Higher Learning Commission

Creating a United Vision of Performance Learning at Millikin University

Millikin University

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Brief description

Millikin University aspires to be THE national leader in Performance Learning. This vision statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees on November 3, 2012 following extensive campus-wide work on a new Strategic Plan. Millikin University initiated work in 2008 on a three-year branding process with Jump Company to assist us in identifying and articulating our unique brand. Throughout the endeavor, a variety of constituencies including faculty, staff, students, alumni, board of trustees’ members, employers, and representatives from the community examined, discussed, and gave voice to those attributes which make the Millikin educational experience exceedingly rich and our graduates uniquely successful in the marketplace. During the discussions, the crowning attribute that emerged was that of Performance Learning whereby our students consistently demonstrated near-professional levels of performance upon graduation, regardless of major. We officially launched the Performance Learning brand for Millikin University in February of 2011: “For those who aspire to achieve, Millikin University offers learning through performance – A unique approach that generates the confidence to succeed.” Three years later, Performance Learning, while seen as a pervasive and valuable practice in the curricular and co-curricular milieu at Millikin University, remains ambiguously defined internally and inadequately communicated externally. Through the University’s work on the Quality Initiative, we recognize that this definition does not capture the importance, impact, and enculturation of Performance Learning at Millikin University.

Status of initiative

Focused work on our HLC Open Pathway Quality Initiative Proposal, Creating a United Vision of Performance Learning at Millikin University, was officially launched on Friday, March 21, 2014 at the Advancing Performance Learning Conference. Throughout the campus-wide conference, the University community began an intentional, meaningful, and comprehensive discussion on the following three questions related to our understanding of our Performance Learning work at Millikin University: 1) What is Performance Learning? 2) What are the best practices in Performance Learning? and 3) How can Performance Learning be advanced? Articulating the answers to those questions ourselves and advancing their essence to external audiences are paramount to our Quality Initiative work. Millikin University does not intend for the focused Quality Initiative work to be completed during the proposal period. Rather, we anticipate the achievement of key milestones, the identification and articulation of new germane goals, and the extension of our ongoing work. We will demonstrate evidence of becoming increasingly purposeful in our sustained, long-term efforts related to the institutional enculturation and the national dissemination of that which makes Millikin University truly unique -- Performance Learning.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Significance

Potential for significant impact on the institution and its academic quality

Millikin University faces many of the same issues that currently challenge the viability of many higher education institutions nationally. As the pool of well-prepared students diminishes and the cost of higher education rises, it becomes increasingly important for the Academy to demonstrate the value of its students’ educational experiences. We believe that the rich and pervasive culture of Performance Learning that exists at Millikin University provides our graduates with exceptional professional experience to facilitate their success in the workplace and their positive influence in the world. We believe the ability to demonstrate and leverage the value of Performance Learning will help to drive an increase in the enrollment and retention of well-qualified students at the University. As a tuition-driven institution, increased enrollment and retention can positively impact the academic quality of programs through the funding of ongoing initiatives outlined in the Strategic Plan.

Alignment with the institution’s mission and vision

 The proposed Quality Initiative, Creating a United Vision of Performance Learning at Millikin University, is not only the institutional vision. It also advances the University’s mission to prepare students for professional success, democratic citizenship in a global environment, and a personal life of meaning and value. At the foundation of the institution are strong performance-based curricula delivered in such manner so as to provide our majors with professional preparation grounded in and inspired by the liberal arts. When James Millikin founded Millikin University in 1901, he envisioned an institution that would embrace the ‘practical’ side of learning along with the ‘literary and classical’ (MU Bulletin, 2013 – 2014, p. 5). While the idea of combining theory and practice was a radical notion at the time, Millikin’s vision has always supported an academic culture dominated by integrated, collaborative, and engaged learning (i.e. Performance Learning).

Connection with the institution’s planning processes

In the most current Millikin University Strategic Plan, Performance Learning is writ large. Initiative One is to “Boldly position Millikin University as the model of Performance Learning, to enroll students who aspire to achieve, to engage alumni and donor support, and to secure the necessary resources to fund and sustain nationally-recognized Performance Learning.” Clearly, the Quality Initiative Millikin University has proposed has a strong connection to the institution’s Strategic Plan (Adopted November 3, 2012) and demonstrates the institution’s priorities related to Performance Learning. The goals and objectives set forth in the Strategic Plan are important and are primarily related to leveraging Performance Learning externally. The goals and purposes of this Quality Initiative serve to “shore up” the practice of Performance Learning at Millikin University in order to provide a solid foundation for the Strategic Plan goals to come to fruition.

