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JUNE 5, 2017 - VOL. 52 No. 9

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University of Sioux Falls

Brett Bradfield, Ed.D. Assumed role of President in February 2017, has been serving the institution for 17 years


Tell us a little about the history and mission of the University of Sioux Falls.

Founded in 1883, the University of Sioux Falls, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a Christian, Liberal Arts University and is an independent, not-for-profit institution. The traditional motto of the University is Culture for Service. That is, the University seeks to foster academic excellence and the development of mature Christian persons for service to God and humankind in the world.

How does USF measure success?

The University of Sioux Falls is committed to being a transformative university committed to academic excellence and celebration of the Christian faith. To this end, the institution uses various metrics to ascertain its success level and progression towards strategic goals such as graduation rates, graduate placement into gainful employment or professional schools, achievement of all accreditation standards for both the larger University and specified professional programs, and internal surveying instruments such as the Student Satisfaction Inventory. We also pay attention to many qualitative measures such as the institution's position in the competitive marketplace, its stature in the community and region, relationships with the business and education community and the volume of partnerships that advance the University and the community in which it exists.

You've been in your position for only a few short months… which of your many responsibilities is your highest priority right now? Why?

My highest priorities at the moment are focused on the continually shifting nature of higher education in recent years. The changing marketplace, public scrutiny regarding the relative value (or lack thereof) of higher education, demographic challenges affecting revenue streams and all that implies to appropriately funding institutional operations, and instructional delivery models are just a few of the demands currently facing leadership. We must be continually looking at the horizon to consider our business practices and how to remain competitive relative to the demands of students. The enterprise of higher education can no longer be resistant to change, and even moreover must be willing to make necessary changes much more rapidly than in the past in order to remain viable. Given the limited demographic of traditional undergraduates in our particular region, and the fact that there are many choices for pursuing higher education within a compressed geographic area, each institution of higher learning is continually seeking to find their unique niche in the marketplace. For the University of Sioux Falls, all this must be done in the context of maintaining the distinct Christian identity which has been our trademark throughout 134 years of existence.

From your perspective, what does the relationship between USF and the Sioux Falls community look like?

The University of Sioux Falls feels blessed and fortunate to be part of the Sioux Falls community. In the current state of higher education around the nation, it is a real plus to be physically located in a progressive and economically vibrant community that is a center of commerce for the region. Without question, the University takes pride in being an active participant in the growth and development of Sioux Falls. According to a survey of University of Sioux Falls 2016 graduates, 89 percent remained within a 30 mile radius of the city, thus contributing to workforce development for the greater Sioux Falls community and surrounding region. The University also takes pride in being approachable and accessible to community entities interested in mutually beneficial partnerships to improve the quality of life in our city and region. The University and its representatives are continually looking for opportunities to plug into the larger community and we are often requested to participate in numerous community events or initiatives.

Talk about the role of post-secondary institutions, and in particular your institution, when it comes to community and workforce development strategies. In a time of low unemployment and a competitive job market, what are some ways that USF can help in addressing workforce development issues in Sioux Falls and South Dakota?

My earlier responses get at this issue, but I would add that the University of Sioux Falls is in a cycle of continuous improvement of its programming at all levels-frequently considering the nature of degree programs relative to the community, regional and state needs. It has not been uncommon for the University to be approached for the purpose of offering new educational programming or creating specified educational opportunities in areas of needs. Again, the University exerts great effort in its external outreach and desires to be integrated into the community that supports its existence.

What are some ways to foster further collaboration between educators and employers?

The best ways we have found are the exposure to internship opportunities that provide real life experience for students to make sense of the theoretical constructs they have learned in their academic endeavors. These internship experiences also provide local businesses with the ability to "grow their own" workforce by investing in promising prospects. The University has examples where such programs have worked exceptionally well, providing benefits of experiential learning for students during their college days and simultaneously giving businesses a chance to consider a talent pool they may not have had under different circumstances.

