Pflugradt: Wichita State wants to ‘guarantee applied learning to all students.’ Why is The Sunflower being threatened?

The idea of putting private businesses on university property hasn’t exactly translated to an overload of applied learning opportunities. The concept is far from reality.

Applied learning is a sensitive issue at Wichita State.

WSU officials often like to boast and brag about the many applied learning experiences the university offers. The latest installment of Wichita State’s recruiting pitch, called #WSUNOW, advertises the university as a destination for “hands-on learning” opportunities and “student organizations for virtually every interest.”

This advertising campaign aligns with both the mission statement for Innovation Campus, and WSU’s strategic plan. What it doesn’t align with is reality.

WSU self-described the value of Innovation Campus as another venture to continue to “provide students with the kind of hands-on learning that often translates to real-world success.” says WSU has made its No. 1 strategic goal to “guarantee applied learning or research experience for every student.”

The idea of putting private businesses on university property hasn’t exactly translated to an overload of applied learning opportunities. The concept is far from reality.

The Wichita Eagle broke a story in September revealing that Airbus employed just 11 WSU students during the fall semester, far short of the report which said the partnership would result in “as many as 200 WSU engineering students.”

Brian Hayes

Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communications pointed out to the Eagle that Airbus was in its first year of operation at WSU, and “those are good numbers.” He expanded to say the partnership was “working well” from both perspectives.

In a comment posted on Facebook, Heldman called the story out for inaccuracies, complaining that the story failed to mention facts that didn’t make it into the story. But as the Eagle’s editor Steve Coffman pointed out, the story was based on two accurately reported facts: 1) that at a Wichita State Innovation Alliance meeting in 2015, Airbus would “grow its work force and employ as many as 200 WSU engineering students” and 2) eleven students were employed at Airbus.

Since this point, WSU has been rather defensive of their applied learning experiences. While touting successes, over the course of the last few years, WSU has made strides to add degree requirements that include applied learning.

In 2015, the Strategic Planning Phase 2 Steering Committee, composed of faculty representation from all WSU colleges, developed a set of criteria for applied learning experiences with the hopes that implementation of applied learning will create “competitive advantages for both our students and the university.

“Our students graduate with know-how that extends classroom lessons through direct practical experience.”

The plan has continued to move forward as part of WSU’s strategic plan. In fact, the first goal of the plan is to “guarantee an applied learning or research experience for every student by each academic program.”

As the strategic goal states, “this goal will be a condition of graduation rather than merely an opportunity.”

Adding a degree requirement for every student who passes through the door will be a challenge, won’t it? Not quite, says the strategic plan.

“This may seem like an obstacle for some,” the plan reads. “It is not—it is an opportunity.”

But this doesn’t make sense.

If applied learning wasn’t really a challenge, why is The Sunflower, an applied learning experience for more than 30 students, facing such difficulty this year?

The Sunflower is facing relentless budget cuts, and if Student Senate votes to approve the Student Fees Committee’s recommendation on Wednesday and is later signed by President Bardo, The Sunflower’s funding will go from what was supposed to be a temporary allocation of $100,000 to half of its request — down to $75,000.

With the decline in funds will go the applied learning experiences of nearly 30 students as The Sunflower looks to find ways to survive on scraps.

Applied learning is important to the university — to the point that they’re willing to get defensive about the subject. And that’s why it’s ironic that the oldest applied learning experience on campus is facing the brink of fading to inexistence.