April 1999 // Case Studies
Connecting Students and Faculty through Technology, Collaboration, and Globalization at Wake Forest University
by Ross Griffith
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Ross Griffith "Connecting Students and Faculty through Technology, Collaboration, and Globalization at Wake Forest University" The Technology Source, April 1999. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Wake Forest University is close to concluding the implementation of a novel strategic plan ("Plan for the Class of 2000," 1995) that has received considerable national attention. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, featured an article on the fact that Wake Forest is providing all faculty and entering freshmen with IBM laptop computers (DeLoughry, 1995).

Wake Forest, a private institution located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has a total Fall 1998 enrollment of 6,147 students in undergraduate, graduate, law, and medical programs. The undergraduate schools have a prominent liberal arts mission, and their enrollment of 3,868 students represents 63% of the University student population.

Major Outcomes of the Strategic Plan

Major outcomes of the strategic plan include:

  • The provision of all faculty and entering freshmen with IBM laptop computers, effective Fall 1996
  • The institution of a new first-year seminar course that ensures each freshman an in-depth intellectual encounter, effective Fall 1996
  • The hiring of 40 new tenure-track faculty members to reduce the student/faculty ratio
  • The funding of scholarships for 175 students to study abroad
  • The provision of fellowships for 150 students to perform joint research with faculty members

The technology and first-year seminar initiatives have now been fully implemented for three first-year classes (1996-98); the hiring of new faculty and awarding of new scholarships and fellowships have been partially implemented. As of Fall 1998, thirty additional new tenure-track faculty members had been hired, ninety-six new scholarships ($2,000 each) had been awarded to students studying abroad, and thirty-six new fellowships ($2,000 each) had been awarded to students for collaborative research with faculty. Financial plans are currently in place to reach the numerical goals previously cited.

Planning Process

A university-wide program planning committee was formed and began work in the fall of 1992 and completed its task in the fall of 1994. The committee, chaired by the University provost, consisted of elected faculty, administrators, and students; all schools were represented on the committee. The committee's activities included surveying seniors about their education-related satisfaction levels and faculty about their needs, holding a faculty retreat, and conducting 82 open hearings with department chairs and program directors about their needs and priorities. Members of the committee visited and observed two outstanding private universities that have missions and academic programs comparable to Wake Forest. The committee also coordinated an environmental scanning process to identify influential trends, including the magnitude of information explosion and the impact of multiculturalism, at educational institutions. Additionally, the committee sanctioned comparative studies of other institutions in numerous areas, including enrollment, student/faculty ratio, tuition, and faculty salaries.

Implementation Strategies

The administration felt that the technology component was the most attractive feature and thus would help "sell" the entire strategic plan to the Board of Trustees. The faculty initially resisted the technology feature but unilaterally approved the addition of faculty to reduce the student/faculty ratio. The administration and the program planning committee convinced the faculty to accept all recommendations of the plan, including the establishment of standing committees on "information technology" and "first-year seminar."

The program planning committee conducted a pricing study of the implementation costs of the strategic plan. The total cost was estimated to be annually $8,301,700. After realizing that there were no funds or forthcoming campaign to pay for the plan, the committee had to be creative in providing a plan for funding. A pricing study of the 33 "most competitive" private colleges (as identified in the 1994 Barron's Profiles of American Colleges) indicated that Wake Forest was next-to-last in tuition costs. Thus, University administrators felt that they could raise tuition $3,000 per year, effective with the freshman class entering in 1996, and still be competitive in the admissions market. The trustees approved the tuition increase, thereby allowing the University to implement the entire strategic plan. Additionally, Wake Forest used unrestricted endowment earnings to pay for extra costs related to the computing program.

Assessment of the Strategic Plan's Outcomes

An evaluation committee consisting of faculty and administrators assesses the strategic plan's outcomes. The evaluation committee members serve as liaisons to different committees and administrative offices throughout the University. They provide these groups with the results of surveys and other data.

The evaluation committee monitors twenty-seven key measures in the areas of:

  • Quality at the entrance door
  • Quality of activities while students attend Wake Forest
  • Quality at the exit door
  • Opinions concerning quality

Examples of key measures being monitored are freshmen retention rates, student/faculty ratio, percent of graduates receiving degree credits abroad, graduation rates, alumni giving rates, and academic reputation as measured in U.S. News & World Report.

The evaluation committee primarily uses the following instruments to measure the effectiveness of the strategic plan:

  • Wake Forest Fact Book (1998)
  • Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium Senior Survey
  • College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ)
  • Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey
  • Freshman Essay
  • In-house Student Computer Survey
  • HEDS Alumni/ae Survey
  • In-house Faculty Survey (1998)
  • In-house Faculty Computer Survey

Surveys of this nature have proven to be of value in assessing educational programs. Wake Forest's CSEQ results were cited and analyzed in a global assessment context (Banta and Kuh, 1998). The CSEQ, administered to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, is designed to determine how students spend their time. The HEDS Senior Survey determines seniors' satisfaction levels in numerous academic and other areas, which can then be evaluated next to comparative data from peer institutions. The In-house Faculty Survey, developed by the Evaluation Committee, specifically assesses the outcomes of the strategic plan from the faculty perspective.

