Posted Online: May 01, 2012, 3:22 pm

Editorial: Augustana innovator

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

As Steve Bahls enters his second decade at the helm of Augustana College, he could be excused for pausing to smell the flowers. There is plenty to celebrate in his first 10 years.

For example, on Thursday we'll learn details of the college's most successful endowment drive ever. Campus updating continues with modernization of the Treadway Library and a new 30,000-square-foot Center for Student Life. Also in the works is a new stadium to help attract recruits to a program that already is first in its conference and sixth in the nation in producing academic All-Americans.

Its leaders also made great strides in meeting goals set in its last strategic plan. For example, it kicked off Augie Choice, which gives students $2,000 to use toward a hands-on learning experience. A new four-year graduation guarantee is aimed at improving an already good on-time graduation rate. Today more than half of Augie students take advantage of international study and more than half serve internships, many right here in our community.

Our editorial board learned there is plenty to celebrate in a wide-ranging discussion last week with President Bahls and Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, communication and planning. We also learned that Mr. Bahls and his staff aren't satisfied. "We've raised $100 million from our alums, and we need to give them a report card," Mr. Bahls said.

Sensitive to charges that today's students are "academically adrift" and that, despite high cost, too many schools are failing to teach students the things they need to succeed, Augustana has embarked on a bold experiment to increase accountability.

The college also has begun crafting a plan to improve the neighborhood it shares with Rock Island. Both are innovative concepts. Indeed, this all-too rare effort to measure how well Augustana serves its students is sure to raise eyebrows among the college's peers. Mr. Bahls clearly welcomes the scrutiny. Indeed, he hopes the report inspires imitators.

The effort truly is ground-breaking. Traditionally institutions of higher learning have measured quality based on what they have, Mr. Bahls said, not what they accomplish. Things like class size and grade point average measure only inputs. Not outputs. It is those inputs which are used to create things like U.S. News & World Report rankings, where Augustana College has consistently scored well. It takes courage to put those easy measures aside and search for harder, performance-based ones. It also takes courage to do so in full public view. We thank college leaders for their continued transparency with the community.

The men acknowledge that some of the results from this first "warts and all" draft report will make stakeholders uncomfortable. But they also should help college leaders decide how to improve in key areas like graduation rates, addressing the reasons students leave school, program participation, civic engagement and what students do after graduation.

Measurable improvement is also the goal of a developing plan for the larger Augie neighborhood. Among the things being discussed are incentives to encourage business and home ownership in the one-mile radius around the campus. Also on the table are ideas like a theater facility or art gallery on the edge of campus available for use by the community. We can't wait to see what planners dream up.

Meanwhile, we thank Augustana and its leaders not only for embracing innovative efforts to continue to make the college shine among the nation's best but for recognizing that our community's future and its are so closely tied.

Fitting honor for president

President Bahls' contributions reach far beyond his campus walls. For his commitment to the Q-C, this week he received the prestigious Modern Woodmen of America's 2012 Community Service Award.

The award is the premiere recognition of volunteer leadership in our community. Past winners include Pete Lardner and Tom and Karen Getz. Among the hats Mr. Bahls wears are vice chair, Putnam Museum board; secretary, Quad City Symphony Orchestra board; past chair, Illowa Council of Boy Scouts of America executive board; member of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce executive committee,, the Genesis Health System board and the United Way of the Quad Cities board.

Strong, active generous leaders make or break a community. We're fortunate to have Mr. Bahls' leadership in the Quad-Cities.