Conference Description

Conference Aim Back to top

The aim of the Benchmarking University Engagement conference is to give university colleagues an opportunity to take a broad look at developing criteria, measures, and documentation that will enable them to benchmark their institution's outreach and engagement performance with that of comparable institutions.

Participants Back to top

As part of its sesquicentennial celebration, Michigan State University is inviting participants from over 100 major research universities—land-grant and others—to a focused discussion on Benchmarking University Engagement . Universities are being asked to bring teams of faculty and administrative leaders from outreach and engagement, institutional research, information technology, and public relations units.

Theme Back to top

How can research universities document and promote their commitment to outreach and engagement?

Responding to increasingly urgent calls, research universities are seeking to enliven their interactions with their surrounding communities and enhance their ability to share knowledge resources with individuals and organizations external to the academy. This activity is taking many forms, guided by a sense that the fruits of university scholarship can and should be more widely and more promptly involved in addressing issues of prime importance to society.

Universities are at work on two aspects of enhancing their relationships with their external communities:

  • Expanding their outreach/engagement activity.
  • Providing more concrete evidence to the public of their already expansive involvement and the considerable difference that involvement makes.

To provide that evidence, universities need to develop (1) criteria and measures for documenting what they are doing to fulfill their commitments to communities and (2) better methods for portraying their accomplishments to those communities.

To measure their success persuasively, universities must (1) look at the specific engagement activities carried out by individual faculty, staff, and students, and (2) review institutional issues—levels of central administrative support for engagement, engagement's place in the faculty reward system, and budgetary priorities.

University administrators need such information to establish performance objectives in the engagement area, to insure that their institutions are involved with their communities' most pressing issues, and to structure institutional reward systems to encourage units and individuals to engage in this still largely underappreciated and undercompensated activity.

Those charged with responsibilities for institutional advancement need a better sense of their institutions' overall engagement accomplishments in order to inform the public about the full measure of these contributions. This information will also enable universities and individual academic units to benchmark their performance against comparable entities.

The Benchmarking University Engagement conference will build on work done at several institutions and through the Committee on Institutional Cooperation's (CIC) Committee on Engagement and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) Council on Extension, Continuing Education, and Public Service (CECEPS).

Focal Areas Back to top

The conference explores ways to develop and apply measures that can enable institutions to benchmark their outreach accomplishments against a commonly recognized set of criteria.

Teams will address such issues as “how to”:

  • Compare central administrative and policy support when engagement and outreach are administered very differently from campus to campus.
  • Identify university budgetary contributions to outreach when faculty and staff outreach activity is closely intertwined with their research and teaching.
  • Identify measures that are equally appropriate to such different activities as the creation of extension pamphlets, long-term evaluation of educational interventions, advising a construction company on developing “green” buildings, and offering an off-campus course.
  • Assess the extent of scholarship in engagement activities.
  • Integrate measures of outreach with the more traditional productivity data currently assembled by institutional research departments.
  • Develop a comprehensive system through which faculty report their engagement activity in ways that allow for aggregation of data for academic units and for the institution as a whole.
  • Integrate such reporting with the effort and accomplishment data that faculty traditionally report.
  • Create a manageable set of descriptors which faculty would believe fairly represents their work.
  • Design and implement a national database on engagement activities that is easy to use and allows for ready comparisons among institutions and like academic units.
  • Use the data to more effectively describe the scope of institutional engagement and the ways it benefits the communities and organizations that universities serve.
  • Balance the media's desire for dramatic information about institutional accomplishments against the needs for accuracy and compliance.
  • Incorporate accreditation processes, classification systems, and documentation for funders with university management data around engagement and outreach.

Format Back to top

Conference attendees will hear a number of speakers and panelists representing:

  • National organizations who will address how well research universities engage with those outside the academy.
  • Funding agencies and foundations who will describe their growing expectations that grantees will engage with communities outside the academy and the criteria and classification categories they will use to determine how well those expectations are met.
  • Higher education institutions who will discuss the institutional pressures for culture change and responsiveness to societal concerns.
  • Public media who will discuss issues related to rankings and engagement.
  • National higher education statistical databases who will describe data collection systems and possible applications for national collection of engagement data.
  • Regional accrediting body who will explain the addition of engagement criteria as part of institutional self-study.

During discussion sessions, participants will address these issues and challenges and, as the conference unfolds, develop criteria, categories, measures, and methods to benchmark the engagement activities of research universities. For more complete information, see the Program.

Team members from participating institutions may wish to share their own work in developing a data collection instrument for engagement work.