In addition, the University continues to work diligently on providing non-degree professional development opportunities to various businesses in the community. To this end, and with appropriate collaboration, workforce training can be tailored to fit the specified needs of select industries. As an example, the University serves over 7,000 educators a year from the state and region with professional development opportunities that can simultaneously assist educators with ongoing licensure requirements. The University plans to continue expanding its footprint in this non-degree seeking area.

Finally, the University of Sioux Falls will be launching its Bridges program in fall 2017 after months of development. This program will serve to educate those with language barriers or training needs to enter the workforce in Sioux Falls and/or continue in their education as a gateway to future opportunity.

Do you see any weaknesses today in the structure of post-secondary education in the community of Sioux Falls or even in the state of South Dakota? What is missing? What can we do better?

Since about 2008-09, higher education has been in a state of rapid change. Regardless of status (public or private, for-profit or non-profit), higher education has been pondering how to retain its unique identity, while still competing in the marketplace with programs that attract and retain students. At the end of the day, we are often chasing the same demographic, frequently with duplicated programming.

While maintaining the distinct identity of each institution is important to its existence, I think it would be fair to say that higher education has been slow to consider ways to partner, or to ensure that scarce resources are devoted to delivering a few programs well versus maintaining a wide array of programming that is often challenging to cash-flow. It is often stated that we operate in silos, sometimes out of perceived necessity. For example, it is difficult for public and private institutions to discuss partnerships for a variety of political and economic reasons. Being more collaborative could actually allow many institutions to operate more efficiently, but it would require more time devoted to the nature of partnerships (e.g. sharing of faculty expenses across two or more institutions). Perhaps rightfully so, we hold many programs close to our hearts, even when enrollment would not realistically indicate they can be viable either in the short or long run. Most of us in this industry acknowledge that offering quality programs cannot always be about chasing the dollar, but we have to balance this consideration with overall viability. I speculate that this will continue to be a challenge for all of us in higher education, especially as changing student needs continue to demand instructional delivery systems that do not fit into the traditional model of patterned daytime courses offered through traditional classroom means. All of us have branched into more online and hybrid delivery of coursework, but again have done so in silos, often creating redundancy of programming in the region.

Please describe your vision for USF in its service to students, the community and the state. What will USF look like in 10 years if you are successful in implementing your vision?

The University has remained committed to ongoing strategic planning efforts with its newest rendition close to completion. Because of the changing dynamics of the industry, the University of Sioux Falls has chosen to create three year strategic plans that are continually reviewed and vetted in alignment with changes in the marketplace. USF has embarked on numerous studies regarding programming, student demographics, best industry standards for conducting elements of our business, etc. All of this information feeds into planning for optimal enrollment thresholds across traditional undergraduate, non-traditional and graduate programs. We have developed a strategic vision based on four pillars that takes into account our Christian identity, enrollment parameters that allow us to operate in the manner we choose, co-curricular programming and the residence life experience which is demonstrated through research to be a key indicator of student persistence. With these factors in mind, the University seeks to develop realistic strategies to achieve the outcomes we desire and to strike balance between financial efficiency, quality programming, and maintaining the open Christian culture we embrace in alignment with our traditional motto of "Culture for Service" and our expressed mission.

Please share a few specific goals you have for yourself and/or for USF in the next 6-12 months.

In the short term, the University is committed to extensive analysis to complete the most recent rendition of the three year strategic plan, which should be finalized by September 2017. Embedded in this plan are various elements that include program evaluation, continuing attention to elements of professional accreditation, attention to the physical campus to ensure facilities meet the needs of students and programming, adequately funding the University's core mission of education and retaining a highly qualified faculty and staff to fulfill the greater goals articulated in the strategic plan. Research continues to indicate that high quality instruction, attractive degree programs, and opportunity for student engagement with highly qualified faculty remain some of the most important factors in attracting and retaining students. Additionally, I will be devoting ongoing attention to expansion of critical external partnerships and philanthropic interest for investing in the University and its students.


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