Evidence of significance and relevance at this time

The Performance Learning initiative is relevant and significant as seen from the perspective of three distinct stakeholders: 1) Students (past, present, potential, and future); 2) Society (communities and marketplace); and 3) Millikin University itself (impact of the initiative on the institution and its academic quality).

Students. This Performance Learning initiative holds significance for our past, present, potential, and future students. Performance Learning at Millikin promotes collaboration between student and faculty and advances professional development. Students in all majors are able to actualize valuable curricular and co-curricular connections through their Performance Learning experiences. Students who exhibit professional performance in front of stakeholders are more confident and more competitive in the marketplace. A larger percentage (68%) of students at Millikin participate in internship opportunities than the national average (63%) according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers [NACE]. In addition, we know that of last year’s graduates, 80% of them who are professionally employed completed internships while at Millikin University. The culture of Performance Learning at Millikin enhances our graduates’ abilities to achieve professional success, democratic citizenship in a global environment, and a personal life of meaning and value.

Society. Millikin believes that students, faculty, and staff have a responsibility to the local and global communities. Regardless of whether it takes the form of engagement of grade school children in the University-affiliated Dennis Laboratory School or as a consulting project with the Zambian government, Performance Learning is the mechanism by which our relationship with the community moves beyond volunteerism to one of mutually beneficial relationships. The market demands in our society also underscore the relevance of Performance Learning and the skills it develops in our graduates. Upon employment, Millikin graduates have moved well beyond the false dichotomy of theory and practice in the workplace. The marketplace demands that students have integrative and relevant experiences. Performance Learning ensures that our students meet that challenge.

Millikin Community. Performance learning is at the heart of what we do and aligns perfectly with the mission of the University. Our students live the mission through Performance Learning. Recently, a visitor to the University observed that the Millikin community was unaware of how rich and unique the ethos of Performance Learning was on campus and that we needed to tell others about it. He asserted "What you do [Performance Learning] may not seem special to you, but Millikin University is special because of what you do [Performance Learning]." His statement underscores the need to formalize and solidify Millikin’s tradition of Performance Learning through this Quality Initiative. Millikin University must become more purposeful in advancing Performance Learning from the intangible and incidental thing that we just “know” we do to the intentional and measurable thing that we can “prove” we do.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose

The following target dates are ambitious, dynamic, but flexible in nature. Also, the mechanisms and milestones are examples and not meant to be exhaustive.

Purpose A related to MU’s Performance Learning Quality Initiative: Existing evidence that shows a clear definition of Performance Learning is needed at Millikin University:

Clarify the definition of Performance Learning at Millikin University in order:

  • to ensure that the best institutional practices related to Performance Learning are identified and supported; and
  • to articulate in a compelling manner those best Performance Learning practices to our internal and external audiences.
  • At the March 21, 2014 Advancing Performance Learning Conference [APLC], there was faculty/staff consensus that a common institutional statement/definition of Performance Learning needed to be created from the descriptors articulated by participants; indeed “What is Performance Learning?” was one of the topics of a panel discussion.
  • The University Vision statement asserting Millikin will become the leader in Performance Learning was approved by the Board of Trustees with the Strategic Plan; however, this vision is not reflected in the current bulletin.
  • Recent semi-finalist candidates for the Chief Academic Officer’s position commented that they could not find an operational definition of what Millikin University meant when it used the term Performance Learning.
  • Many of our graduating seniors do not leverage Performance Learning to their advantage when they create their résumés and/or interview for their first professional positions.
Goal: Milestones/Strategies Measurement Date
  1. Develop a written, compelling, inclusive, comprehensive, and elegant institutional definition of Performance Learning.
  • Characteristics of Performance Learning were discussed in a panel session at the APLC (Faculty, staff, students – March 21, 2014).
  • Create operational definitions of experiential learning, service learning, volunteerism, internships; etc. (HLC Quality Initiative Team & others – June 1, 2014).
  • Draft institutional definition of Performance Learning (HLC Quality Initiative Team & others – August 1, 2014)
  • Opening University Workshop “double” session devoted to finalizing the institutional definition of Performance Learning (University community – August 20, 2014).
University constituencies (students, staff, and faculty) unite to approve, formally, the Millikin University definition of Performance Learning (University forum).


