Colleges Define Different Market Niches U. of Connecticut Seeks to Balance Research, Teaching, and Community Service in a Broad Academic Program

Article excerpt

WITH its handsome brick buildings, rolling green lawns, and picturesque duck ponds, the University of Connecticut at Storrs looks like an idealized image of an institution of higher learning.

But the placid facade hides a host of problems, ranging from state budget cutbacks to grumbling among students that professors don't teach enough courses.

The difficulties at UConn today reflect the larger dilemmas confronting American higher education - just as the university's history of almost nonstop expansion mirrored the once-boundless horizons of US higher education.

The school began life in 1881 with a dozen students and a mission to "train the sons of Connecticut farmers." While it became the University of Connecticut in 1939, the institution did not witness explosive growth until after World War II.

Fueled by the GI Bill, enrollment grew from 1,735 in 1943 to 7,265 in 1947. Today it enrolls 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on several satellite campuses besides the main facility in Storrs.

The number of programs also has multiplied exponentially. Agriculture, once the university's focus, has become only one of many schools and colleges. Today, UConn offers 99 undergraduate majors - including the country's only puppetry program - and boasts separate schools of law and medicine.

"Our mission hasn't changed - it's still teaching, research, and service to community," says university President Harry Hartley, sitting in an armchair in his luxurious office. "But the way in which we achieve our mission has changed."

Administrators here are proud of the fact that UConn is the only first-rate public research university in New England. But like virtually all research universities, UConn has been criticized for neglecting one of its vital missions - undergraduate education.

Students here complain that professors teach lower-division lecture classes with hundreds of students. …