Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

July 18, 1996

Safety, recreation and computers at top of provost's list of priorities for meeting the needs of students

Wiring residence halls for computers, hiring more campus police to improve safety and expanding student recreational opportunities are among eight priority items listed for implementation during fiscal year 1997 in the just released Provost's Report on Undergraduate Initiatives.

The report also calls for increasing tutorial services, improving academic support services for the disabled, improving socialization programs for first-year students, launching a living/learning program and improving student services associated with registration.

Developed with input from administrators, faculty, staff, students and various committees, the report is Provost James Maher's response to the recommendations of the enrollment management committee that was chaired by Vice Provost Jack Daniel and charged last year with reviewing undergraduate retention issues at the University.

"This report surveys what we have been doing all along. It explains what we did new this year and it explains what we are going to do next year," Maher said. "It is important for everybody to understand that we are addressing the University's problems." Although Pitt offers many high quality programs, Maher said it is common knowledge that the University has a much better reputation outside of Allegheny County than within the county. According to the provost, Pitt's image within Allegheny County needs to be corrected in order to help attract and retain more and better students. And the way to do that, Maher said, is not through public relations, but through efforts such as those outlined in the report.

"The way to address the problem is to analyze what we are doing and organize what we are doing so our own people see that it [the University] is very, very good and they will tell the community," Maher said.

The eight priority initiatives were selected after a review of the enrollment management committee's recommendations by both academic and administrative units and an analysis of associated costs, according to the report. Maher did not have exact cost figures for the FY97 initiatives, but figures contained in the University Planning and Budgeting Committee's budget recommendation report released last month set the total at approximately $1.25 million. The initiatives are as follows: * Wire residence halls: The University will implement an aggressive program to provide computer network access to every residence hall room. The program will be implemented over four years, according to the report.

Providing network access from residence halls is part of an overall strategy designed to increase the availability of computing resources for all students.

"Wiring the residence halls will really bring us up to date with access to computing for students," Maher said.

* Expand recreational opportunities: Pitt will develop a student recreation facility in Bellefield Hall for both open recreation and intramural sports such as basketball, volleyball and aerobics.

"Expanding the recreational opportunities is extremely important," Maher said. "We have not had as good a set of recreational opportunities on the campus as I think we need." How badly additional recreational opportunities are craved by students became apparent last year when a fitness center was opened in Lothrop Hall and soon passed in usage the long-established fitness center in Trees Hall. The weekday average of person hours of usage at Lothrop last year was 412, compared to 315 at Trees.

Lothrop Hall's center also was used much more by women students than by men students. About 80 percent of the users in Lothrop were female and about 20 percent male. Trees Hall was just the opposite, with about 85 percent of its users male and 15 percent female.

Maher said his office expected that more female than male students would use the Lothrop Hall fitness center because the equipment in it is better suited for women than the equipment in Trees Hall. Weight machines, for instance, hold lighter weights. Nobody, however, expected the Lothrop Hall center to be used so heavily.

"We were delighted to see that it exceeded even our most optimistic projections for use," said Maher. "So, we are going to expand the facilities in the lower campus further by putting into Bellefield Hall facilities that will appeal to both men and women." * Improve campus safety: Pitt will seek a closer working relationship between campus police and city police, have campus police undergo additional training and hire more officers. Such moves, according to the report, will have a significant impact on the perception of students about the safety of the campus.

* Extend tutorial and academic support services: The Learning Skills Center will develop a program to provide tutorial assistance to students in several courses that traditionally have high failure rates, including introductory courses in biology, chemistry and physics.

* Improve academic support services for disabled students: The Office of Disability Resources and Services plans to extend the range of its services, particularly in the areas of learning disabilities and interpretive services, to assist the University's growing number of disabled students.

* Improve the socialization of first-year students: Building on the College of Arts and Science's Freshman Studies course and the School of Engineering's Freshman Engineering Leadership Team program, the University will start programs to improve out-of-class interaction between freshman students and faculty.

* Initiate an experimental living/learning program in residence halls: Under the leadership of the University Honors College, at least one living/learning cluster, organized around international issues, will be created. The cluster will be under the direction of an individual recruited for the purpose, who will design programs that will include discussion groups led by interested faculty members.

The purpose of the cluster is to integrate the residence life of students with their academic life and their intellectual interests.

* High quality student services project: The offices of Admission and Financial Aid, the Registrar and Student Financial Services will have their staffs complete an intensive training program and analyze their operations with an eye toward improving services to students.

"This project is to make what the students call registration much more user friendly, much more customer oriented," said Maher. He added that the goal is to make it seem as if students are dealing with Pitt and not a collection of separate offices.

Undergraduate initiatives launched last year, according to the provost's report, included a review of curriculum for ways to better prepare students for the outside world; a review of admission standards with an eye toward recruiting higher quality students; a pilot study examining ways that financial aid could be used to attract more academically outstanding out-of-state students, and increased recruitment of minority students to improve the diversity of the undergraduate student population.

The minority student recruitment effort was so successful it resulted in a 43 percent increase in the number of African American undergraduate students at Pitt and was recognized by the American Council on Education, the report noted.

Not enough data has yet been collected to determine the success of other moves undertaken last year, but anecdotal evidence has been positive, according to Maher.

"It's very hard to be sure what impact a new program such as this will have in its first year," Maher said. "But I am confident that these things will help."

–Mike Sajna

Leave a Reply