September 30, 2014

Purpose B related to MU’s Performance Learning Quality Initiative: Existing evidence that demonstrates the best practices involving Performance Learning need to be disseminated at Millikin University:

Facilitate a campus culture that is able to:

  • Understand and recognize the spectrum of implementations of Performance Learning (of both teaching and learning practice), including, but not limited to those recognized as best; and
  • Articulate the mechanisms by which practice levels of Performance Learning can be assessed and assigned value; and
  • Set expected benchmarks for individual and/or aggregated student outcomes related to Performance Learning through the lens of the student’s discipline.
  • One of the panels at the APLC provided their examples of the best practices of Performance Learning within majors, disciplines, divisions, Schools, and co-curricular arenas; in general, colleagues (faculty, staff, administrators, students, community members) communicated how diverse the range of best practices of Performance Learning were across campus.
  • It is also thought necessary that there be individuals identified across campus that have successfully designed, implemented, and assessed student engagement in the best practices of Performance Learning to assist colleagues who may need development in that arena.
  • While artifacts exist related to the Performance Learning in which our students and colleagues are engaged, they are not methodically collected; frequently faculty, staff, and students fail to recognize that the work they see as routine business or matter-of-fact is a noteworthy example of Performance Learning.
  • Performance Learning is seen as valuable along a spectrum with the best practices found at one end.
  • No aggregated information about Performance Learning is collected routinely by Millikin University; the Career Center does collect data about internships annually.
Goal(s): Milestones/Strategies Measurement Date
  1. Using the institutional definition of Performance Learning, develop written mechanisms by which various levels of Performance Learning can be assessed within majors, disciplines, divisions, schools, and/or co-curricular arenas.
  • A comprehensive and coordinated assessment of University endeavors will be articulated and demonstrate congruence with the expectations of the accrediting body (President’s Cabinet, Councils – September 30, 2014).
  • After adoption of the institutional definition, arenas where Performance Learning occurs will design and test the mechanisms by which it will be assessed

(Arenas – February 1, 2015).

  • Approval processes occur for assessment mechanisms by arena (Assessment structure – February 1, 2015).
In arenas where Performance Learning occurs, standards will be articulated in writing and measured annually (All who engage students in Performance Learning).


April 15, 2015

  1. Create a dynamic and central repository where individual and/or group Performance Learning artifacts and aggregated data (annual and trending) are accessible.
  • After the structure for comprehensive and coordinated assessment of University endeavors is created, the processes by which the pervasiveness and quality of Performance Learning University-wide will be articulated (Responsible parties TBD).
  • Secure platforms and develop human resources to create the Performance Learning repository Responsible parties TBD).
The repository is accessible, dynamic, and current (Responsible parties TBD).


April 15, 2015

Purpose C related to MU’s Performance Learning Quality Initiative: Existing evidence that demonstrates the University’s current work to advance itself as THE Leader in Performance Learning is inadequate:

Ensure a campus culture that advances Performance Learning through its:

  • Pervasive position in internal and external communications and activities; and
  • Reward structures which advantage the endeavors surrounding Performance Learning.
  • The University vision statement asserting Millikin will become THE leader in Performance Learning is not pervasive on campus.
  • Prospective students and families infrequently mention the phrase, “Performance Learning,” as the reason they come to Millikin although the top 3 majors which attract freshmen are ones with easily seen Performance Learning activities associated.
  • When the phrase, Performance Learning, is entered (April 7, 2014) on three Search Browsers (Yahoo, Google, & Bing), Millikin University’s rank appears as the 84th hit (9th page), the 20th hit (2nd page), and the 66th hit (5th page),
  • Many of our graduating seniors do not leverage Performance Learning to their advantage when they create their résumés and/or interview for their first professional positions.
  • Current reward structures or evaluative mechanisms for faculty, staff, and students do not advantage Performance Learning.
Goal(s): Milestones/Strategies Measurement Date
  1. Design and implement a plan that uses Performance Learning to recruit students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and employers nationally [2013 Strategic Plan Initiative One – Goal A-1].
  • President determines a structure for comprehensive and coordinated assessment of University endeavors in congruence with accrediting body (Responsible parties TBD).
Demonstrate an increase in our constituencies (students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and employers) who identify Millikin’s strength in Performance Learning (Responsible parties TBD).


April 15, 2015 and ongoing

  1. Trademark/copyright “Performance Learning” [2013 Strategic Plan Initiative One – Goal A-4].
  •  Investigate cost, process, and actualize this goal (Vice President of Enrollment Management, Cabinet).
Trademark/copyright “Performance Learning.”


