them so much and actually gave them more information than they had from probably any of their other clients,” she said.
Holloway asked the community to respond to any “call” from Primacy in order to ensure that the entire community’s voice is represented in the branding initiatives of the University.
“It has to be a collective representation because the new brand is actually representing all of us,” she said.
She said Primacy will be presenting the brand guidelines, messaging matrix, and website concepts in November.
She said the focus during the spring semester will be on how to “deliver and roll out the brand.”
Jerusha Nelson-Peterman, chair of the Food and Nutrition Department, asked if the FSU seal will be assessed during the rebranding of the institution.
Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel, said, “The original decision had been to wait for the Commonwealth to alter their seal because our seal is based on their seal.”
Dan Magazu, director of communications, said, “The marketing firm is looking at redesigning our logo and seal so it can be changed sooner rather than later.”
Dale Hamel, executive vice president, gave an update on the strategic enrollment management plan of the University.
He said there are four phases of “engagement” with a firm hired for strategic enrollment planning called Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL).
Hamel said phase one includes preparation and data analysis.
He said this process includes enrollment projection models. This model is based on looking further back than the current enrollment model to assess “the number of high school graduates, our market, our anticipated market share, and informing that process.”
Hamel said the academic program demand analysis led by the provost looks at the change in enrollment over time - “where demand is for different programs that we offer or may wish to offer” needs to be assessed.
He added there is also a pricing study that examines where Framingham State is positioned in relation to its sister institutions as well as looking at additional avenues that are available to high school graduates.
He said the “traditional approach of high school graduates going on to college is no longer the case. We are competing with more than just our sister colleges in terms of making the value proposition case to students, so part of that effort will be looking at that phenomenon as well.”
Hamel said they are also working on a communication audit as well as communication architecture recommendations.
He said there is “a lot to do on campus,” but communicating those activities is where FSU “falls short.”
Hamel said the University will also be evaluating communication with prospective students. This includes “looking at the timing” of those communications.
For example, “How quickly we're responding when offers of admission are occurring, when offers of financial aid are occurring, as well as seeing if there are any adjustments that can be made to those processes,” he said.
Hamel said the next initiative will be customer relationship management consulting. This process looks at “how we move students through the funnel and into the University as students.”
Currently, there is a student satisfaction inventory survey that was opened up last week.
He said he encourages students to reply to this survey because it is “very important to have that feedback in terms of what we're doing well and what we need to do better as part of this development of a strategic enrollment plan.”
Hamel said phase two of the strategic enrollment plan is strategy development, which will be implemented in “the next month or so.”
The third and fourth stages include goal development and implementation, he said.
Hamel said there are a number of new initiatives that will be incorporated into the strategic enrollment process.
Part of those initiatives will be the NECHE accreditation and the branding and marketing for the University.
“In the short term, we're focused on the situation of analysis, and in phase two, we'll be moving into development of the strategic enrollment plan over the next few months,” he said.
Niemi said she is “blessed to have such an incredible team.”
She answered three questions that were previously sent to her to be addressed at the meeting.
An anonymous member of the community asked, “Are we going to bring back COVID testing if there's a new wave?”
Niemi said there is a COVID-19 Response Team that monitors cases.
She said if the “situation” gets “significantly different,” they will reassess the testing protocols.
Framingham State currently supplies free self COVID-19 tests, which are available through the Health Center. At this time, there is no mandatory testing.
For more information about COVID-19 cases on campus, the Health Center website has up-to-date information, she said.
The second anonymous question sent in by a community member asked how Framingham State plans to increase student enrollment.
Niemi responded that as of Oct. 17, the University hired an interim enrollment management professional consultant.
“It's not going to increase instantly, but we want to increase it strategically, smartly, and robustly, and we have to do that through lots of people's help.” she said.
A third anonymous question sent in by a community member addressed burnout due to staffing shortages in all of the administrative departments, “Morale is extremely low and in the end, students will suffer. What real actionable steps will you take to address this?”
“We need to be able to step back from work even if we find it incredibly meaningful and step back and take care of ourselves in other ways,” Niemi said.
She said she encourages staff to take mental health days in order to prevent burnout. She also encourages staff to “have the opportunity to say, ‘No,’ sometimes, because we can't do everything,” she said.
Niemi said she and her team are working hard to hire new staff for departments. “We're still assessing how we can fill the spots that we haven't filled yet.”
She said professional development days are important in increasing morale because when administrators learn more about their own work, it increases “happiness.
“When you feel good about that work, you'll feel happier about doing it as well,” she said.
Following the three submitted questions, the community was given a chance to ask additional questions.
Patrica Whitney, assistant vice president of facilities and capital planning, said due to staffing cuts, her crews are forced to work over ten hours of overtime every week and her department “is still in The Gatepost because we are not doing enough.”
Niemi responded, “You’re right. There are times you just can’t say, ‘No.’ You’re absolutely right.”
In response to Whitney’s concerns, Hamel said, “Overall, there have been some reductions” in Facilities staffing.
Niemi said, “We have to figure out if those reductions make sense. And if not, then we have to figure out how to either do the work differently or not do some of the work or fill in again depending on what we need.”
Dwayne Bell, a chemistry and food science professor, asked where student preparedness falls in the big picture of major alignments.
He said he has seen drop-out/failure/withdrawal rates rise consistently over the past 10 years.
Niemi said, “If students are not successful, then we cannot be here.”
She said some of the factors the University will be addressing in regard to this concern are looking at different ways to assess students when they are accepted to FSU and instructor training.
She added the University will assess its curriculum as well as evaluate the concurrent courses “that help students stay on task as well as giving them the skills they don’t have.”
Niemi said, “Student success is everything we do and it’s part of the DNA of what we’re talking about right here.”