Ubiquitous Computing

The most distinctive outcome of the strategic plan is that, as of Fall 1996, all faculty and entering freshmen receive IBM laptop computers. They receive an upgrade every two years, and seniors keep the computers upon graduation. Also, the entire campus has been completely wired for computing, and seventeen additional computing professionals have been hired to provide faculty support. Faculty members have responded to these changes by establishing the "Wake Forest Computer-Enhanced Learning Initiative" (1998). CELI is faculty-based and has as its mission the development of effective uses of computers in instruction. Directed by a faculty member given a reduced teaching load, CELI sponsors campus seminars on using technology in instruction and provides a number of other services as well.

The implementation of computing on this scale is ground-breaking; fewer than twenty liberal arts colleges in the United States have such a program. Thus, many efforts have been made to assess its impact. The CSEQ, In-house Faculty Survey, In-house Student Computer Survey, and In-house Faculty Computer Survey were administered to students and faculty before and after the strategic plan was implemented. Wake Forest has measured changes in computer usage by analyzing the results of these surveys. CSEQ results show that, as a result of the strategic plan, students show significantly higher scores in the areas of general computer use, attendance of courses using computers, and use of computers in research. Faculty Survey results indicate significant increases in the areas of teaching effectiveness, individual instruction, communication, presentation, modeling/simulation, and information gathering. Both faculty and students have shown increasingly positive attitudes toward computer use and improvement in computer-use skills, as is further evidenced by survey results.

Results of the Strategic Plan

The retention rate of first-year students who entered in 1996 (the first year of the strategic plan) was greater than that of those entering in the previous three years. Also, the 94.3% retention rate of the 1997 freshman class was even higher than the 1996 freshman class retention rate of 93.4%. The mean grade point average of first-year students at the end of the first year was higher in 1996 (2.81) and 1997 (2.83) than in the immediate years prior to the implementation of the strategic plan. While retention and mean grade point average of freshmen have increased since the plan began, the academic quality of the entering freshman class has remained essentially unchanged (in terms of entering students' mean SAT scores and academic rankings in their high school graduating classes). Thus, the positive changes cannot be attributed to the enrollment of better students, since new freshmen in 1996 and 1997 were not any stronger academically than the students who enrolled in the immediate years prior to the implementation of the strategic plan.

The student/faculty ratio was 13:1 when the plan was developed in 1995 and is 11:1 presently. The CSEQ results indicate a significantly higher score for students' positive relations with faculty and student participation in class discussions; the Faculty Survey results indicate a significantly higher score for intellectual climate among students. The number of undergraduate students studying abroad in the fall of 1998 increased 65% over the number studying abroad in the fall of 1997; thus, the awarding of 96 new scholarships for international study has dramatically increased the globalization of student experiences. Data on 1998-99 student/faculty research collaboration is not yet available, but the awarding of thirty-six new scholarships in July 1998 for such collaboration should have an impact on the quality of research as well.


Wake Forest University has successfully implemented a major strategic plan that includes ubiquitous computing, first-year seminars, new faculty, new scholarships for students studying abroad, and new fellowships for students participating in collaborative research with faculty. Overall assessment of the substantial outcomes of the strategic plan, based upon analysis of key measures of quality, indicates that the plan has been effective to date. Certainly, administrators and faculty were pleased with the progress of the plan as they approached the Fall 1998 semester (Cox, 1998). However, continual assessment is necessary, since the first class to enroll under the strategic plan will not graduate until the year 2000. At that time, many measures, including graduation rates and senior survey results, will be compared to previous classes and other groups; a true evaluation of the complete effectiveness of the strategic plan will then be available.


Banta, T. W., & Kuh, G. D. (1998, March/April). A missing link in assessment. Change 30(2), 40-46.

Barron's Profiles of American Colleges. (1994). College admissions selector. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., p. 215.

Cox, Kevin. (1998). Fall semester marks new stage in undergraduate plan. News Service, Wake Forest University. Retrieved March 42, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wfu.edu/wfunews/releases/081498p.htm.

DeLoughry, T. J. (May 5, 1995). Mandatory computers. The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. A37, A39.

Fact Book. (March 1998). Office of Institutional Research, Wake Forest University. Retrieved March 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wfu.edu/Administrative-offices/ Institutional-Research/FactBook1.html.

"Faculty Survey." (1998). Office of Institutional Research, Wake Forest University. Retrieved March 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wfu.edu/Administrative-offices/ Institutional-Research/Faculty-Survey/1998Results.PDF.

"Plan for the Class of 2000." (January 1995). Office of the Provost, Wake Forest University. Retrieved March 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wfu.edu/Academic-departments/ Program-Planning-Committee/Plan-for-the-Class-of-2000.txt.

"Wake Forest Computer-Enhanced Learning Initiative." Retrieved March 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wfu.edu/CELI/.

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