June 30, 2014

  1. Competitively resource academic programs through the use of annual Performance Learning Enhancement Grants (PLEG) to ensure all programs have well developed 3rd party stakeholder investment, appropriate venues for performance, and models of student/faculty collaboration [2013 Strategic Plan Initiative One – Goal B-1].
  •  Assess progress and advocate for resources (Academic Deans and Assessment Structure Participants).
After adoption of the institutional definition, trademark/copyright “Millikin University Performance Learning definition” (Vice President of Enrollment Management).


October 31, 2014 and ongoing

  1. Competitively support athletics, student organizations, and intramurals to enhance Performance Learning [2013 Strategic Plan Initiative One – Goal B-3].
  • Work to advance the TransformMU campaign through completion (All of us in our own manner).
Demonstrate increased trending financial and human resource commitment to the PLEGs (Responsible parties TBD).


October 31, 2014 and ongoing

  1. Financially support off-campus Performance Learning for faculty and students [2013 Strategic Plan Initiative One – Goal C-1&2].
  • Examine internal documents and amend to advantage Performance Learning (contracts, faculty development, SURF grants, promotion & tenure, sabbaticals, etc.) (President’s Cabinet, Councils).
The internal recognition processes advantage faculty, students, and staff who engage in Performance Learning (Responsible parties TBD).


April 15, 2015 and ongoing

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

Commitment of senior leadership

The commitment to this Quality Initiative has been garnered from senior administrative leadership as well as the faculty, both internal stakeholders. The fact that Performance Learning is the first initiative in the Strategic Plan, a plan crafted by the Chief Academic Officer in consultation with campus-wide constituencies is evidence of that commitment. The Strategic Plan was endorsed by the President and then advanced to the Board of Trustees where it was approved on November 3, 2012. The vision statement of the University was changed at that time to focus on becoming “the national leader of Performance Learning.”

Commitment and involvement of key people and groups

Currently six individuals representing key areas of the University are shepherding the Quality Initiative forward. These faculty/staff/administrators have engaged in outreach strategies with their colleagues across campus and meet together three times a month to discuss strategies. Other internal stakeholders committed to the Quality Initiative include the Millikin Interdisciplinary Faculty Conference (MIFC) team who consulted with faculty colleagues and the University President to determine that the focus of the March 2014 MIFC should be “Advancing Performance Learning.” This year’s Annual MIFC had the best attendance to date of the four such conferences Millikin has sponsored. Approximately 100 individuals (faculty, staff, administrators, and students) participated. The panel format of the conference and the topical nature served to promote a rich, collegial exchange of ideas on Performance Learning and the Quality Initiative. The academic deans have been instrumental in advancing support for Performance Learning initiatives of the faculty in the colleges and play a key role in the evaluation of Performance Learning Enhancement Grants (PLEGs) created last year to support Performance Learning initiatives across campus.  Non-academic commitment to the initiative can also be seen in the co-curricular areas on campus. The Alumni & Development Office, Marketing, Student Life, Athletics, and the Career Center are all examples of the diversity of individuals at the table who are discussing the mechanisms by which Performance Learning can intersect the curricular and co-curricular interests of the student. One objective of Initiative One of the Strategic Plan includes infrastructure investment to ensure “student organizations and co-curricular programs become models of Performance Learning” (p. 2). The Celebrations of Scholarship is one example of how Performance Learning is exemplified and celebrated on campus. Students present their research, artistic achievements, and scholarship in a two-day event where external stakeholders keenly interested in Performance Learning provide funding for the event and awards. Students have also demonstrated a commitment to the expansion of Performance Learning in the student experience on campus, especially related to the role that faculty can play as mentors in helping students identify and secure Performance Learning opportunities. Millikin University is a valuable resource to the surrounding community. Faculty and students regularly engage in Performance Learning partnerships with community entities that serve as the third-party stakeholder. Millikin’s meaningful, professional contributions via Performance Learning are highly desired by those organizations.

Sufficiency of the human, financial, technological, and other resources

The most important resource related to successful accomplishment of the Quality Initiative is the depth and breadth of human capital (faculty/staff/administrative/community) required. Sufficiency of human resources is not merely measured in hours required to assist the student in the engagement of Performance Learning, but also involves human resources related to creativity, community connections, and the investment of human capital in the creation of Performance Learning opportunities, development of teaching-learning strategies, and identification and implementation of evaluative mechanisms. The University’s commitment to Performance Learning requires the development of faculty and staff prowess in advancing its best practices and examination of its impact on faculty teaching load.

