TTU Strategic Risk Assessment

Tennessee Tech University (TTU)
Strategic Risk Assessment

  1. Research Environment
  2. Competition:
  3. National Environment:

Approximately 125 universities are included in the U.S. News and World Report 2015 ranking of Graduate Engineering Programs. Most highly ranked programs are associated with state flagship or private institutions with huge endowments. In Tennessee, Vanderbilt is 34th and the University of Tennessee – Knoxville is 64th.

  1. Regional Environment:

TTU is a Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) institution and therefore funded as a regional four year institution with some funding support for three research centers. The TTU graduate program in engineering is among more than 100 regional programs in the U.S. News and World Report that are unranked.

  1. Local Environment:

As a TBR institution, TTU is charged as a resource for regional development. However, the region doesn’t have a well developed industrial base to support research and struggles with economic develop issues (Additional comments on this topic in Section D).

  1. Basic Research Revenue Streams:

Primary funding sources for basic research are partnerships with high tech industries, competitive federal initiatives similar to NSF and NIH, state and federal earmarked initiatives, and successfully marketing intellectual property. Competing for basic research revenue streams is challenging for regional institutions.

TTU Funding sources include state funding for centers of excellence from the comparison several flow through grants, leveraged undergraduate programs, and some basic research grants (historically, includes earmarked federal funding).

  1. Vertical Integration of Research Capability:
  2. Faculty:

For sustainability, focus area research activities require a critical mass of highly specialized faculty. A university must minimize the effects of perturbations caused by departures of research faculty over time. Recruiting research faculty at a regional university is comparable to drafting professional athletes by small market sports franchises. After a faculty member establishes a successful research initiative, they receive lucrative offers to join more prestigious research programs at other universities.

  1. Graduate Students:

A vertical integration strategy for research also requires a critical mass of qualified graduate students in research focused Ph.D. programs. It is difficult to sustain multiple graduate degree program options and attract students to unranked graduate programs. That problem is exacerbated by the decrease in demand for Ph.D. degrees in STEM disciplines. Many Ph.D. graduates at highly ranked research programs are now accepting post-doctoral positions. As a result,limited job opportunities for STEM graduates devalue a Ph.D. from a regional program.

  1. Leveraged Undergraduate Engineering Programs

A limited source of investors to invest in basic research at TTU has resulted in an increased emphasis on leveraging undergraduate degree programs for capital formation. Common flagship university strategies for leveraging undergraduate programs include reducing the variety of electives and number of core course sections offered. Economies of scale enable resources to be allocated to research activities. Another leverage strategy is to use enrollment growth in an academic area as a revenue stream for another area.

Leveraging places a burden on engineering programs with a diverse student population but causes minimal disruption at flagship institutions with a homogeneous population of students who have excellent academic credentials. The College of Engineering at TTU signature has been producing basic and midlevel management engineers for regional companies from a lower socio-economic class students. However, there are numerous examples where graduates, with faculty mentoring, excelled and became leaders in society.

2012 TTU College of Engineering freshmen ACT scores indicate a broad range of scores. Currently, many in the cohort are marginally prepared to purse an engineering degree. As shown in the histogram, approximately 40 % of students can be considered at-risk and do not meet minimum unconditional admission requirements (ACT > 24) for UTK College of Engineering.

TTU is also aggressively recruiting international students who pay full tuition. International students (120) accounted for 20% of 2012 increase in enrollment in the College of Engineering. If international students are included, the percentage that does not meet UTK admission standards would likely exceed 50%.

In the last couple of years, TTU College of Engineering core course class sizes have at least doubled. The number of D’s, W’s, and F’s in core computer science and engineering courses affirm that there are a large number of at-risk students engaging in at-risk behavior (working part-time) in an at-risk learning environment (large classes). Revenue streams derived from international student enrollment and leveraging undergraduate programs has created an economic bubble that could affect financial stability of the university. For example, a successful Tennessee Promise Initiative could suddenly and materially affect that revenue stream.

  1. Research Leadership

Several TTU leadership positions have recently been staffed by administrators from flagship universities because of the assumption that research strategies for state flagship institutions are transferrable to a regional university. Developing a major university organizational structure at TTU has increased administration costs over 75% during the last 3 years. During that period TTU research activations have fallen by approximately five million dollars (30%). Approximately 3.5 million of the current 12 million dollars of research are budgeted from TBR funding. During that period the number of TTU awarded Ph.D.’s and graduate students has remained essentially constant.

  1. Conflicting Strategies:

As indicated in Section A.1.c, TTU is charged with being a resource for developing the region. Regional needs include developing infrastructure in rural areas; recruiting new companies; supporting and expanding current businesses and industries; improving education standards for a diverse economy; and developing a regional “brand identity” to leverage regional economic development activities. However, there doesn’t seem to be a well-defined strategy for university engagement in regional development.

TTU is ideally suited to partner and contribute to regional development. Resources for a horizontal integration research strategy include an interdisciplinary critical mass of appropriate degree programs, faculty, and students from various colleges that focus on applying domain knowledge in new and existing technology to structural improvements in selected economic development based industries. This approach is similar to the Morrill Land-Grant Acts during the 1800’s that created agriculture colleges across the United States. At that time agriculture was the primary engine for economic development.

In the current university environment, new initiatives have replaced abandoned and de-emphasized initiatives. The graph of engineering degrees awarded by TTU reflects inconsistencies between enrollment in academic programs and anticipated demand for graduates from those degree programs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *