Oral Roberts University (ORU) has responded to some serious problems over the last three years: a lawsuit, a president who resigned under fire, and massive debt. (You can read about these in the Autumn 2009 and New Year 2010 issues of In Trust, available online at www.intrust.org/ORU). But since the finances were stabilized and new leadership came to the university, they have been confronting another challenge — too few students.
How to solve the problem of too few students without lowering standards? ORU looked to its own history and built a student recruitment program fully in line with its longstanding values.
No little plans
Evangelist Oral Roberts, who died December 15, 2009, was not a person who thought small. A plaque on his desk read "Make no little plans here." And his biggest project of all was Oral Roberts University, which opened its doors for its first classes on September 7, 1965. In a definitive biography titled Oral Roberts: An American Life, historian David Edwin Harrell wrote that only 312 students matriculated that day, including 29 in the Graduate School of Theology. But Roberts planned for many more and recruited tirelessly. By 1968, more than 850 students were on campus, and in 1975, enrollment passed 2,500.
From the first, Roberts insisted that the university represented something different: a "quest for the whole man." He asserted — perhaps unfairly — that other schools strengthened only the mind. ORU, he promised, would not only educate the mind, but also build up the body and nurture the spirit, or "inner man."
Roberts expounded on this "whole man" concept at the first opening convocation. "I think you can emerge as the world's most-wanted graduates," he told the pioneering students who had just unpacked their bags on an incomplete campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "A healthy body that you know how to take care of, a trained and disciplined mind that never settles for less than excellence, governed by an invincible spirit of integrity, inspired by a personal relationship with a living God, and driven by an irresistible desire to be a whole man to make a troubled world whole again! Yes, you will be in demand."
Assessment of the whole person
As it plays out today, education of the "whole man" looks much like education at other Christian colleges: Students take classes, participate in sports, attend chapel. Professors teach, but also act as mentors and spiritual guides. Faculty and students abide by an honor code in which they pledge to "apply myself wholeheartedly to my intellectual pursuits," "grow in my spirit," and "develop my body with sound health habits." Two more learning outcomes have been added to the body-mind-spirit triad — social skills and professional competence.
What's different about ORU? For one thing, students are actually assessed on these five categories. Back in 1967, the dean of instruction began requiring every faculty member to develop syllabi that featured specific learning objectives with measurable criteria. About eight years ago, the university began rolling out a "whole person assessment" for students. Today, before graduation, each student completes an electronic portfolio that documents growth in 16 proficiencies spread across four of the categories ("intellectually alert," "physically disciplined," "spiritually alive," and "socially adept"). To demonstrate proficiency in the fifth category, "professional competence," students create a discipline-specific portfolio for each of their majors.
Using the electronic portfolio requires computer literacy. In some cases, students upload research or reflection papers, which can be viewed and critiqued by faculty. For example, to demonstrate competency in "ethical behavior," which is part of the "spiritually alive" category, a student uploads various coursework that shows he or she has grappled with ethical dilemmas. To show evidence for a "healthy lifestyle," part of the "physically disciplined" category, students complete a self-assessment that asks detailed questions about drug and alcohol use, physical fitness, grooming — even salt intake and consumption of fiber.
The electronic portfolio compares each student's scores to those of the whole student body. This allows a student to see the average ORU student along side his or her own. For examples, if a student scores a 3.1 in the "spiritually alive" category, but the average score is 3.4, it may be time to get back to daily Bible reading and other disciplines that raise the score in that category.
The university decided to implement electronic portfolios across all departments in 2003, and during the next academic year, departments engaged in scores of discussions to decide which courses and assignments should become part of the portfolios. Completing the electronic portfolio was made a graduation requirement in 2004. By 2007, ORU was recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) with its Award for Institutional Progress in Student Learning Outcomes.
Today, even ORU's board of trustees uses the Whole Person Assessment. A new section of the board's assessment instrument asks members to reflect on whether they are demonstrating "whole person" traits (see below).
A new way to recruit
When philanthropist Mart Green took over as ORU's board chair in 2008, he wondered why the university had not publicized its award from CHEA more widely. But he also had a brainstorm: If ORU wants its graduates to be "whole persons," why not recruit high-school students who are already on the way? "If you're a great basketball player, we go for you," Green says. "If you're academic, we go for you. But what about the whole person?"
Green's idea was a Whole Person Scholarship to recruit new students who already demonstrated ORU's competencies — students who could become ambassadors for ORU's educational vision. Furthermore, he wanted to cultivate enthusiasm about the university, countering the negative press that had focused on the excesses of the Roberts family and the financial woes that Green's generosity had addressed.
Green immediately launched a scholarship fund and started raising money for it. From the beginning, an essential component of the scholarship was the campus visit, because Green believed that a prospective student who actually set foot on campus would be more likely to commit. So for the inaugural scholarship competition, three Scholarship Days were scheduled — one in November, one in January, and one in March. Scholarship hopefuls were asked to apply for admission first and then submit their portfolios for the scholarship before learning whether they would be invited for an on-campus visit.
The university announced its first Whole Person Scholarship recipients on March 12, 2009 — 31 full-tuition scholarships for students matriculating the following autumn. Everyone who had been invited to Scholarship Day received at least a $2,500 tuition award.
And the result? ORU President Mark Rutland told me that last fall's entering class was both bigger and better than in previous years. And he's convinced that students and faculty have started to internalize the Whole Person concept.
It's notable that the Whole Person scholarship and assessment reflect the vision of the "whole man" that founder Oral Roberts expounded 45 years ago. Back then, Roberts emphasized that ORU students were not mere IBM punch cards — they would not be treated as numbers instead of people.
Today, students' progress toward "whole personhood" is charted online. But even with new technology like the electronic portfolio, the scholarship program and Whole Person Assessment both seem consistent with what ORU has been trying to achieve all along.
Board members should be "whole persons" too
On their board assessment instrument, ORU's trustees respond to each of the following statements with "strongly agree," "agree," "somewhat disagree," or "strongly disagree."
■ I demonstrate that I am spiritually alive by increasing my biblical knowledge, remaining sensitive to the Holy Spirit, obeying God in evangelism of others and conducting myself in an ethical manner.
■ I demonstrate that I am intellectually alert by using the critical thinking skills God has given me, maintaining a global and historical perspective on issues before the Board, appreciating that God has made me - body, soul, and mind.
■ I am committed to being physically disciplined by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being aware that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I treat it in a way that reflects my commitment to honor God in every area of my life.
■ I am socially adept and I demonstrate this by being a responsible citizen, communicating effectively, using my interpersonal skills to serve others and put them at ease, display appropriate leadership when required and maintain an appreciation for those that may be different from me.
■ I am committed to professional competency and use my expertise from my chosen field to provide recommendations and advice to assist the board in making well-thought-out decisions.