The beauty of embracing and advancing Performance Learning is that the endeavor itself is diverse in nature. In accordance with an objective in the Strategic Plan, Performance Learning Enhancement Grants (PLEGs) were created during fiscal year 2013 to provide competitive access to resources by faculty in order to ensure “all programs have well-developed third-party stakeholder investment, appropriate venues for performance, and models of student/faculty collaboration.” Four PLEGs were awarded in fiscal year 2013. Four more were awarded in 2014. All had stipulations that the processes and outcomes of the PLEGs would be shared formally in a public forum with University colleagues and that the awardees would serve as mentors for the next group of participants.

Financial and technological resources already support academic endeavors advancing Performance Learning. Current resource and financial support exists for students engaged in Performance Learning. Endowed international scholarships provide support for students whose Performance Learning might include teaching in Changchun in the People’s Republic of China, engaging in scientific research at Tunghai University in Taiwan, or an immersive experience with the Globe Theatre in London. Support for student travel to participate in Performance Learning opportunities at conferences is funded by a portion of student lab fees and is distributed through the Provost’s office (e.g., students who participate in Moot Court competition can receive funding from that source). Certainly, additional fiscal resources invested could increase and broaden the Performance Learning opportunities in which students can engage.

Defined plan for integrating the initiative into the ongoing work of the institution and sustaining its results

Finally, strategies/mechanisms were outlined in the Strategic Plan that supported the attainment of the Initiative One (Performance Learning) goals and objectives. Some objectives had fiscal resource estimates tied to them. Others did not. Certainly, most aspects of the Strategic Plan require funding to support the Performance Learning initiatives. The ability to fund the initiatives is tied to tuition-generated revenue. A very important component of this HLC Quality Initiative is the ability of authentic and pervasive Performance Learning opportunities to attract and retain students.

Most importantly, the University’s new Strategic Plan highlights Performance Learning as the University’s unique brand. The ability to sustain the work and enculturate it into the institution does not rest with one individual, but is tied to the efforts of multiple constituencies. The University has supported the QI Proposal Team in their work in a very concrete way by sending them to the 2014 HLC Annual Conference in Chicago. Five of the six members of the group had never attended the conference, so this opportunity provided them with essential foundational knowledge to expand and translate their professional expertise to this University-wide initiative.

Clear understanding of and capacity to address potential obstacles

University President, Dr. Patrick White, is committed to this Quality Initiative and was strategic in advocating for the recent Advancing Performance Learning Conference. His support will be instrumental in securing resources to overcome potential challenges. The University recently hired an experienced Provost, Dr. Jeffery Aper, who will join us by July 1, 2014. Dr. Aper will be an important asset as we shape and articulate Millikin’s Performance Learning to a growing audience. Dr. Aper brings an engaging personality and an analytic mind with experience in assessment, budgeting, and leadership to the opportunities and challenges Millikin University faces at this time. The University and external communities are “on board” with the focus of the Quality Initiative and will bring their talents, resources, and energy to the table to overcome potential and/or existing obstacles.

The primary obstacle to advancing and accomplishing the Quality Initiative is financial. Millikin is no exception to the multitude of tuition-driven institutions of higher education that face fiscal constraints. The beauty of the Performance Learning Quality Initiative at Millikin University is that it takes the practices we currently engage in and helps us to focus, formalize, and extend them within and beyond the institution. Anticipated sequelae of that focused work include the leveraging of external resources, the attraction and retention of well-qualified students, faculty, and staff and the national recognition of Millikin University as THE leader of Performance Learning.

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

Consistency with intended purposes and goals

The main focus of our Quality Initiative is a natural extension of the branding work that Millikin University began six years ago. The Quality Initiative will assist the University to advance its vision and ensure that it is manifested in very clear, well-documented ways. Consequently, the University will gain the ability to present and market itself in a way befitting of the extraordinary work of its faculty, staff, administrators, students, and board of trustees.

Alignment with the implementation of other institutional priorities

Millikin believes that Performance Learning is an integral part of an exceptional university educational experience. In recent years, this belief has compelled the University to embark on initiatives that promote the comprehensive implementation of Performance Learning. The goal of this Quality Initiative is not only perfectly aligned with the trajectory of the University, but the natural next step.

Reasonable implementation plan for the time period

As outlined in the “Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose” section of this Quality Initiative Proposal, benchmarks have been set which allow relevant constituencies an adequate amount of time to achieve each step in the process. The associated timeline required to implement the strategies and to accomplish the milestones is ambitious, but realistic. Furthermore, it demonstrates the understanding that the attainment of each goal is dependent upon the attainment of each foundational milestone.



Institution Contact

Deborah L. Slayton, Dean, College of Professional Studies

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